'2018 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour': Film Review

A well balanced variety pack containing some gems.

Those who couldn't make it to Park City get a taste of the shorts scene there.

Ranging from light diversion to neorealism to a one-of-a-kind look into the abyss, this year's Short Film Tour brings highlights from Sundance's 2018 program to viewers around the country who either can't afford to fly out to Utah every January or (like many film-biz attendees) can't afford to watch shorts when they're supposed to be scouting this year's crop of indie features.

Of the two animated titles on the list (more about the other later), Kangmin Kim's JEOM has perhaps the anthology's slimmest premise — a son hates the birthmark he believes he inherited from his father — but uses it as the springboard for visually exciting storytelling. Mixing what looks like intricate paper-cut animation with analog-feeling computer work, he watches as the two men wage war on their bodies' anomalies, trying to sand away the huge blotches and praying they don't get passed down to the next generation.

Of the program's four live-action features, the standout also has to do with how fraught presumably skin-deep cosmetic issues can be: Mariama Diallo's Hair Wolf, a cutting and very funny satire set in a beauty parlor, adopts horror-film tropes to watch as a vapid white woman tries to suck the life out of black style. The short would have been memorable with just the sight of one of the woman's zombie-like Instagram followers pounding the salon's window and moaning "braaaaiiids!," but Diallo has plenty of other sharp observations up her sleeve, and the visual panache to put them across colorfully.

Alvaro Gago's Matria goes the other way, bleakly chronicling a day in the life of a weary grandmother. Balancing the neediness of her helpless husband with the constant grousing of her boss at a canning factory, Ramona persists, but is hardly rewarded for it. For a lighter look at a woman struggling to make ends meet, there's Maude, the directing debut of Anna Margaret Hollyman, a standout actress in Austin's filmmaking scene. Hollyman plays a woman who, after being humiliated by learning her latest nanny gig is for a now-successful schoolmate, finds herself pretending she's the baby's mother. Bougie moms get lots of random affirmation, she finds, and the life is seductive ... until the short's comic comeuppance.

Jeremy Comte's Quebec-set Fauve appears to be something pretty familiar — an afternoon in the lives of two boys playing around in abandoned places that seem to belong to them — but isn't. Neither is it easy to pigeonhole Baby Brother, Kamau Bilal's short documentary look at his own brother: The 23 year-old has moved back in with his parents after an attempt to live in the city, and Bilal watches with affectionate amusement as the youth screws up multiple small stabs at self-improvement.

Lastly, there's Niki Lindroth von Bahr's unforgettable The Burden (Min Borda), which appears to be becoming one of those "you've got to see this" efforts that gets exposure outside the usual shorts circuit. (Of the handful of feature-length shorts programs I've seen outside fests in the last year, it has been in three.) A stop-motion puppet film set in the impersonal businesses clustered around an intersection of highways, it watches anthropomorphized animals doing jobs (telemarketing, supermarket cleanup) sentient humans shouldn't really have to endure. It doesn't spoil anything to say that the film's eponymous "burden" is the curse of existence, and that its protagonists sing and dance — to haunting compositions by Hans Appelqvist — as they give voice to their existential private thoughts. Funnier than it may sound but so oddly pitched it's guaranteed to be the film people talk about here, it makes one want to immediately hunt down von Bahr's other work and hope for more of it soon.

Distributor: Sundance Institute
Directors: Anna Margaret Hollyman, Kamau Bilal, Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Mariama Diallo, Kangmin Kim, Jeremy Comte, Alvaro Gago

In English, French, Spanish, Korean and Swedish
93 minutes