'2015 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour': Film Review

Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival
An engagingly varied pack of high-caliber shorts

Six of the fest's best shorts hit the road

Among moviegoers who pay attention to shorts, many will need no further review of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour than these words: There's a new Don Hertzfeldt movie in it.

It has been three years since the peerless animator completed his feature It's a Beautiful Day and toured it theatrically, and World of Tomorrow, one of the six Sundance alums chosen for this engaging program, is no letdown. A terrifying and funny vision of a future where cloning affords the rich immortality while others upload their psyches to little black boxes, it balances horror and cuteness as Hertzfeldt has since the 90s while forging new ground technically. His trademark stick figures are the stars, but here they occupy an appropriately sleek world created in the director's first, and wholly successful, foray into digital animation.

Where World bundles enough ideas for a sci-fi novel into its 16 brilliant minutes, Frankie Shaw's SMILF offers a single funny encounter packed with emotional import. In the title role (she's a single-mom version of that popular acronym), Shaw plays a woman who hasn't had sex since her toddler's birth and impulsively decides to remedy that with an old boyfriend. Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch plays the fella, who is happy to oblige until some predictable maternal realities (and some that are less so) spoil the mood.

Oh Lucy!has a darker heart, though Atsuko Hirayanagi's 21-minute film takes some time revealing itself, at first seeming headed for culture-clash wackiness. When a middle-aged Japanese woman signs up for English language classes, viewers will likely calibrate themselves for a familiar sort of personal awakening, especially with the complicated signals given off in Kaori Momoi's rich performance. The reality is sadder, albeit in an open-ended way.

The program's two docs are refreshingly challenging, more readily labeled art-film than documentary. In Kitty Green's The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul we watch the spliced-together screen tests of many teen and pre-teen girls who hope to play the Olympic figure skater. Answering questions we don't hear, they talk about their own lives and imagine Baiul's; the sometimes inane chatter gives way to emotional surprises after a few minutes. Surprise is key in Paulina Skibinska's Object, as well, and in fact a viewer whose attention drifts briefly might miss the ostensible point of this trip below the icy surface of a frozen lake. That would hardly keep one from appreciating this gorgeously photographed, mysterious film.

Returning to animation there is Storm Hits Jacket, a charmingly weird French adventure by Paul Cabon. Fans of the 2009 stop-motion release A Town Called Panic may detect an oblique kinship here, with unlikely characters getting into high-stakes trouble. It's all very in media res, but two brothers seem to be fine-tuning some kind of great invention ("I am face to face with the future!") while trying to keep it safe from would-be thieves, some vicious weather, and a phenomenon that leads our heroes to Google "cow storm." It leaves one wanting more, in a good way, something that's true of a surprising number of these Sundance award-winners.

No rating, 83 minutes

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