Boys On Film 11: We Are Animals – DVD Review

17th March 2014

Short films are often dismissed as lesser companions to their feature-length siblings, mostly serving the purpose of getting new filmmakers noticed. Though partially true, it’s important to point out how powerful and poignant short films’ storytelling can be and how hard it is to make good and accomplished ones. That’s why I must confess I was thoroughly entertained, satisfied and (in several cases) impressed after watching Boys On Film 11: We Are Animals. It’s the latest chapter in the quite popular DVD collection of LGBT short films distributed by Peccadillo Pictures, one of the UK’s most renowned film distributors of art-house, gay & lesbian and world cinema.

This very interesting compilation includes eight films that appear in the following order: We Are Animals, Burger, Alaska Is A Drag, Three Summers, The Last Time I Saw Richard, Little Man, For Dorian, Spooners. They span through different genres, moods, tones and themes but they’ve been selected and grouped together in a very organic way. There’s something I enjoyed in each of them from either a filmmaking or writing point of view or both, though inevitably some left a mark more than others. However, I’ll avoid talking about them using a rating system. I’ll give you an overview by listing them in my order of preference.

The Last Time I Saw Richard – dir. Nicholas Verso (Australia) 2013, 23 min.
This gorgeously shot and superbly acted film tells the story of Jonah, a young patient in a teen mental health clinic in 1995. Bratty towards other patients and loner by default, he suffers from horrific nightmares and copes with his internal wounds by cutting himself in the bathroom stalls. One day he’s assigned a roommate named Richard who’s shut down and spends his time drawing in his sketchbook but Jonah slowly manages to breach in and they bond, hinting at something more than just friendship.

When Jonah discovers that some of Richard’s drawings match imagery from his nightmares, it becomes clear that some mysterious supernatural forces might be at play. Taut, creepy and atmospheric, this short has a cool Donnie Darko vibe and I was relieved to find out that the very promising writer/director Nicholas Verso has made it as a prequel to his upcoming feature film Boys In The Trees. My first thought while credits were rolling was: “I need to watch the feature right now!” and I bet that will be your reaction as well.

For Dorian – dir. Rodrigo Barriuso (Canada) 2012, 16 min.
Dorian is a really sweet boy with Down syndrome who’s obsessed with the weather forecast and lives with his loving but overly protective dad. When he makes a new friend at school and gets accidentally caught masturbating, his father has to face the reality that his son my be different from the other boys his age but he’s still got a lot that makes him human, just like everybody else.

This incredibly endearing and moving (yet unsentimental) film is remarkable for the rich and detailed quality of its storytelling, the depth of its performances and for dealing with the delicate theme of how often we sadly tend to asexualize the disabled. Fully fledged, confident and absorbing, it makes the most out of its limited running time and manages to be more engaging and emotionally challenging than many features I’ve seen recently.

Little Man – dir. Eldar Rapaport (UK/Israel) 2012, 24 min.
An intense and unsettling descent inside a man’s psyche, Little Man is about Elliott and his inability to have long lasting relationships. As he’s pushing thirty, jumping from guy to guy, he realizes he keeps finding ways to fuck things up and remain alone, despite ideally wanting someone in his life.

When he finds out he's been spied on by his weird and nerdy young neighbor from upstairs, Elliott’s fragile mind is pushed to the edge and he has to confront something unexpected. Original and grotesque, Little Man is skillfully directed by the winner of the 2011 Iris Prize (the world's largest lesbian and gay short film prize) and features some really great performances and a beautiful piano-based score. A bit reminiscent of Spike Jonze’s mood, it’s definitely another strong piece in the collection.

Three Summers – dir. Carlos Augusto de Oliveira (Denmark) 2006, 28 min.
It’s undeniable that this short film’s main attraction lies in its narrative structure, covering the same event over the course of three years, labeled as last summer, this summer and next summer. It’s an interesting choice given the short film form and it works quite well as it gives a nice pacing to the story. Every year, Jørgen spends the summer in a beautiful residency where he throws dinner parties for his friends. When we first meet him he’s on his second marriage and seemingly no longer considering his wife good company. Or at least that’s what he confesses to Thomas, his friends’ teenage son, when they go on a walk, in clear need of someone to talk to.

