By Allison Lyzenga, My Film Habit
Film: Theo Huong Den Ma Di (The Fading Light)
Thien Do directs this heart-rending short film about a man returning to his childhood home, and all the traumatic memories of the past that this trip draws out. It’s a story about the profound love between siblings that people often don’t even realize is there until it’s gone, and it’s a serious tear-jerker.
The story is told in the anxious, non-linear style of a fevered dream, and it recreates the tossing and turning of a restless night. And it does an expert job of evoking that empty, aching feeling in your chest that accompanies any devastating loss. This is a very powerful short, but you really need to be in the mood for a good cry before you sit down and watch it.
Another tragic tale of loss. But that pretty much sums up the whole tone for this grouping of short films. This short film, directed by Christina Rubenstein, is about how one little girl’s life is affected by the civil unrest in the Philippines.
So many of these tragic stories feature children precisely because kids often times don’t realize what they are doing and how their actions inadvertently bring disaster. Sometimes their genuine curiosity about what their family is doing is just the thing that exposes them all to danger.
So while no one can really blame them for the misfortunes their actions have caused, it’s something that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. This short story has an impressive amount of drama and suspense. And true to the theme for the evening, it thoroughly breaks the hearts of everyone in the audience.
Film: In Space
This is meant to be a melancholy story about how family members sometimes aren’t ready to let go of a loved one who has just passed away. A young man lives with his two grandparents, and they make quite a tight little family unit.
So when grandma passes on, this man and his grandpa are having a hard time going on with their normal lives. But, when I was watching this short film by Visra Vichit-Vadakan, I couldn’t help but be charmed by how in love grandma and grandpa are with each other, and hoping that I will have that kind of love when I’m an old lady watching trashy soaps on TV with my man.
But then I guess the film shows us this strong bond so that we can understand the hard time this family is having coping with their loss. Grandpa sends grandson off to be a monk because he thinks that’s what grandma always wanted for him, and maybe feels a little bit guilty that they didn’t make this happen while she was still alive.
And grandson, while he tries his hardest to be a good monk, ultimately only finds comfort when he is meditating about the comforting, family life the three shared together. This is more of a comforting film than a sad one. I interpret it as a story about a life well-lived, surrounded by people you love. But each scene is slightly bittersweet, since even the best-lived life has to come to an end.
Film: Midas Son
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a supportive family. In fact, some kids have to deal with their parents using them mostly as a means of reliving past glories. The young man in this short film by Annetta Marion has to put up with just such parents. And he has to deal with their passive-aggressive displays of disapproval when he tries to escape their expectations.
It’s hard to watch someone suffer emotionally like this at the hands of people who are supposed to love him unconditionally–and the film captures this young man’s torment pretty authentically. But fortunately, it seems that he’s gained enough strength to know how to deal with it.
This was a pretty rough afternoon of films, but most of the characters in the films don’t have it as bad as the poor girl in this short film by Chloe Zhao. It’s one thing to lose a parent to old age, or political unrest, or for your parents to have unrealistic goals for you.
But what if your parents saw you as nothing more than a cheap piece of chattel that just because you are a girl. You’d better not start getting to uppity or expensive to feed because they’d sell you to be some octogenarian’s bride for two loaves of cornbread before you even knew what hit you.
Poor Maple is in a tough spot. Her family can only afford to keep so many kids, but big sis is pregnant again . . . with a boy this time. So one dependent has got to go. Maple’s parents are thinking they’ll just sell her off to the first person who wants to marry her, but she thinks that if she can somehow get rid of her irritating little nice, Plum, maybe she won’t have to become some old geezer’s bride.
But can she really go through with it? Can she really be that cold hearted? We can all feel her pain and lack of hope. Life’s not the best working as a farm laborer out on the rural plains of inner China. But how can her parents just throw her away like that? This is a gorgeous film, and it’s infused with lots of really tense moral dilemmas that leaves the audience feeling emotionally conflicted.
Film: Frog in the Well
This showcase of films ends with another melancholy, but uplifting and beautiful story about a man fulfilling his mother’s last wishes. As her dying request, one man’s mother asks her son to spread her ashes all over Japan. And he honors her wish by traveling from her hometown in the far north, all the way to the southern-most tip of Okinawa.
And as he progresses on this somber journey, he learns a little bit about the country he lives in, and a lot more about himself. This is an absolutely visually stunning film. I always find that a little bit of sadness makes a story more beautiful, but this film does a particularly good job of showcasing many of Japan’s natural and manmade wonders.
With every mile he travels, this man’s heart heals a little bit more, and the audience grows with him. It’s the perfect conclusion to an evening of very emotionally trying films.
Allison Lyzenga writes about films on her website, My Film Habit.