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L'origine de la tendresse and Other Tales (2008)

Isabelle Nanty , Elina Lowensohn , Alain-Paul Mallard , Guillaume Martinez  |  NR |  DVD

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Review

Short films have forever been bridesmaids and seldom brides. Occasionally, you might catch one at the IFC Center or the Landmark Sunshine that successfully diverts the attention of those waiting for the main attraction to start. Even at film festivals, shorts generally serve to warm up the screen before the features. The World According to Shorts has been an eight-year tradition at BAMcinématek that packages numerous short films into one marketable single ticket. As with the now-defunct Shooting Gallery and Sundance film series, the World According to Shorts offers the excitement of discovery without the hassle of a film festival. Through the years, it has proved to be a sound idea, and has spun off a DVD anthology and merited its latest program, L'origine de la tendresse and Other Tales, a theatrical run at Cinema Village beginning Friday. The latest program consists of six short films from France produced between 1999 and 2007. The roster is a veritable potpourri, and includes fiction, documentary, drama, comedy, and horror. The result is a mixed bag, but a couple of entries make the event well worth the time and price of admission. Felipe Canales' My Mother: Story of an Immigration is an adaptation of the photojournalist Farida Hamak's memoir recounting her family's emigration from Algeria to France. Using a slide show of her monochromatic family photo album and voice-over narration, Ms. Hamak tells a heartfelt story about her parents' travails as immigrants, and her own reconciliation with her ethnicity and duality. It's similar to Persepolis, but only 15 minutes long. Olivier Bourbeillon's The Last Day is an unforgettable documentary chronicling the final day of operation of the Schneider and Co. power hammer no. 125 at the Brest military harbor smithy. The three remaining blacksmiths put on brave faces as they go through their routines, while their voice-over narrations recount their history at the smithy and their contemplation of life after the shutdown. Thanks to Laurent Dailland's graceful camerawork, the steam- and dust-filled smithy comes alive as if it were a haunted house. One wishes some of the feature-length fodder out there would send chills up your spine the way Mr. Bourbeillon's 12-minute short does. --New York Sun

Pen-Pusher (2006), dir. Guillaume Martinez, 8 min. Private pleasures in public spaces and the dalliance of the unspoken underlined word reign paramount in Guillaume Martinez's charming Gratte-papier, winner of the Silver Bear for Best Short Film at the 2006 Berlinale. Ma mère, Histoire d'une immigration (My Mother, Story of an Immigration, 2007), dir. Felipe Canales, 15 min. This documentary reminiscence is the story of the filmmaker's mother who left Algeria in 1956 to reunite with her husband in Paris. It is likewise the story of three generations of women: her mother, Zehira's; her daughters'; her granddaughters', recalled through a sequence of still photographs. Je suis une voix (One Voice, One Vote, 2007), dir. Jeanne Paturle & Cecile Rousset, 13 min. In the run-up to the 2007 French presidential elections, this animated short looks at the importance of voting. Its style is sketch-like with a two-tone emphasis on the colors teal and coral. With its admonition that voting preserves democracy, it struck me as simplistic. Likewise, its characterization of Venezuela as the poorest country in South America seemed factually inaccurate. I guess I am still soured by America's 2000 elections, stolen by time and other thieves. We won't get fooled again, indeed.... La dernière journée (The Last Day, 2007), dir. Olivier Bourbeillon, 12 min. On July the 1st 2005, the 1867 Schneider and Co power hammer N°125 ceased operating at the former smithy of the Brest military harbor. This is the story of the machine and its workers' last working day. L'origine de la tendresse (1999), dir. Alain-Paul Mallard, 32 min. This centerpiece short, which won the Short Film Award at the Montréal Festival of New Cinema, provides a gentle portrait of Elise in an understated slow burn performance by Isabelle Nanty. Elise is a quiet, solitary woman who works as a docent at the Bourdelle Museum in Paris. She leads a relatively uneventful life. However, in a life in which nothing happens, no moment is devoid of meaning. Her quotidian existence is sketched out in calmly observed moments which reveal her kind nature. She listens to a friend's complaints, sweeps her apartment, waters her plants (and drinks from the same water glass), sleeps, fixes her bed and fluffs her pillow, distractedly offers sex to a workmate who discards her for her friend, does her banking by phone, suffers insomnia and sour milk, cleans her windows, washes her dishes, stops a dripping faucet, shelves groceries, encourages an artist sketching in the museum, tries to help a disabled widower locate the tip of a finger he's lost in an accident, offers phone card and chocolate to a mother and daughter in need all seemingly random moments connected by a spirit of care that informs Elise and distinguishes her as a unique creature of light. While reading a book in the park, Elise singles out a phrase that seems like a moment of self-discovery: I've known people who've grown up in a room shared with parents, brothers, sisters and who by night, covering their ears read, stubbornly, beside the heater and who've made it out; outwardly generous and dignified, remaining on the inside sweet and well-inclined. This revelatory scene concludes with a focus on her bare toes playing with a ginkgo leaf. L'origine de la tendresse is a lovely half-hour film and my favorite of the collection. Its narrative concludes philosophically: I've given much thought without finding any solution to the origin of civility and of tenderness. As of today, I have no answer. Unconditional kindness has never seemed more mysterious. Kitchen (2005), dir. Alice Winocour, 15 min. This comic short was nominated for a Golden Palm at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. I guess you could call it a chamber drama between a woman, her husband and two lobsters... --The Evening Class

Shorts programs require a gambler's mentality--roll the dice, take your chances--and thankfully, this collection of French snippets has two that offset a sense of comme ci, comme ça curating. Alain-Paul Mallard's 32-minute featurette, L'origine de la tendresse, is the longest and strongest selection, turning the mundane routines of a frumpy museum attendant into a free-associative portrait of middle-aged malaise. Mallard and his star, Isabelle Nanty, give equal significance to a soul-crushing sexual encounter and the checking of a bank balance; the manner in which throwaway moments and major turns are detailed so attentively only makes this cryptic slice-of-life more compelling. The other highlight, Olivier Bourbeillon's The Last Day, records the final pounding at the Schneider & Co. smithy, imbuing both the men and their machine with gritty dignity. --Time Out-New York (excerpt)

Product Description

The World According to Shorts presents a program of six notable French short films, featuring a broad range of styles and genres, from animation to fiction to documentary, reflecting the diversity of both the visions of contemporary French filmmakers and the people of France from foundry workers in Brest to Algerian immigrants transplanted to Paris; from the malaise of la vie quotidienne for an upper-class married couple to flirtatious youths in the capital's Metro system. The half-dozen short films gathered into this smart and lively omnibus could all easily survive as solid works on their own individual merits, but are fortunately being presented together in theatres under the World According to Shorts banner... -Chris Barsanti, Film Journal International. The World According to Shorts proves that great things often come in small packages.-V.A Musetto, New York Post. [My Mother: Story of an Immigration] is...like a tale told from long ago...immediate and beautiful.-James van Maanen, Greencine. Alice Winocour's Kitchen, about a neglected wife trying to make dinner, is the most accomplished of the bunch. It may not erase memories of Annie Hall, but it's the second-funniest use of lobsters I've seen. -Vadim Rizov, The Village Voice.

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