I’ve been doing these reviews all wrong. I been guessing the theme for each Short Cuts program instead of reading TIFF’s official page about them. I’ve edited two of the pieces accordingly and am starting right for the third program, one that they say is about characters in crisis. This is probably the most consistent of the programs which is surprising because two of the shorts have different approaches to human behavior. One argues that people want to change while the other doesn’t.
The short that argues the first point is Paul Shkordoff’s Benjamin, Benny, Ben. The short is about the titular young black man (Anwar Haj) with anxiety who ends up locking himself in the bathroom instead of applying for a job. Benjamin is probably one of the strongest characters I’ve seen in a film this year, and this is just a short. Shkordorff evokes that character even with impressionistic imagery. The images we see are grainy, reflecting Benjamin’s mindset in a surprisingly subtle way. The audience root for Benjamin as they should.
Naila Guiguet’s Dustin has the funniest gag in it. Security guards kick out a group of people, including the titular character (Dustin Muchwitz), out of a rave. And the short cuts to the back of a warehouse where that group reluctantly enjoy an overcast sky. I’m not selling how funny this is to me, and the gag is predictable, but it always works. The group then move to an apartment. They then call a Black drug dealer who asks uncomfortable questions about Dustin and another party goer’s sexual identity.
Surprisingly, both trans women welcome such questions. Contemporary cinema has been open to the fact that trans people are human beings with their own problems. And this follows that trend while thinking about intersections within political identities. Although other features about trans people deal with the biggest days in their lives, this one is very slice of life. Here, a protagonist lives their life one step at a time.
Time is also a factor in the story of Reza Riahi’s Navozande, the musician. It takes us to Iran when it was under Mongol rule, where an old Iranian woman manages the court of a Mongol lord, both holding the feast where the main attraction is the titular blind musician. The woman and the musician, as it turns out, were estranged lovers, having to separate because of the Mongol conquest. The flashback sequence of the lovers looking out to see the hordes riding in is heartbreaking.
And pardon me since my art history is rusty, but the ‘present day’ scenes look like Islamic manuscripts, which is already an aesthetic that I like, while the flashbacks look like East Asian screens. I know both aesthetics bleed into each other, but the reversal is interesting. Riahi has worked with both styles. He uses more black and white stuff in his directorial work while he uses more color when he works with a team, like he did in The Breadwinner. This work shows a versatility that’s always welcome.