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Above average collection, with jewels from Kapadia, Nolan and Leigh
16 outstanding shorts produced between the 1960s and the 2000s by three generations of British (or UK-based) filmmakers, a few of whom have become A-list names (Stephen Daldry, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Mike Leigh, Peter Greenaway). In this collection, there is the good, the bad and the ugly, naturally: some are silly but simpatico (Simon Ellis' Norman McLaren-ish "Telling Lies", Toby MacDonald's spoof on French Nouvelle Vague "Je t'Aime John Wayne", Adrian McDowall's funny study of two teen dim-wits "Who's My Favorite Girl?"). Some are just plain silly (Martin Parr's candid-camera slice-of-life "UK Images", Jim Gillespie's pretentious and dull "Joyride", Charles & Thomas Guard's unfunny and maudlin "Inside-Out", saved by Lena Headey's luminous beauty).
Some call attention for their great technique (Ridley Scott's visually arresting but self- indulgent and overlong "Boy and Bicycle", Christopher Nolan's 3-minute bull's-eye Kafkian spoof "Doodlebug"). Others for their psychological insight (Stephen Daldry's sensitive and creative "Eight", Brian Percival's acidly funny and very bleak "About a Girl", Lynne Ramsay's devastatingly sad "Gasman", Morag McKinnon's fine character study "Home", and especially Mike Leigh's exhilarating "The Short and Curlies", with dialog to match and superb performances by David Thewlis and Alison Steadman).
Standing apart are two formal experiments in original keys: Peter Greenaway's early (and already a display of his very individual style) sort of schizoid homage to English phone booths in the brainy, difficult "Dear Phone"; and John Smith's endearing but fatally overlong "The Girl Chewing Gum", a great idea -- a spoof on the illusion of omnipotence that thrives in every filmmaker ever born -- that begins just right but loses momentum for lack of equally creative development and conclusion.
But for me the champ is Asif Kapadia's spellbinding, exquisitely scripted, edited and directed moral tale "The Sheep Thief", set in the arid landscape of Rajasthan, India. It's the story of a pauper, orphan teenage boy who steals a sheep, gets caught and is branded with a "thief" mark on his forehead. Rejected and outcast, he steals a scarf, wears it like a bandanna (to hide the mark) and goes to a tiny village in the desert, where he tries to correct his ways when he finds compassion, friendship, lodging and work with a family (a poor mango-selling mother and her two kids) that takes him under its wing. But his past and his "vocation" (or essence, if you think in karmic terms), combined with other people's prejudice and intolerance and the mysterious ways of fate make him acknowledge the truth about himself. A visual joy (fine camera-work by Roman Osin, incredible scenery) and with sublime Hindu-style music by Dario Marianelli, "The Sheep Thief" is a great film by any standards (especially considering it's a graduation film), but it has a particular glow in this collection for being so different from all the other shorts, in form, tempo, depth and spirit. A precious gem.
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