Reviewed by Anna Staufenberg and Issey Medd
The second night of the Edinburgh Short Film Festival at Summerhall was based on the theme of ‘Secret Selves’, and featured ten short films from a diverse range of countries. Each film presented a short and often humorous insight into assorted secret selves, hidden habits and mysterious goings-on, tackling the theme in original and innovative ways, and providing an array of moving and very human narratives.
The screening opened with the Swedish film ‘People in Cars’, which slowly builds up 6 separate stories. The film focuses on the truth of human relationships, beautifully presented through the perspective of people whilst in transit, an in-between space that is at the same time highly personal. The conversations all follow a similar narrative of a hidden secret being tentatively brought out into the open. For example, a young hipster’s love for his engaged best friend, or a mother learning of her son’s secret online girlfriend from the Philippines. The cleverly executed dialogue allows the tension to rise and peak almost imperceptibly. At times extremely funny and at others slightly awkward, People in Cars is a beautiful snapshot of the secrets of individuals, and how they are revealed to those closest to them.
‘Princess’, from German filmmaker Noëmi Schneider, tackles the issue of gender identity, following a young boy who is involved in a group of smoking, mask-cladded bullies. Busted by his next-door neighbour and victim, who catches him dancing in the mirror in makeup and a dress, they begin a friendship based on bribery and exchange. He will help her train for a dance competition and she won’t expose his secret self. The film movingly explores the collision between the boy’s need to emphasise his masculinity - impressing his father and aggressive friends – and the secret femininity that is connected to his lost mother.
Nominated for best foreign film at the LA independent film festival, ‘Victor’ was another ingenious take on a secret identity, with a surprising twist at the end. Paul Menville’s French thriller follows a mysterious man who drives around a deserted town, picking up women on an apparent murder spree. In black and white, the mood is sombre and dramatic. At gas stations, in bars, and in the stairwell of his apartment he interacts with three different women, and reflects on his deep love for a girl who pops up everywhere he goes. One particularly memorable scene, he finds himself in the town bar, sitting among a fantastic array of alternative punk characters who sit smoking, drinking and staring wearily into the distance. Then towards the end, Menville skilfully reveals the true complexity of this man’s secret self, forcing the viewer to look back over the interactions portrayed throughout the film in a new light – a brilliant film!
The British film ‘EWWW’ stood out for its sheer humour and original take on the theme of secret selves. It opens halfway through a date that is coated in awkwardness, overcompensated for with excellently acted and slightly manic laughter on the girl’s part, who starts bombarding her date with Google’s top first date questions. The snappy dialogue is extremely well-written and appeals to a more British sense of humour, which delights in the awkward. We watch as the girl dares him to tell her his biggest secret, and her resultant wide eyes as he whispers something in her ear. We then find ourselves in the guy’s apartment, the mood taking a slightly more sinister turn as the man’s secret remains undisclosed. The girl slips out of bed as he sleeps and sneaks a look at his DVDs - which is where the truth of his secret self is documented. Like so many of the short films over the course of the evening, the secret that is revealed is not at all what the audience expects; the tension breaks and the sheer ingenuity of the storyline shocks us into ending the film laughing.
Catalina Jordan’s film ‘Paco’ was another highlight of the evening. Winner of best picture at Fantastic Fest in Austin, the experimental and quite bizarre story centres around a man who sits in the park calling at passers-by. Visually the film is exciting, colourful and autumnal and the execution of this strange narrative, these peculiar yet affirming interactions with a man in a park, is excellent. The film is daring, hilarious and beautiful.
Overall ‘Secret Selves’ was a fantastic evening; the selection of films had a really international feel, showcasing a series of eclectic, imaginative and creative stories that were at once entirely relatable yet totally bizarre.
'Secret Selves' was part of the Edinburgh Short Film Festival, which runs until 11th November 2017.