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June 2, 2020

Film review: Seven new shorts from France show us the future of art film

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While Hollywood has reigned supreme in making money off of movies, France has always been the heart of cinematic art.

So it’s wonderful to be able to see “New French Shorts 2020,” which begins streaming May 15, at the Violet Crown Cinema website.

The seven short films have a remarkable, multicultural range, beginning with “Ahmed’s Song,” directed by Foued Mansour. It focuses on Ahmed (Mohamed Sadi), an aging Arabic man who has been cleaning stalls at a public bath for many years. He does it faithfully and doesn’t question his lot in life. Ahmed just wants to make enough money to be able to send home.

But Ahmed’s routine is questioned by a wayward new teen employee, Mike (Bilel Chegrani), who smokes in the locker room and wants to become a rapper. Both Ahmed and Mike are obviously troubled, but Mike’s willingness to take risks starts to inspire his elderly friend. The 30-minute short premiered in 2019 at the Palm Springs International ShortFest, and it won the Bridging the Borders Award.

“Ahmed’s Song” is followed by a remarkable 12-minute surrealistic bit of animation, “Sheep, Wolf, and a Cup of Tea,” directed by Marion Lacourt. If focuses on a strange family that’s preparing for bed. But the strangest has to be a young boy who has a wolf-shaped cap on his head, and he conjures a live wolf from a box that is hidden under his bed. The wolf, of course, is not friendly with the sheep that other family members are conjuring. The animation is beautifully weird. The short premiered at the 2019 Locarno Film Festival.

A school monitor struggles to deal with unruly middle-school students in “Tuesday from 8 to 6.” The monitor, Nevine, has a thankless job, but has been trying to help Logan, who appears on the verge of dropping out because of arguments with his English teacher. Nevine gives him a cap from the lost and found box, and that causes a series of dominoes to fall, disrupting the entire school. Directed by Cecilia de Arce, the 26-minute short was shown in 2019 at the Cannes Critics Week, a sidebar to the Cannes Film Festival.

“The Distance Between Us and the Sky” is the shortest of the shorts, at nine minutes. Its premise is rather simple. A young gay man needs some extra Euros to get home. He’s stranded at service station, and he approaches another young man to see whether he can get some cash. He offers various things, including a joint. But there’s clearly chemistry between the two. And the second man has a motorcycle that’s nearby. The film, directed by Vasilis Kekatos, played at Cannes in 2019 and won the Short Film Palme d’Or.

“The Tears Thing” focuses on two women who once were lovers. One of them, an actress, is preparing for a role in a film that requires her to be nimble with firearms. To train, she goes to warehouse in a rural area to meet her instructor — who turns out to be the lover who left her with no explanation years ago. Old feelings and resentments erupt. Clemency Poesy directs the 25-minute short, which premiered at the 2019 Venice Film Festival.

“Magnetic Harvest” has gay themes as well. It’s a quirky tale of a pig farmer who is trying to find a lost animal while also applying for certification to be an organic farm. He comes across a naked neighbor in the barley, and they have a roll in the hay, so to speak, but he’s also attracted to a friend who has recently returned from abroad. The 24-minute short is directed by Marine Leveel.

But the highlight of the shorts has to be the last, “The Glorious Acceptance Speech of Nicolas Chauvin.” It’s probably the most French thing you’ll see all year, and that’s a good thing.

Alexis Manenti plays Chauvin, the former soldier of the Napoleonic Wars and the father of chauvinism. He displays all the grandiosity and biases that you might expect while accepting an award with a speech that takes him back in time. But Chauvin’s reverie is questioned when he meets a man who says he’s not even real — and was made up by playwrights. He also meets a sultry lady who dances provocatively to jazz. Directed by Benjamin Crotty, it runs 26 minutes. It’s a hoot.

“New French Shorts 2020”
Opens May 15
Streams at austin.violetcrown.com

 

Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy is a former movies editor for The Dallas Morning News and Austin Americaan-Statesman.

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