THE BLOODY MARY FILM FESTIVAL kicked off two nights of programming by female (and female-identifying) film directors yesterday. Each night of the festival is equally divided between features and a variety of short films (playing as a block starting at 9:30pm). The shorts vary in length and tackle a variety of subjects and genres. Of the eight shorts screening on Day 2, here are three that can’t be missed:
1. Le Peau Sauvage / Wild Skin
One of the most impressive aspects of the festival shorts has been the strength and confidence of their visual storytelling. Several of the shorts tell a nearly dialogue-free story in accessible and compelling way.
Ariane Louis-Seize’s Le Peau Sauvage / Wild Skin (above) is one exemplar, a simple tale of a nameless woman (Marilyn Castonguay) who lives a sheltered life in her apartment, voyeuristically watching the outside world from her window. Following the discovery of a baby python living in her vent that she takes on as a pet, her environment begins to change, slowly evolving to take on the characteristics of a jungle. As the snake grows and takes over more of the apartment, the woman changes as well, becoming more emboldened and outgoing.
The surreal nature of Le Peau Sauvage / Wild Skin is what makes it a standout. The slowly evolving, increasingly animalistic changes in the apartment is subtle but still noticeable. Days and nights bleed together, evidenced by moss growing from the radiator, the sheets morphing into animal print and more and more greenery appearing until the apartment has taken on the appearance of a snake habitat.
Castonguay is exceedingly beautiful, and Louis-Seize shoots her in a way that highlights her sex appeal while simultaneously keeping her at arm’s length from the audience via her silence. Between the performance and the visuals, it’s not difficult to infer what’s happening, though the short is less interesting in narrative than evoking a surreal dream-like experience. It’s gorgeous, evocative and fascinating.
2. Talking Heads
The most overtly feminist short on the program is Alyx Melone’s Talking Heads, which would be right at home in Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror universe. A biting satire of the beauty standards that women are forced to uphold, Melone stars as a nameless woman who is incapable of commanding anyone’s attention. Her date pays her no attention when they go out for dinner and she can’t even order a drink because the wait staff looks right through her. (Amusingly, this is another dialogue-free short, but here Melone is always trying to speak but cannot get a word out).
It is only when our heroine undergoes the latest cosmetic makeover – a head transplant, complete with striking bob haircut, pronounced make-up and low cut dress – that she finally gets the attention she desires. Unfortunately she realizes too late that the process has completely eliminated all traces of her individuality (a bathroom scene filled with identical woman is unnerving and hilarious at the same time).
The chilling finale, exposing the disposable nature of women’s bodies, isn’t subtle, but it sure as hell is effective.
3. The Sleepwalker
Once again, the diversity of shorts on display is impressive. Atlas World is a music video warning about the dangers of children playing with Ouija boards, Bestia is a historical wilderness creature feature, while The Man In The Rabbit Mask is the closest thing to a concept short for a full-length feature about an urban legend who baits children with candy when they summon him three times.
I selected Anna Cooley’s The Sleepwalker as my final pick because it is a loving ode to silent era cinema. This is yet another dialogue-free short, shot in glorious black and white and clearly paying homage to German expressionist genre classic The Cabinet of Caligari.
Following an establishing shot of crooked paper homes, we cut to a woman (Elena Belyea) in bed, suffering from a nightmare in which she wanders through the woods, chased by monsters (actors dressed head to toe in black) who impede her progress.
Shot in the sped-up style of silent films, the short features a crescendoing piano for a soundtrack and “battle” sequences that look more like ballet/expressionist dance routines. The Sleepwalker is a striking, memorable ode to films of the early 20th century and it is utterly perfect for film buffs.
The Bloody Mary Film Festival runs from November 30th – December 1st at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto. For the full line-up and to purchase tickets, check out their website.