Thomas reveals he’s gay so now they both have shared their own secret. The following summer, Thomas has clearly explored his sexuality and finds Jørgen now divorced. This time around their bond leans towards unexpected territories and the third summer will inevitably deal with the outcome. Even if the final chapter indulges in an extra story beat that could’ve been cut to make the whole piece tighter, Three Summers still manages to grab the viewer’s attention, posing some interesting questions without giving easy answers.

We Are Animals – dir. Dominic Haxton (USA) 2013, 13 min.
A dystopian revisionist period piece set during the 1980s AIDS crisis where a repressive government hunts gay men down, convicts them and tortures them with castration. A young man who’s closeted and works for the regime is assigned to prep the latest catch for the inhumane procedure but the prisoner is actually the leader of the revolutionary group that’s fighting the repression so the young man's life is bound to change radically as he has the opportunity to finally be himself.

Will he find the courage to rebel? Stylish and almost Terry Gilliam-esque, We Are Animals stands out for its look but maybe feels a bit too much like a teaser for a feature film, despite the story being self-contained. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that but given the interesting world created, it feels like once this world has been established we are not left with enough time to get into it. That said, it’s still an original piece worthy of attention.

Also checkout: On The Basis Of Sex: DVD Review

Spooners – dir. Bryan Horch (USA) 2013, 14 min.
The only true comedy of the bunch and perfect conclusion to the collection after a streak of intense dramas, Spooners is a quirky tale about finding the courage to live one’s identity openly. Nelson and Corey are happily married but still sleep on Corey’s old futon that has a bizarre sentimental value to him. Nelson can no longer take waking up with neck pain and convinces his significant other to buy a new comfortable mattress. However, when presented with the prospect of going shopping for it together Nelson gets quite anxious at the idea of having to indirectly come out to strangers. The way things turn out is quite hilarious and endearing thanks to the inventive situation created by the script. The actors have pretty good timing and chemistry and it’s sure they’ll put a smile on the most cynical faces.

Burger – dir. Magnus Mork (UK/Norway) 2013, 11 min.
A very interesting look at a diverse group of people in Cardiff, ending their late night at a cheap burger place. A couple of girls, a trio of gay friends, a couple of tame boozers and a trio of hooligans. As they wind up interacting with each other somehow, more or less awkwardly, it’s almost like observing wildlife, the mankind version. The lack of an actual narrative (though you could argue there’s still one) makes things less engaging at times but the film deserves props for making you think you know where it’s going and then taking another route that leads to quite a meaningful ending (its most accomplished moment). Burger is the fourth short film produced by the Iris Prize after its director, Magnus Monk, won the prize in 2010. It fits very well within the frame of this collection since it is tonally and stylistically very different from the rest with its social experiment feel.

Alaska Is A Drag – dir. Shaz Bennett (USA) 2012, 14 min.
Set in a small Alaskan fish cannery, this is the story of Leo, one of its workers. He’s a peculiar young man who’s not afraid to be true to himself despite becoming the constant target of harassment from his coworkers. One day a new boy joins the work force and he’s more interested in befriending Leo than being absorbed into the bullying clique. To Leo’s surprise, the new entry not only becomes a good friend but most importantly a strong supporter of Leo’s dreams of escaping to a better life. It’s interesting how the filmmaker chooses to explore a friendship rather than romance but the film mostly repeats the same story beat a few times, becoming repetitive and leaving you with the feeling of something barely sketched. It’s too bad since the actors are all quite good and will have shined with a more developed material. Yet, despite being my personal least favorite of the bunch, the film has its moments.
One thing is sure: Boys On Film 11 has more merits than flaws and it’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re in the mood for an alternative and stimulating form of entertainment rather than your usual flick or TV show.
Boys On Film 11: We Are Animals is out on DVD now.
Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor

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