Thoughts On: End Of The Week Shorts #43


End Of The Week Shorts #43

Today's shorts: Closely Watched Trains (1966), The Land Beyond The Sunset (1912), Labyrinth (1986), What Have I Done To Deserve This? (1984), The Exterminating Angel (1962), Pumzi (2009), The Life Of Death (2015), It Happened One Night (1931), Symphonie Diagonale (1924)

Fascinatingly absurd, Closely Watched Trains appears to be a film about very little; a boy becomes an adult when he starts working, but struggles to lose his virginity and become a man when he falls for a girl. Light humour emerges from this film as our main character bumbles through sparse happenings, and such seems to signify this as a Czech New Wave picture. Stepping back from the film and seeing how relevant the looming presence of a Nazi occupation is as the story progresses, I'm struck by a wider picture of the coming-of-age tale, one which seems to have ties to the pressure and insanity of a world evolving with war and violence. 
Whilst Closely Watched Trains has captured my attention, I have to say that I'll need to see it another time to start to come to grips with it. Nonetheless, recommended.

As direct and simplistic as this is, The Land Beyond The Sunset is a powerful film. With an impressive punch of character, this short contrasts a poor boy's reality with luck and a dream; his reality, selling newspapers on the street, his luck, going on a picnic, and his dream, being able to forever escape his dismal reality. With our final image being a journey towards the horizon, the land beyond the sunset is one of two places. In reality, the end of the day means the end of the child's luck; he is to go back home. There is the dream, however, that one day the child may be able to completely escape impoverishment now that he has glimpsed a better life. And so the powerful melancholy of this film resides within the polar possibilities of what lies beyond the sunset. Where will life see this boy go?

I've seen this countless times, and it just gets better each time. The 80s cheese, CGI, soundtrack, Bowie, set design and so on all dress up - wonderfully so - an ingenious coming-of-age tale centred on Sarah realising that she does not want to become her mother (who abandoned her to run away with another man), instead, a functional and individuated person. The rules of the world she steps into are pin-point, the archetypes she finds within are exact and the questions she is forced to ask herself are spot on. This is a classical tale voiced through the 80s perfectly, and so I find this quite hard to critique. 
I've already gone into this film in some depth before, but maybe this deserves a second look?

What Have I Done to Deserve This? is a pretty incredible film that really took me by surprise. More intensely existentially driven than other Almodóvar films that I have seen, this follows a woman whose life is comprised of only dead ends. Realising the intricate network of meaningless nothings that are brilliantly weaved into this script, yet never seeing our main character cry out to the powers that control her life, leaves this a tragedy that is emphasised by a journey towards destructive catharsis. 
The sky is not completely black in this film, however. Here, Almodóvar, as always, uses narrative to show compassion for those who lead broken lives in a broken world, but somehow manage to keep things together. And such is the final harmonious note of a film that deeply resonates. Highly recommended.

The Exterminating Angel is seemingly a simple film, but the more you think about it, the more opaque it becomes. 
Though I'm still a little lost with this, I think its quite clear that this is about a false paradise; a group of rich people have a perfect night and find themselves unable to leave the party. The longer they stay, however, the more obvious it becomes that their predicament is far from paradise. Quite possibly an allegory about fascist Spain under Franco, this seems to be a critique of both religion and aristocracy and its affects on innocent people. There is probably much more to be said about this film, but I'll have to re-watch this to find more.

Part cliched, part effect, Pumzi is a dystopian sci-fi film about lies and authoritarianism that has been put to the screen countless times. Separating itself from other Hollywood films, this Kenyan short has a focus on strong symbolism and themes that are specific to its time and place. This is then a film about a water crisis - an everlasting issue in Kenya - that can only be overcome with openness, hope, truth and sacrifice. 
Seeing this short under such a guise makes it far more rewarding and meaningful than seeing it as a play on Mad Max, Minority Report, WALL-E, etc. Recommended.

Amusing for all of two minutes, this shows Death die; his life then flashes before his eyes, showing how he has lead a human life. Though this is somewhat clever, it chooses to turn Death into a human rather than find the humanity in Death. I then fail to find much respect for this as it appears to be more a gimmick than anything else. 
If you're interested in seeing this, you can just find it to be amusing, or you could see this to be a lesson in how to fail to utilise an archetype successfully. In my opinion, this should have built a world and story around a character, rather than inserting a character in a seemingly incongruous world. Check it out here:

Seeing this again for the umpteenth time, I still laugh and I still love the characters. Whilst the sound design does hold back the flow of story at times, It Happened One Night is essentially faultless. What seems to draw me to this film over and over again is that it is so entirely sure and comfortable with itself; not once can you sense an ounce of doubt or pretence that would leave lesser films bumbling. 
This is quintessential Old Hollywood: pure entertainment driven by heart and character. A timeless romp. If you've not seen it, you're in for a good time.

What do you hear? 
This may seem like a ridiculous question when you watch what is essentially a few shapes enlarge and disappear in pure silence. However, if you can take this question seriously and considered this as a study of time and rhythm, and how imagery can imply sound, then you may find this as intriguing as I do. Having seen this multiple times, I've grown from seeing this as a strange test to a playful proposition that deserves the recognition of being one of the most important experimental films ever made. With Symphonie Diagonale, Eggeling is not telling us that he has made music with, he asking if we can sit down and try to hear his imagery sing. If you feel like giving this a try, here it is:

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