Familial dynamics take the spotlight in The Family Compact (88 min) in a set of 8 shorts that examine tradition, loss, memory, and coming-of-age, among other themes.
Liar (8 min) gets things started and shows Canadian Adam Garnet Jones to be a capable dramatic director with this piece about a teenager who gets dumped by her boyfriend after he comes out to her. Her older sisters escalate the tension when they exact revenge on the young man.
Hellion (6 min) from U.S. director Kat Candler is equally assured in this dark comedy about a young boy and his trouble-making brothers, who catch a whoopin’ when dad comes home to find mom duck-taped to their trailer.
Peter Mullan (War Horse, Tyrannosaur) lends his grizzled face to Long Distance Information (8 min), a very perceptive and wryly funny slice-of-life that reveal a mundane universality in father-son relationships. Mullan’s face in the last shot is priceless.
Turbulence (22 min) is a very compelling straightforward Tunisian drama about a teenaged girl who comes home from a party badly beaten. We spend time with her mother and brother as they try to get to the bottom of what happened. It’s a simple story that reveals the complexities in a situation where religious orthodoxy turns the victim of the crime into the bad one, as if the girl deserved what happened to her because she is a girl. It’s a riveting short deserving of a feature.
The best short in this program is Lack of Evidence (9 min), a French production that recounts the horrifying story of a Nigerian man whose application for refugee status in France was denied due to the fact that he could not prove his story, which is that his father killed his twin brother in a ritual sacrifice because of that tribe’s belief that twins are born with evil spirits. Narration from the French bureaucrat who tried to help the man is used to tell the story while an innovative montage of computer generated images take us through a dramatization of events using only landscapes and our imaginations. Sad and brutal.
Little Brother (7 min) is an absorbing account of a hearing-impaired older brother and the transit ride he and his wheelchair-bound, special needs younger brother take across town. He loves his younger brother, but at times he turns his hearing aid off in order to escape from the sounds he sometimes finds annoying from the little guy. A wonderful short about escape and connection.
Belly (7 min) is a fascinating animated allegory out of the UK with half human, half animal people as it follows the coming-of-age of a younger brother (an elephant) and the things he must leave behind in his youth.
From Denmark, the series concludes with another slice-of-life drama in Me Without You (21 min) about older sister Metha’s preparation to move to Japan for school and her sweet younger brother No, who is left having to pick up the pieces after hearing this news.
Check out our coverage of the WorldWide Short Film Festival:
- Next Up A Look At the ‘Iron Ladies’ Programme - Xavierpop Covers ‘The Love Hurts’ Official Selection - A Break-Down The ‘Who’s Your Dada?’ Programme - MovieJay Reviews The Opening Night Gala: Winners From Around the World - The @xvrpop Ultimate Worldwide Short Film Fest Preview - The CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival’s Screenplay $50,000 Giveaway is Back!
Has there been a movie with this kind of pure emotional sweep and gathering power since The Shawshank Redemption?
I ask because after experiencing War Horse with two different audiences, I simply can’t recall a movie that feels as inspiring to discover and which contains as much magnanimity, grace, moments that make you shiver as well as reserves of deep humility and gratitude. That’s the highest compliment I can pay Steven Spielberg‘s adaptation of the long-running and popular New York and London stage show which arrives in theaters this holiday season as a sprawling and tender epic-adventure. Like Shawshank, War Horse pays homage to the golden age of Hollywood stories that have broad appeal, universal themes, and an epic feel.
This is Spielberg firing on all cylinders and going for broke.
It’s 1912 in the southwestern county of Devon, England. The horse is named Joey and he’s a thoroughbred purchased foolishly at auction by the drunken patriarch of the Narracott family, Ted (Peter Mullan). Their farm needs a cheap but effective plowing horse, not a racing one, but Ted’s a proud working-class bloke who doesn’t back down in the bidding match against the family’s starchy landlord, Lyons (David Thewlis).
But oh, what a fine specimen Joey is, clay-brown and sleek with a headstrong stubbornness in his character. It’s love-at-first-sight for Ted’s adolescent son Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who urges mother Rose (Emily Watson) to let the family keep the horse on a promise that he’ll train Joey to plow their field.
And Albert makes good on the promise in a wonderful sequence at the beginning of the film that picks us up and never let’s us go. Joey and Albert bond and develop a respect for each other. Joey learns to accept a saddle and gear without protest, as well as basic commands involving eating, moving and stopping. But his breed is ill-suited for plowing and the progress on that front is slow.
Late on their farm’s rent, the family is forced to accept a deadline by Lyons to show that Joey can get the work done so the family can grow crops and pay their debt, or else. This leads to the first big “shiver moment” as Lyons and most of the townspeople (who in comic fashion seem to pour out from over the horizon) gather at the Narracott farm on the big day to see if the family will lose it all. Rose can’t take the shame of failure and hides indoors, distracting herself with her knitting while Ted sits sullen and mute outside as he is condescended to by Lyons.
The tension is unbearable. Albert tries and tries with Joey, but defeat appears certain. But just then the music swells and we’re given our first unabashedly uplifting moment of grace.
Within just a few seasons, England finds herself in WWI against the Germans with Ted selling Joey to the military despite the tearful pleas of Albert. But have no fear, insists Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) to the boy. He’ll be happy to return Joey at the conclusion of the war.
From that point on we follow Joey and those who find themselves either owning or taking care of him, from Capt. Nicholls and the British, onto the Germans, a respite for a short while with an old French man and his granddaughter, and then back into German hands again having to pull along large pieces of military machinery.
In another wink to the audience in the tried and true old-Hollywood tradition, every character in the film speaks English but can be told apart by the flavor of their accent.
War Horse isn’t a war movie so much as it is an epic, humanist drama with WWI as the backdrop to a remarkable and totally improbable story involving a miraculous horse we root for and come to love because of its plucky persistence and enduring spirit. Life is indifferent to Joey but he’s not indifferent to it.
If Joey is our idealized hero by virtue of being a noble beast who never tires, the movie looks upon humans with a more level gaze as it regards our conflicted and often contradicting species. One where human characters who encounter Joey share the same respect and love for him, while on the other hand they use him as a tool and a weapon of war.
War Horse is equal parts E.T. Spielberg in the connection between Albert and Joey, as well as Saving Private Ryan Spielberg in two rather brutal and physical action sequences, the latter an amazing set piece meant to represent a No Man’s Land in the war zone where Joey becomes ensnared in a mangle of barbed-wire fence. It’s a heart-wrenching and painful sequence in a movie that older kids could take, but perhaps not the ones under the age of about 9.
There will be the usual cynics who complain that War Horse is too sentimental or manipulative, but they’re saying something about themselves and not this movie because the tears it earns from its audience are well-deserved. This is Spielberg in top form, weaving with assurance, skill and passion a narrative of gathering power and uplift that seems to find one plateau after another until that glorious final shot of the sunset on the family farm.
With Martin Scorsese’s dazzler Hugo from last month and now Spielberg’s War Horse, our two most powerful directors of cinema of the last 40 years reaffirm once again their mad love affairs with the movies, both of them charging on through the times like a raging bull or a racing Joey, wearing their hearts on their sleeve instead of caving into the cynicism of our modern age of irony.
Take someone you love, bring a box of kleenex, and get swept up in War Horse. You’ll hug yourselves afterwards.
War Horse **** out of 4