Top Ten 2017 Manhattan Short Film Festival Finalists

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Todd Kleiboer, Co-Editor

In its twentieth year, the Manhattan Short Film Festival once again treated audience members to amazingly crafted short films, and with their votes, the audience picked what they though was the best film and actor. Their votes will decide the festival winner which will be announced Oct. 9. These films are also eligible for Oscars.

Below is a ranked list of the finalists based on my opinion.

10. Fickle Bickle (United States)

This comedy about a man trying to impress a woman that only values the wallet in his pocket was indeed comedic, but it fell off at times. Because of the forgetful, very rich owner of a house, the plumber protagonist manages to convince “Fickle Bickle” to sleep with him, but he dies with his pants down after falling down the basement stairs. It made me chuckle at times, but the writing seemed a little off though the ending of the woman inviting yet another man to the stolen house was a twist. It was not a good enough twist for me to fall in love with the film, and the style of comedy was just not my cup of tea.

9. In a Nutshell (Switzerland)

This short, vibrant stop-motion film from Switzerland was a feast for the eyes, sometimes literally. The film, according to director Fabio Friedli, criticizes the materialism of the global culture, but I feel like that message is a little lost amidst the rapidly changing objects and dazzling colors. I think what the director tried to do is celebrate the underlying diversity and humanity of the global culture through this critique by demonstrating the variety of material objects, and he addresses topics such as religion and war. It was certainly interesting, but because I feel the message was a little muddled at times, the film’s overall appeal was lower.

8. Do No Harm (New Zealand)

Packed with action, this film tied itself to the Hippocratic oath that physicians take before they enter the medical field. It depicts a surgeon protecting her patient from murderous gangsters based only on the fact that it is her patient. However, it is later revealed that she is also protecting the patient because he is holding her daughter captive. Described laughingly by the director Rosanne Liang as a “rom-com”, the film could certainly fit that if one stretched it far enough. It parodies the Hippocratic Oath in its over-the-top action, and it is romantic in the fact that the mother is saving her captive child from the patient and his organization.

7. Perfect Day (Spain)

Though it contained the cliché of “it was all a dream”, this comedy features the perfect dream but imperfect day of a business representative. The dream depicts everything going right: the morning coffee, saving the woman from a mugging and getting a date, and the big $10 million deal. However, it was just a dream, and reality is not as nice. The morning coffee is ruined, the man is knocked flat by the muggers, and he fails to seal the deal. Throughout the movie, there was nice camerawork and use of the camera as a character to explain what seemed like fourth wall breaks, and the major fourth wall break at the end as the set is revealed was a nice touch. The ending seemed to communicate that unfortunate events one after another can only happen in outrageous circumstances only possible in a movie, and the day can always be redeemed with one happy moment.

6. Just Go! (Latvia)

Inspired by a true person, this film depicts a disabled protagonist chasing down thugs after they stole the purse of a woman he was close to. It is an inspiring story that shows the solidarity of a community often ignored as the protagonist is cornered by the two thugs and other members of the disabled community come to his aid. The action shots were solid, and I thought the stunts performed were amazing and would have been hard even for a non-disabled person. The relationship between the protagonist and the woman was cute, but the scene in which the woman helps him without his asking shows that some assume that this community is entirely helpless. Needless to say, this film disproves that.

5. 8 Minutes (Georgia)

The end of the world causes many people to take drastic measures or patch relationships, and the darkening of the sun would definitely count as an apocalypse. With only eight minutes until the sunlight stops, an aging former magician wants to reunite with his son, and he does so through the way he knows best: a magic trick. With a perfectly timed “Abracadabra” over the phone to his son, he makes the moon blink out. That gesture supposedly rebuilds their relationship, and it demonstrates that good can come from the worst of circumstances. The film’s world is also immersive with its news reports spouting graphics and infobytes calmly in the midst of the madness of the outside world.

4. Viola, Franca (Italy)

Based on a true story, this film dramatizes the story of Franca Viola, the first woman in Italy to rebel against the reparatory marriage laws in which the victim has to marry the rapist to avoid public humiliation. It is a film filled with powerful messages for feminism as Franca rejects the traditionalist views of her town and church, and her initial stand against reparatory marriages ignites a movement that culminates in the repeals of those laws 16 years after she was raped. As France stands in the precession without her white garb and red cape, she stands against the belief that women “allow” the rape to happen and the belief that the victim has “sinned”.

3. Mare Nostrum (Syria)

Tears sprang to my eyes during this film. A father wants to teach his six-year-old daughter to swim, but he approaches the “lessons” with a sink-or-swim mentality. Fully clothed, he tosses her off a pier into the Mediterranean Sea, and he uses a stick to ensure that she stays in the water. He wants her to have an ability he was never taught, but he nearly drowns her in the process. However, the reason that he wants her to swim becomes startlingly clear at the end. After a frenzied nighttime dash toward the sea, a group of unidentifiable people (though I saw the back of the father’s head) jump into the water. Then an Associated Press report plays that mentions as it fades out that among 29 survivors of a sank ship full of refugees was a six-year-old girl.

2. Behind (Spain)

Horror has never been my forte, but this horror thriller was intriguing and sent chills down my spine. A woman and mother has been divorced from a year, and she has become convinced that her ex-husband is plotting to take back her child. That conviction becomes an obsession that manifests in probable hallucinations of a woman, strange telephone calls, and a terrifying monster that gave me goosebumps. It is a prime example of a good horror with nicely timed music and a suspenseful buildup, and actress Macarena Gómez (my pick for Best Actor) does a fantastic job of portraying the visceral fear of a mother trying to protect her child from a force that cannot be touched.

1. Hope Dies Last (United Kingdom)

In yet another film based on true events, the scene unfolds like a simple haircut appointment, but so much more is at stake for the barber. He is a prisoner of a concentration camp and cuts the hair of the camp commandant, and the pink triangle denotes the reason for his being at the camp: homosexuality. Not a word is spoken between the barber and the commandant, something that holds true in history, and the film relies heavily on camerawork reminiscent of older silent films and focuses on facial and hand gestures to communicate the tension. Actor Tarek Slater’s face cues are perfect as the camera focuses on him, and the loud silence between the two increases the suspense. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, and I did not blink either. It was the most gripping film of the 10 finalists, and I believe that it deserves to win Best Film because of its historical significance, brilliant cinematography, and fabulous acting.