Metro Weekly

‘Best of Shorts’ Reviews: Reel Affirmations 2023

A collection of shorts that lives up to its billing, with some wonderful, emotional, and beautiful moments.

Aikane -- Image: The Kumu Hina Project
AIKĀNE — Image: The Kumu Hina Project

Overall Rating for this Program: ★★★★☆

“Best of Shorts” largely lives up to its billing, with some wonderful, emotional, and beautiful moments over its two-hour runtime.

Kicking things off is A History of Sitting in Waiting Rooms (★★★☆☆), a McDonald’s-funded short film that offers similarly empty calories. Writer and director Lorena Russi stars as a woman navigating her burgeoning butch identity with the help of Civil War ghost Boo (Adam Jepsen). It’s an amusing eight-minute romp, but there’s barely time to get invested before the whole thing wraps.

With its heady mix of vintage filmmaking, beautiful scenery, and good old-fashioned cruising, A King, Gazing at the Sea (★★★★★) is more substantial fare. Ousmane (Loic Djani) visits Greece, only to find himself entranced by a handsome local (Lefteris Polychronis) clad in red swim briefs. Djani simmers with intensity throughout, as Ousmane contemplates and cruises his mysterious Greek god while exploring gorgeous, history-speckled landscapes and sun-splashed coastlines.

Writer-director Jean-Sébastien Chauvin’s script contains spare narration and a few verbal exchanges, but Djani speaks volumes with longing eyes that steal long glances, and his chemistry with Polychronis sizzles — especially when those glances are returned. Chauvin has crafted a beautiful homage to classic filmmaking, with a style that evokes ’70s cinema, vintage erotica, and a dash of Call Me By Your Name. A trip to Greece, anyone?

Blending multiple cultures and histories, AIKĀNE (★★★★★) — which means intimate friend of the same sex in Hawaiian — is the gorgeously animated tale of a wounded warrior rescued from the ocean by a giant octopus. When the octopus transforms into a handsome young man, the warrior is torn between burgeoning love and his island duty. AIKĀNE is rich, beautiful, and leagues better than the usual animated fare.

“I want to be a girl,” declares eight-year-old Simon in Fabien Ara’s French-language short Fairyocious (★★★★☆). The adults in Simon’s life, including his mother and her neighbors, have no clue how to process this declaration. What follows is an initially amusing discussion of stereotypes and bad takes, before the conversation gets darker and darker as more people become involved. An extremely relevant film, one brilliantly executed by its cast.

We stay in France for L’Apprenante (The Learner) (★★★☆☆), a breezy short steeped in ’90s style. An American woman living in Paris recounts her weekend during French lessons, including a suitably French encounter with a woman at a party. Angelique Kalani Axelrode’s short is tightly made, with a wonderful aesthetic, although its brief runtime stops it from earning any extra credit.

Nothing Special

Threatening to live up to its name, Nothing Special (★★☆☆☆) follows two young men in England as they meet, flirt, and then head back to a hotel room to continue the night.

Director Mikko Makela injects a twist at just the right moment, but that renewed momentum is quickly derailed by a spectacularly stilted performance from one of the leads. Sadly, Nothing Special was correct all along.

Unintentionally one of the most relevant films at this year’s festival, Soft Sign (★★★★☆) is set in Israel on the eve of the 1996 election that catapulted Benjamin Netanyahu to power. Natalie, a Russian immigrant, and Amir, a Palestinian director, are interviewing people about the election when they meet young Russians Olya and Alyosha.

What follows is a blend of the political and the erotic, as the quartet explore occupation, Soviet homophobia, and one another. Strong acting and tangible chemistry elevates this short, while current affairs add an unfortunate extra edge.

Closing out the program, The Art of Making The Simple, Complicated (★★★★☆) thankfully keeps things very simple with its Spanish-language tale of 25-year-old Makos trying to come out to her Mexican mother. Maria Jose Noriega, who co-wrote and directed with Karla Enriqueta Noriega, lends whimsical energy to Makos’s struggle, as the “right time” never seems to come. Very relatable, and, thankfully, very watchable.

“Best of Shorts” plays Saturday, Oct. 21, at 5 p.m. at The Eaton and the Virtual Festival.

Reel Affirmations 2023 includes the Virtual Film Festival, providing online access to 43 films for those film lovers who cannot attend the festival in person, with a viewing window from Oct. 23 to 29.

Browse the full Virtual Festival catalog here.

Buy Virtual Festival passes here.

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