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Most of the films in DC Shorts’ Showcase 3 seem to try in their own idealistic way to illuminate a problem in the world, whether the problem is social anxiety or homophobia or income inequality. As you might guess, that makes a lot of this sequence feel overloaded with overt “messages.” I suspect it’s not the strongest collection we’re getting here, in terms of storytelling or craft, but there are a couple of gems.
Duel (pictured above): Well-intentioned but oversimplistic, in the style of a televised PSA, Duel’s message is basically this: If you meet a surly, graffiti-tagging kid on a train platform, just seize his spraypaint and turn all of his awful Nazi scribbles into clouds or a peace sign. Even if you’re a woman by herself, there is absolutely no harm that could befall you if you confront that guy spraying swastikas on a wall.
Girl Clown: In this Amelie-like fairytale of sorts, an intensely shy woman finds that putting on a clown costume helps her break out of her shell and make new friends. The filmmakers clearly do not live in Northampton, England, where this is happening in a much more terrifying way.
Legal Stranger: This documentary follows a cute Annandale, Va., lesbian couple through the process of fertilization, pregnancy, the birth of their daughter, and the weirdly cold verbiage of the legal paperwork involved in co-parenting, given that gay couples are not afforded any rights in Virginia. The film is not perfect, but it’s a heartwarming story—-even if its brevity prevents us from getting too drawn into the characters.
Ouverture: A lovely if slight animation, illustrated in black-and-white lines almost like a flip book and set to J.S. Bach. We follow a woman who, unless she’s playing the piano, fills up with notes until she bursts, which you’ll have to ignore is kind of like that weird stuff that spews out of John Coffey’s mouth in The Green Mile. My favorite image involved a violent flood of those notes, which rips through a house and breaks windows as the soothing music continues.
T’ai Chi Man!: Watching this feels a little bit like watching the trailer for Dads. It’s almost as though someone saw a free t’ai chi class in the park one day and decided—- without any research—-that it might make for a hilarious action-movie spoof about how lame and slow t’ai chi is. “By the power of Chi, I’m about to get a yin yang,” says the main character with bravado. Hey, t’ai chi ch’uan can be deadly! Can’t a centuries-old Chinese martial art get more respect?
The Big Leap: A Poland/Sweden joint, Leap offers the darkest material of this particular showcase. In it, three different people in suits meet on top of a building, all ready to leap to their deaths. Though the dialogue can be a bit stiff and heavy-handed, there are some brilliant moments, like when an employee confronts the CEO that “ruined his life,” demanding answers even as she’s ready to jump. The Coen Brothers are a clear influence, not just because of the whole falling-from-a-skyscraper thing in Hudsucker Proxy, but also for the whistling on the soundtrack.
The Primaeval Father: I hope this isn’t what Saturday morning cartoons are like in Russia.
Worlds We Created: It’s easy to forget how scary and lonely childhood can sometimes be. But this well-acted, almost completely dialogue-free piece reminds us of that while evoking some great “ain’t it rough to be a kid” nostalgia movies like Stand By Me. (Worlds We Created is set against the backdrop of the Space Race, with a protagonist who is captivated and comforted by images of rockets.) What’s nice is that we don’t know for sure whether everything we’re seeing is real or imaginary—-which is kind of what growing up feels like.
Not reviewed in this showcase: Rake’s Commitment, for which an advance screener was not available
Showcase 3 showings (see a complete schedule):
Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at U.S. Navy Memorial Sept. 22 at 4 p.m. at E Street Cinema Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at Angelika Film Center Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. at Angelika Film Center