Saturday, December 22nd, 2018
The Norwich Film Festival 2018 offered a selection of short films on their Friday Night’s Alright for Shorts event, all of which offered their own charms and delights. First up was Catch of the Day, a magical realist tale of a lifelong love and what life includes and excludes. Shot on the ravishingly beautiful Welsh coast and delivered entirely in the Welsh language, Catch of the Day (pictured below) transports the viewer into its bittersweet world, and includes a remarkable twist in the tail. This writer spoke with the director Geraint Huw Reynolds who explained that the production included an early and unanimous decision for Welsh dialogue, a local farmer in the central role, and a remarkable ability to predict the weather. The viewer is unlikely to predict how the story will develop, and may well find a lump in their throat come the end.
Next up was the bluntly titled Little Shit (pictured below), about a small boy living in a housing project who proves to be more than the title suggests. The black and white cinematography as well as the concrete environment recalls La Haine, but Little Shit veers off into unexpected territory, involving human connection, fishing and our young protagonist’s compassion for his ailing mother. Youthful aggression is juxtaposed with tenderness, resulting in a grim but ultimately hopeful portrait.
The following film took the grimmest turn of all with Hope Dies Last. Based on actual records, this is a Holocaust drama about a concentration camp prisoner who served as barber to the camp commandant. Super text at the end of the film gives the viewer the accounts behind the story, but even before then the understated dread of the film has created an atmosphere of crawling fear. Director Ben Price’s great technique here is shallow focus, as the head of the commandant becomes a minefield as the prisoner carefully and precisely scrapes his razor across the skin. Never do either man speak nor do we see their faces in the frame at the same time. It is a chilling nightmare of fear and control, the sound of blade over stubble reflecting the pressure on the prisoner’s soul.
Things got subsequently lighter with Five Star Fouad (pictured below), a knowing and warmly affectionate heist comedy about a thoroughly incompetent bank robber. Dominic West is Gary, the aforementioned thief, who takes the time while leaving the bank to pick up a leaflet and then learns that his getaway Uber driver Fouad (Ken Davitian), is not where he was supposed to be. The ensuing journey involves cheerful banter that contrasts Gary’s desperation with Fouad’s cheerful acceptance. Throw in some comedic pratfalls and a sly ‘Hello To Jason Isaacs’ in the credits, and you have a fun little journey.
Profane and painfully funny truths were provided by F*ck (pictured below) in which parental bliss meets sexual frustration for a young pair of parents who find it hard to have intimate time together. The conflicting needs and desires of both parents are recognisable and likely relatable for many viewers. What is really remarkable is that the film expresses a remarkable amount of story and character within its compact narrative, ensuring that the viewer spends enough time with the characters to get a proper sense of their lives, without having to stick around so long that they become annoying.
The weirdest film of the evening was Leash (pictured below), a vicious social drama of Brexit Britain. A young Polish woman in a Welsh town runs afoul of a local gang who treat her nationality as an excuse for abuse and bullying. Spray paint, bicycle locks and cider cans play brutal roles in this tale of humanity’s inhumanity, which culminates in an outburst of violence and a strange suggestion of something more than human and even occult. Arguably, the film’s conclusion might suggest support for the anti-immigrant stance, or it might be a more explicit revenge fantasy. Either way, Leash makes for an uncomfortable but compelling viewing experience.
Another weird film came next with The Overcoat (pictured below), a dystopic comedy that somehow channels Terry Gilliam’s Brazil into a pub story. In a bleak city, a meaningless bureaucrat devotes himself to acquiring a new overcoat, to the exclusion of all other concerns. When he seems to find a means of engaging with people around him, all too quickly he loses it all. Or does something remain? With actors playing multiple characters, a roving camera that sweeps the viewer into the grimly funny world of the film, and an arresting production design, The Overcoat was a well-deserved nominee for Best Short Film.
To close the evening, the audience was treated to Sam Did It (pictured below), a deliriously bonkers dissection (literally) of morbid star worship. When Sam (writer-director Dominic Burgess), a morgue medical examiner, is brought the body of his favourite actor, Alfred Molina, he collapses into grief, adoration and some rather interesting fantasies. Worth it for the single moment when Sam beats his fists against the concrete floor only to discover that such beating hurts, Sam Did It keeps the viewer uncertain but amused throughout its engaging running time.
Norwich Film Festival is a marvellous event that showcases new talent and gives audiences a chance to see things they might not otherwise think of. Should anyone out there get a chance to see any of these films, do take that chance – you will not be disappointed.
Review by Vincent Gaine
Posted in: Reviews