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For more information and reviews of every film screening at Reel Affirmations 27, check out our Complete Guide here!
The descriptor for this cluster of shorts claims the films are “sci-fi, fantasy, surreal, alternative reality.” That’s a pretty loose definition of what’s on offer here — don’t expect phasers set on stun. Still, the movies in this program manage to stun in their own ways, being sharp, interesting, and intelligent, even if their meaning isn’t always entirely accessible. It kicks off with an utter delight: Heart to Heart (★★★★★), in which 21-year-old Liddy, in the hospital with heart disease, has an out-of-body discussion about her sexuality with her obscenely-minded blood-pumping vital organ, which calls itself Lump. The adage the heart knows one’s true desires could not be more true, and Lilah Vandenburgh’s film couldn’t be more amusing as the heart lasciviously urges Liddy to make a pass at the winsome student nurse attending her. “You want us to die without experiencing the joys of a human pussy?” Lump shrieks. It helps that the voice of Lump is performed — quite ribaldly — by David Tennant. Yes, it’s a one-joke film, but it plays out with an abundance of humor and, well… heart.
Katie McNeice’s In Orbit (★★★☆☆) feels like a ten-minute edition of Black Mirror, but with a sweet, sentimental twist. Sometime in the near future, when the world has gone to full climate-ravaged hell, an elderly Irish woman is questioned about the past, bringing up her memories on a holographic screen. “A pound of my thoughts for your peace of mind and you still won’t know how it felt,” she curtly tells the interviewer. It’s poetic and moody, and feels like it could have used another five minutes to explain its narrative threads better. Watch it with headphones on if you can, as the sound design is significant.
There’s far less to say about Light on a Path, Follow (★★☆☆☆), which feels as though it were made in a trance. A pregnant person, living alone in the wilderness, encounters a supernatural force the credits only refer to as “the birthworker spirit.” Elliot Montague’s film is the equivalent of watching paint dry for 15 minutes — with two of them eaten up by an absurd amount of end credits.
Miss Man (★★★★★) is a potent tale of gender identity and repression, set in India. Manob (the eloquent Arghya Adhikary), is a gentle, transgender soul whose mother has recently passed. Struggling to achieve an authentic self, Manob fends off an abusive father and copes with emotionally harsh lovers, both male and female. “I’m attracted to women as well,” Manob says at one point. “But I’m not sure if it’s as a man or a woman.” The film is culturally dense, offering up compelling imagery to process, courtesy of dazzling cinematography by Tuhin Saha, and its narrative is occasionally scattered. But director Tathagata Ghosh eventually weaves the loose strands together in a magnificent, gratifying finale.
Eric Rosen’s netuser (★★★★★) is an unsettling, paranoid-infused thriller in which a famous internet provocateur (Denis O’Hare) recklessly endangers the life of his partner (Claybourne Elder) and their two-year-old son after a random Grindr encounter. Rosen’s film is smart and edgy — he doesn’t spell things out but lets the atmosphere and a spectacular performance by O’Hare convey the story. The film escalates to a subtle yet heart-pumping climax that leaves you wondering if social media should only be used for trading cat photos.
In Skin (★★★☆☆), a grieving, isolated man (an excellent Tom Sturridge) is guided by the unseen voice of his company’s Chief Happiness Officer. Daisy Stenham’s drama has a satisfying conclusion, but it feels unfinished, obvious, and ultimately pointless. The Chinese-made Touch (★★★★★) concludes the program with the startling tale of a young man’s attempt to connect with other men for late night mutual masturbation sessions. It’s a compact, absorbing, sorrow-drenched film, sensitive and evocative, and to give away its small, significant details would be to spoil its impact.
The “Alt-Reality” shorts program screens as part of this year’s Reel Affirmations Film Festival. For more information about the festival or to purchase tickets or festival screening passes, visit https://reelaffirmations.eventive.org.
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