MIFF's Short Films: Mermaids, Unicorns, and Fancy Cats
This year's MIFF offers more than 40 shorts, and with the notable exception of Cherry Pop: The World's Fanciest Cat (directed by Miami's own Kareem Tabsch), most of them are not about really fancy felines. They're also about synchronized swimming, fugitive Mennonites, and Palestinian refugees, because, y'know, diversity.
For those who, like us, always thought synchronized swimming was just some strange coincidence, Grace (directed by Anna Clara Peltier) shows it's actually very much on purpose. In fact, synchronized swimmers go through grueling practices, which can be difficult on a teen girl's changing body. The almost surreal cinematography is gorgeous, recasting the pool as an idealized return to the womb, augmented with images powerful enough to need almost no vocal counterpart. Bonus: Mermaids might appear.
But who has time for mermaids when there's a Unicorn (directed by Rodrigo Bellott) hanging around? Oops, there aren't any actual unicorns in this film based on a true story, but it does have the next best thing: an absurdly hunky Mennonite dairy farmer in Bolivia who runs away from his family to live as an out homosexual in the biggish city. The same story could probably be told in less than 30 minutes, but that would mean fewer smoldering stares, less time to memorize the hunk's cheekbones, and the full-frontal nudity or the gratuitous shower scene would probably have to go. At times, it can feel like very slowly paging through an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog (or, in one scene, a dusty International Male) — but hunks! Oh, and there's a part in which the main man's family imprisons him in a homemade cell for eight weeks. Silly Bolivian Mennonites; true hunkiness cannot be contained.
Mahdi Fleifel's Xenos is a masterful documentary short in its own right, but it also serves as a continuation of A World Not Ours, his excellent 2012 full-length account of life in Lebanon's Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp. This time, several Palestinian men from the camp have attempted to reach Europe but find themselves stranded in Greece after the country's economic collapse. Xenos is masterful, unfolding intuitively without context or explanation. Audio from a phone call with one of the refugees plays over video, and stills of their aimless days spent scuttling through the littered streets of postcollapse Greece linger onscreen. The camera delivers haunting shots of emaciated women nodding off on curbs and the strange intimacies of communal living as one man grooms his friend's sideburns. Many turn to heroin, theft, and prostitution to deal with the pain, monotony, and poverty. Yet despite the extremes of their situation, there's something very simple and universal about their struggles and hopes.
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