by Walter Chaw
Dirt */**** (d. Darius Clark Monroe) One of those time-loop conceits that opens with a guy burying a body and ends with...no, not telling. Dirt has an issue with editing and looping, the fallout being that image overlaps noise, confusing function. It's possible to do this meaningfully; it's also possible to junk it up so completely that every transition begins with unnecessary obfuscation. That's what's happened here. Dirt isn't promising, but it is brief.
The Gambler (Ghomarbaz) **/**** (Iran, d. Karim Lakzadeh) A political allegory, I think, for the state of the State in Iran, this one has a trio of guys who engage in a series of wagers about, basically, how long one of them can stay buried. Overlong and interminable, even at 21 minutes. It's tempting to pull some sort of meaning out of it, but the impact of it all is that the acting is bad and the writing is not great and the look of it is rough, to say the least. Iran has a fulsome, fascinating film industry, one every bit as modern as its Western counterparts. Too smart for its own good and not smart enough at the same time, this is not one of their better exports.
Le gouffre **/**** (France, d. Vincent Le Port) Existing in that novella netherworld where it's neither long enough to be a feature nor short enough to be tolerable, Le Port's 52-minute Le gouffre ("The Chasm") is about a young girl living by the sea who makes friends with the foreigner on the beach and a German couple staying at her trailer park who, one day, lose their deaf daughter to the witch living under the stone monument. There are some tense moments of the kind that every film that shoots in abandoned underground corridors generates, and then there's a lot of moody black-and-white walking-around. At moments, it seems to be suggesting something about the immigrant crisis in France, where the "chasm" is that between cultures. At other times, it seems to say there's a chasm of understanding that has led to the loss of the little girl in the first place (our hero is the only multi-lingual figure in the piece). Ultimately, it doesn't really say anything, though it looks sort of cool not saying it.
Inner Workings ***/**** (d. Leo Matsuda) A charming animation from Disney Studios that, Inside Out-like, posits a sentient volition in a person's interiors: the brain vs. the heart in a clock-puncher--the one desperate to be on time for his paper shuffling, the other desperate to flirt with the sunglass vendor and take a quick dip in the ocean. It's fascinating to me that the message of the piece seems to be that, sure, life is an endless drudgery, but do it with brio, OR that life is an endless drudgery, so find balance with the parts of it that aren't. Either way, it's remarkably unsentimental for a Disney short--the antidote to Pixar's singing-volcano one--and worth it for the craft, the sly sense of humour (the bladder has something to say at one point), and the breeziness of its execution.
Ghost Cell ***/**** (France, d. Antoine Delacharlery) A beautiful, haunting MoCap animation that captures the hurly-burly of a city day and translates into dirt and grey shadows. It suggests, wordlessly, the maxim that we are made of ashes and to ashes we shall return, and all this activity is the brief buffer between eternal static states. Ghost Cell is brisk and kinetic, a unified vision from beginning to end that only just starts to overstay its welcome. At its best, and despite not being stop-motion animated, it reminds of the existential nightmares of the Brothers Quay. There's hardly a higher compliment.