[Content warning for sexual abuse]
The second part of the World of Film Festival’s short film competition was an eclectic but somber mixture of shorts, with most of the short films looking at abuse, at relationships on the brink of failure, and people standing at crossroads. The diverse range of films shown meant that some worked and others didn’t, but overall it was a decidedly thought-provoking filmic catalogue.
The Turkish opening short Are you listening, mother? was an exercise in restraint. Little information is given about the titular mother, placed under house arrest by the police for unknown reasons. The film follows the financial and emotional struggle of her son as he tries to get her to abide by the law, their family home slowly turns into a cage around them. Context for the situation is given only through title cards at the film’s conclusion, which recontextualise the entire narrative, yet these come too late and are too abrupt to carry the film through its slower moments.
The second short, Things that happen in the Bathroom, was conceptually interesting, as it takes place entirely in the bathroom of a student flat. The protagonist brushes his teeth, takes baths and does drugs whilst desperately searching for a connection in the emotionally distant relationship he has with another man. Though the concept does not get pushed far enough and the on-the-nose acting hampers the film, it nonetheless is a realistic exploration of how the everyday domestic intersects with our personal relationships.
The following short, Check in, was a breaking point, in many ways. What seemingly starts off as a story about a troubled teenager being catfished, quickly devolves into a horrific diatribe of graphic and frankly tasteless sexual violence against women, the message of which essentially boils down to “social media is bad sometimes”.
The next short, The Tattooed Heart, explored a similar theme as the previous one, with a woman confronting her past trauma and seeking revenge. Whilst actress Jennifer Morrison brings some star power to the film, it ultimately relies too heavily on clichés to provide a resonant story.
We Can Do It was by far the highlight of the compilation. A Kafkaesque and darkly funny satire of the modern job industry, the short explores the struggle of women as cogs in the relentless industrial machine. Notable about it is its distinct visual flair, with all the women dressed up like they jumped out of Rosie the Riveter-style WWII poster. Both hilarious and hard-hitting in its social commentary, We Can Do It is a remarkable example of what can be achieved with a strong concept and a good eye.
Thebes Crossing told the story of a man from Kabul trying to pick up the old threads of his life in London. Whilst the premise and implications of the short are deeply interesting, there is not enough screen time to explore them properly, and its awkward dialogue obstructs the film.
The final film, The Girl Who Cannot Speak, is a documentary about sexual abuse, interspersed with abstract elements showcasing the difficulties of living through trauma. It features various women telling the stories of their abuse and how it impacted them growing up. The intercutting between the interviews highlights how insidiously abuse can be embedded into our culture.
Overall, despite a notable misstep, the shorts in competition at the World of Film Festival presented compact, thoughtful visions of the modern world and the different places we may inhabit in it.
[Amelie Voges – she/her – @amelieleav]