The hot new trend in this year's crop of festworthy Canadian shorts is that most venerable of perennials: man-woman relations.
Megan Martin's Ninth Street Chronicles views those relations through the eyes of a little girl who falls in love with a teenage gay guy and tries to rescue him from the life of prostitution she thinks he's living. At the same time, she's learning about sex by imitating the babysitter, right down to an embittered "You better hope I'm not pregnant," and learning about boys from watching her strutting teen neighbour, the object of the babysitter's predatory intentions. The stylized performances in a naturalistic frame achieve a touching comedy that nicely reflects the peculiar insanities of both adult and child. It would be nice to see this expanded to a feature.
The other end of life offers a unique take on love and good comic performances in Emmanuel Shirinian's The Last Bang , which sees a young man pressed into escorting his very aged grandfather to a brothel for one last go-round. A couple of films, Maxime Giroux's Les Jours and Guy Edoin's Les Eaux Mortes , deal strongly with the leaden agony attendant on the death of a loved one.
But mostly relationships go wrong in the middle of life, and there's lots of that. Jamie Travis's Patterns 3 (yes, Patterns 1 and 2 are in the program) breaks it down very wittily with split screen and singing in rounds. Sheila Pye's A Life Of Errors also goes for imagery over narrative, with its broken ropes, broken glass and ring of fire making a couple's internal torment visible.
Rodrigo Gudio's The Eyes Of Edward James is an overt genre piece that suggests a bloody end to a relationship poisoned by possibly imaginary suspicions. As an exercise in horror-movie effects it displays an assured command of conventional techniques: nervous subjective camera, shock cuts, eerie lighting. But it seems more like a fragment of some larger film than a fully realized piece in its own right.
That's a problem that plagues several of this year's entries. They look highly professional on all fronts, and very conventional, with tight over-the-shoulder two shots and moody, high-contrast lighting. But the content is little more than story fragments. They're like audition pieces for television series, designed more to reassure potential employers than to involve an audience.
Engaging stories make all the difference in a pair of conventionally shot items. Adam Garnet Jones 's Cloudbreaker takes the point of view of an urban First Nations little boy who is either becoming a shaman or seriously risking his sanity with herbal concoctions. Geoffrey Uloth's The Ecstasy Note, a cheerfully violent black comedy, suggests that the power to bring others pleasure is not worth the price -- a bizarre notion in the world of cinema, which rewards just that.
But lots of films operate away from the confines of convention. Veteran director Patricia Rozema deploys her extreme high-contrast lighting in Suspect, a brief meditation on theft that uses subtitles to inform simple visuals with emotion. Theodore Ushev's The Man Who Waited brings engraving-like animation to Franz Kafka angst. Alexander Winfield's Christ In Wood explores a similar mood with an animated marionette Jesus. Deco Dawson's Elizabeth Short deconstructs images of the titular victim in life and death to present a harrowing vision of the famous unsolved Black Dahlia case.
Short films screen in Short Cuts Canada Programmes 1 through 5 or precede various features. For complete list of films, see www.e.bell.ca/filmfest/2006 .