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LONDON SHORT FILM FESTIVAL - London Lives 2

Thursday 23 January 2020, by Louis Christie

The Mole, (Yiling Ding, 2018)

This short and enigmatic film is a glimpse into the life of a young masseur in Chinatown. A montage of moments in his working day at family-run Hong Ning Herbal Medicine, with voiceover narration in Chinese, proffers the tip of an iceberg, the scale and complexity of which is only made clear in the final shot. With all the reticence of an Imagist poem, the film leaves you deeply intrigued yet with the impression that it’s somehow said everything that needs saying.

Mahon Chorizo Avocado (Edward Smyth, 2019)

If The Mole held back on providing information, Mahon Chorizo Avocado amply made up for it. Whimsical, self-aware, steeped in the visual language of digital communication and internet culture, the film is a postironic bombardment of content. We whizz through text messages, montages of bumblefoot-afflicted pigeons and of the filmmaker ranting in French, then an instagram account (‘niche temp today’) which posts the temperature of random objects, and of course the sandwich filling which gives the film its title (and which has now been changed Mahon Hummus Avocado, as both the filmmaker who invented it and the café which serves it have gone veggie). It’s hard, if tempting, to accuse the film of being style over substance, because its seems to take style as its subject, offering itself as a study in, or demonstration of, the overload of digitised information that dominates our lives.

Situated among the other shorts, this feels like a pertinent subject to be making films about. It’s notable, watching through the selection, how increasingly difficult it is to tell stories about London on screen without engaging with digital communication, when so much human interaction – so much story – now takes place in that arena. Three of the eight shorts have segments in phone video layout, and even those that don’t are forced, in moments, to resort to showing phone screens. The Grindr messages are the only dull shot in Thrive, the naturalism of which is such that a more stylised way of showing text would have felt gimmicky and out of place. The 3 Sleeps solution was to make the girls reliant on their landline, and Talk to Leon had to push back to 1977 to frame an adventure which Google maps would have made less exciting. In any case, it’s a conundrum which will only grow; it will be interesting to see how films deal with it in the coming years.

More info on the director’s website.

Serious Tingz (Abdou Cisse, 2019)

Setting visuals to a spoken word poem, this film is succinct and brilliantly effective. It opens in black and white: a black man sits on the bonnet of a car, which rolls slowly towards the camera. His grimacing face edges into sharp focus. This (the grimace) is ‘screwface’, self-defence through facial expression, which is the code of conduct for the young black men in the film. They are shown in gracefully cinematic shots intercut with phone footage; messing around in cars, then arranged in a beautiful triangular composition in the stairwell of a council block. The visual language switches between mundane and momentous; as we discover, norms of facial expression resonate on as many levels. When the sequences of screwface give way to smiles and laughs, it seems as if the film was just moving towards this lift in tone, but the smiles are undercut by the poem’s powerful closing lines.

Serious Tingz from Abdou Cisse on Vimeo.

More to come...

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