You could go mad trying to divine an aesthetic coherence to Madly, an omnibus collection of six short films by notable international directors (with one debut) loosely connected by themes of sex and romance. Uneven in the way of so many cinematic anthologies, this is a more artistically ambitious collection than most, even if its aspirations aren’t always fulfilled. Recently showcased at the Tribeca Film Festival, it will probably have extensive festival exposure, although its commercial prospects appear limited.
The opening segment (each runs approximately 15 minutes) is also the most socially conscious. Directed by prolific Indian filmmaker Anurag Kashyap (Gangs of Wasseypur), Clean Shaven concerns a young housewife (Radhika Apte) whose marriage is constrained by old-world conventions; she and her husband have never seen each other naked. When a teenage neighbor confesses his attraction to her, she daringly reveals herself to him, only to be horrified by his laughing reaction to her abundant pubic hair. Inspired by the pornography he shows her, she shaves it off, thus incurring the wrath of her horrified husband. Featuring a strong performance by Apte as the timid wife who dares to assert herself, the film is an incisive depiction of patriarchal societal oppression.
Australian actress Mia Wasikowska’s (Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre) directorial contribution is a far more visually stylish, artsy affair. Afterbirth examines a young single mother (Kathryn Beck) struggling with her conflicted feelings after having recently given birth. Featuring arresting imagery captured within a 4:3 aspect ratio, it disconcertingly blends lighthearted moments with such creepy scenes as the mother attempting to switch babies in a park and a pair of cats staring menacingly through a window. Although at times it smacks of pretension, the short demonstrates that its young filmmaker could easily have a career both in back and in front of the camera.
In Sebastian Silva’s (The Maid, Nasty Baby) gritty Dance Dance Dance, a teenage Bronx break dancer (Lex Santos) comes out to his parents as gay, only to be thrown out of their house: “Take it back,” the father angrily orders him, adding that his son is “making a choice.” When the young man is forced to take refuge in a homeless shelter, he finds that his troubles are only just beginning.
The most audacious effort comes from veteran Japanese director Sion Sono, whose Love of Love cheekily illustrates that the family that plays together stays together. It depicts the members of a close-knit clan who get even closer when they frolic together at an underground sex club. Filled with extravagant visual flourishes that Fellini would envy, it culminates with a dining room bacchanal that has to be seen to be believed.
In Gael Garcia Bernal’s Love of My Life, a fortysomething man (Pablo Seijo) and twentysomething woman (Justina Bustos) find their relationship tested when she becomes pregnant. Related in elliptical style and combining moments that are sexy (the couple dances together in their underwear); funny (tasked with choosing a real-life couple with whom to identify in a natural childbirth class, he proposes “Sid and Nancy”); and poignant (she tells him that everything about him that she once found attractive now annoys her), it ruefully captures the vagaries of a longtime relationship.
The sole directorial debut comes from Natasha Khan, better known as the singer/songwriter Bat for Lashes. In her I Do, a young bride (Tamsin Topolski) experiences a panic attack on the way to her wedding and then has an emotionally charged encounter with a mysterious figure from her past. Resembling a music video in its visual sheen and narrative vagueness, it makes a striking impression.
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (International Narrative Competition)
Production: Cowboy Films, Diroriro, Django Film, MTV World, Nikkatsu, Phantom Films, Rei Cine, Scarlett Pictures, Viacom International Media Networks
Cast: Radhika Apte, Satyadeep Misra, Adarsh Gourav, Kathryn Beck, Lex Santos, Tamsin Topolski, Mariko Tsutsui, Yuki Sakurai, Ami Tomite, Taro Suwa, Justina Bustos, Pablow Seijo
Directors-screenwriters: Sebastian Silva, Sion Sono, Natasha Khan, Mia Wasikowska, Gael Garcia Bernal, Amurag Kashyap
Producers: Nusrat Durrani, Eric Mahoney
Not rated, 105 minutes