There is a reason why short-form and documentary storytelling can render a song of the spirit with such passion. Jafar Panahi’s HIDDEN is a testament to the renegade spirit that unites him with his daughter Solmaz and artist-friend-ally Shabnam Yousefi, armed with phone cameras, to find a gifted singer in a far-flung village in their native Iran. Their hope is to capture her voice, let her shed inhibitions within a dangerously conservative, dogmatic society and utilise her cloistered art to illumine their own efforts at finding a ray of light. This is art for the simple but ultimately groundbreaking purpose of shattering a glass ceiling, however futile or hopeless the pursuit may be. Their efforts somehow pay off but not before orienting us with the dreadful reality of how humans become literal ghosts when kept ‘hidden’ from plain view, without a voice, a face or a larger identity.
However, as grim as the pursuit is, there is the camaraderie among these three passengers in the car as they exchange thoughts without any hint of unnecessary earnestness or overbearing fear. These are facts of life for them and when fear becomes too much of a narrative choice for a society, it doesn’t bother practitioners of justice. It’s the car ride that is captured here and then the only source of hope that reveals itself with hushed whispers as the young singer’s mother lets the crew enter their home. In the end, only the magnificent voice gets recorded, preserved, rescued from abject anonymity.
In that final moment within the eighteen minute capsule, this guerrilla-style filmmaking sheds its camouflage to capture a conscientious artistic release that lies behind a white curtain but comes like a haunting passage of personal liberty, telling us what living ‘on the other side’ acutely feels like.
HIDDEN is also more relevant since Mr. Panahi has been put behind bars by his government, his daughter has become his vocal representative worldwide while Iranian women have launched a revolution with their defiance against a government and social structure that has condemned them to just merely exist as ghosts under scarfs. While I was reading its synopsis, I wondered when a day of uprising and resistance would arrive for Iranian society. As my instincts always signal a foretelling, two minutes later I was watching visuals of women being persecuted but holding themselves boldly against authority in the nation.
I always believe in a kind of empathy translating to telepathy when one registers the pains of this world. HIDDEN and this team’s exemplary work gave me that.
Acclaimed actor Evan Rachel Wood is a performer who I’ve admired for the longest time, be it for her turns in LITTLE SECRETS, PRETTY PERSUASION, MILDRED PIERCE or in the absolutely riveting music videos for Green Day’s iconic WAKE ME UP WHEN SEPTEMBER ENDS and Brandon Flowers’ haunting CAN’T DENY MY LOVE. She has inherited a clear vision for the moving image, utilising her experience to now translate another iconic artist’s most recent output to the screen.
UNAUTHORISED is a short film of thirteen minutes that I stumbled upon in these past few days while watching Fiona Apple’s cover video for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. It’s Evan’s and choreographer Angela Trimbur’s tribute to her successful 2020 album FETCH THE BOLT CUTTERS, a work I have lapped up too, leading me to discover Fiona’s influential oeuvre that very year. There has been no looking back . So it’s a natural fit that the imagery and fluidity of the dance moves aid a larger storytelling arc that is riveting in its four-fold iteration here.
I WANT YOU TO LOVE ME has Ms. Trimbur in a beautiful embrace of the song’s innocence and jazz-like rhythm set to piano notes, with her solo performance in a room and hall while HEAVY BALLOON, a meditation on mental health and its repercussions, finds her being joined by three other female dancers who express resilience in the face of struggles, with an outdoor set. Here, mud becomes an element to let loose one’s primal nature, revel in its sensuality.
In the second half, FOR HER finds these ladies in a formation with a desolate backdrop, intimately but strongly confronting abusers with their gestures, in consonance with the words, while COSMONAUTS again focuses on Angela Trimbur’s nocturnal exploration of the self as if in a trance, being wholly committed to the music.
Each song hence is handled deftly and since Ms. Apple doesn’t subscribe to the well-worn formula of music videos anymore, UNAUTHORISED is a welcome and appropriate tribute to her innate vision that is comprehensive and yet deeply personal.
Some say that it’s the journey, not the destination that matters in the end. For some, it’s the other way around. In Pratyusha Gupta’s simple and effective short, its title becomes apt to the way life-experiences and the people around us affect our evolution. Here, it is the journey and the destination, both, that appeal to the sixteen year old protagonist. The two people she finds herself with are not only wiser and on diametrically opposite sides of behaviour but are far removed from the world she has left behind through her own willpower.
The short begins with the girl in a room and a loud knock on the door, with a hostile voice asking her to open it. The editing is crisp and sharp, choosing to bypass that past remnant to have this girl, Gouri, start over with the job of a stay at home, 24 hour domestic worker at a Parsi lady’s( Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal) home in Bombay. The diurnal schedule, activities and words spoken by her employer maintain the rhythm of that evolution. She is moving ahead, changing her fortunes, one humble day at a time. Given her employment, she doesn’t have time to dwell; she doesn’t want to.
Eventually, the lady’s Man Friday and taxi driver( Vipin Sharma) shows her a paternal core which comes naturally to him and which she understands as genuine even as a brief outburst at an otherwise comely Irani restaurant gives him a glimpse at the life she escaped.
Shweta Tripathi, now a bona fide performer with such stellar credits as MASAAN and MADE IN HEAVEN, has eyes that express such multitudes, an ageless face and a body language that readily adapts its milieu. Her mostly silent reactions let her emote with an inner life. The other two veterans give her able support. So that the closing taxi ride with all three of them becomes a journey, a start, a renewal where the present is the most hopeful place to be rather than the locations passed or the city that they call home.
Nicolas Keppens’ Belgian animated short EASTER EGGS is a stark depiction of teenage and the emotional mood swings it obviously derives from. I watched it once, in its unbroken fourteen minute runtime on MUBI this weekend. I kept returning to its images in my mind and felt more and more affinity towards its realistic touch. As I said, this is a stark tale without any of that Disney melodrama one associates with animation works in general. It’s a short so it is able to present its concerns with compassion, without unnecessary exposition and above all with an interior gaze.
EASTER EGGS is about two boys who experience that adolescence can be an alienating ride, often driving even best friends apart. One wants to outgrow this phase where he’s still a child but doesn’t want to be one while the other is innocent to a T, still engages in pranks and sheds tears when hurt by the way his buddy seems to chide him for being ‘such a baby’ and leaves him stranded, expecting him to grow up. A trip to a local restaurant and the quest to find its deceased owner’s pet birds occupy a strand of the storytelling here.
Suffice it to say, both buddies find introspective moments when alone and the final minute brings them together, with the birds returning and surrounding them as they lay asleep side by side. Keppens’ direction is complemented by the voice work of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard winner Victor Polster( of GIRL fame) and Rik Verheye, its unsentimental tone and the bright use of colours and imagery never eclipsing the transitional period in this bond of amity between two boys.
To act one’s age or to be mature and wiser beyond the years is a dilemma that adolescence riddles us with. This miniature riff on friends coming together to acknowledge their deep affinity to each other and as an unit will thus be universal to viewers. We have passed through these motions and know how accurate Keppens is in capturing the boredom and confusion of those years when the spark of childhood is almost threatened overnight by the arc of ‘coming of age’