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Watching the shorts at Melbourne International Film Festival International Shorts 2 is like going through a roller coaster of emotion. There are films that would make us laugh hysterically; there are those that leave us confused and unsure about how to feel; there are those that make us question the nature of human being whilst there are those that give us hope about the power of humanity. Refugees and migrants’ experiences are the dominant themes of the selection, but one can also find warm, cheesy topics about love, brotherhood and family.

Timecode (15 minutes)

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[Images: Courtesy of MIFF 2016]

The first film of the selection is a bright, comedic short titled Timecode, directed by Juanjo Giménez. The film revolves around the two guards, who use the CCTV to communicate to each other. Every time they leave their shifts, they put a sticky note on the computer to inform each other what part of the CCTV tape to watch, which often features footage of them dancing by themselves. The short is lovely and funny, making it a cheerful start for the screening that would then deal with some darker, heavier topics.

Balcony (17 minutes)

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[Images: Courtesy of MIFF 2016]

The second film is the drama, Balcony, directed by Toby Fell-Holden. It follows the friendship between a local British and a Muslim migrant amidst the racial tension in the neighbourhood. The film starts with the scene in the football court where Tina, the British girl, looks up at a balcony and sees Fatima, a Muslim student from her school, emerge in her headscarf. Tina tries to imagine what Fatima’s life is like, and in her imaginations, we see images of a timid Fatima being sexually abused by a group of slothful, alcoholic men. As the film unfolds, it is revealed that Tina’s exotic imaginative episodes about Fatima is shaped not only by the stereotypes about Muslims, but also by her own experience of being abused by her own family members. As the shots of Tina’s exotic imagination about Fatima dissolve into reality – in which Tina is actually the victim of rape, the message of the film becomes apparent: the way we perceive others says less about them and more about ourselves as an individual or as a society. It’s also interesting that although Tina and Fatima have become friends, Tina still somehow persists with the thinking that behind the door of her apartment, Fatima would be oppressed and abused. This demonstrates that that people can still hold on their white supremacist views even when they have Muslim friends/colleagues/students. As Fatima once tells Tina, people sometimes just want to hear what they have already known. The film ends on a sombre note and compels us to confront the double standards, white privilege and entrenched racism in Britain. It’s a thought-provoking film about a topical issue, hence a powerful one.

The Return of Erkin (29 minutes)

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[Images: Courtesy of MIFF 2016]

Following The Balcony, The Return of Erkin, directed by Maria Guskova, continues to carry the solemn and reflective tone. After being released from prison where he has spent 14 years for his murder, Erkin returns to his rural hometown in Kyrgyzstan only to realise that the people here, including his own family, do not welcome him. As he lives day by day trying to make amends, we get a glimpse of rural Kyrgyzstan: the dawn prayer that marks the start of a day, the cotton farms, the rusty and bumpy roads and the women taking their time for daily routines. The film’s saturated look, accompanied by its slow pace, accentuates the sluggishness of rural life and reminds us that for the wound to be healed, for a person to be able to forgive and to be forgiven, a great deal of time would be needed.

The Silence (15 minutes)

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[Images: Courtesy of MIFF 2016]

The Silence, directed by Asli Sagari and Farnoosh Samadi, is my most favourite film in the selection. It beautifully captures the difficulties refugees face as they settle in a country where they don’t know the language. The central character is a young Kurdish girl, who has to interpret what the Italian doctor says to her mother. When the doctor informs the girl that her mother has breast cancer, she remains silent.

What I love about the short is  the way the relationship between the mother and the girl is depicted. When they are conversing with the doctor, the mother looks so small, vulnerable and clueless, while the girl acts strong and stern, trying to suppress her worry and pain. But when they are alone, the mother becomes the mother again, and the young girl, on her mother’s shoulder, eventually feels safe to put down the mask, breaks down the silence and burst into tears. The juxtaposition of these two scenes highlights the burdens that refugee children carry as they are forced to take on adults’ roles. It’s painful already for a child to know that her mum is sick, but it’s heartbreaking when she has to know about the news first and break it to her mom. Thus, the girl’s silence is her way of denying the truth, of resisting fate, and of crying for help. 

One reason I like this film so much is that I can relate to it. I am not a refugee, but I am studying in Melbourne  and when my parents come to visit me here, I often need to accompany them to shops and restaurants, help them order and pay and do the interpretation. Suddenly it hits me that my parents look so fragile and tiny, and I feel the urge to protect and help them as much as I can. It’s strange to see my parents – whom I have always perceived as the most capable and dependable people I have ever known – that way. Although this allows me to sympathise with my parents and increases my love for them, it does hurt a little.  Watching this film reminded me of those times with my parents; hence, for me, it was beautiful, emotional watch 🙂

The Call (11 minutes)

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[Images: Courtesy of MIFF 2016]

The Call is a South African film by director Zamo Mkhwanazi. It revolves around a taxi driver and his confrontation with his own feelings for a sex worker, who appears to carry his child. I’m impressed with the soundtrack and the editing, but for some reasons I was not very emotionally engaged with the film.

The Bathtub (13 minutes)

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[Images: Courtesy of MIFF 2016]

The film screening ends with The Bathtub, a German-Austrian short directed by Tim Ellrich. 3 grown-up brothers decide to celebrate their mom’s 60th birthday by recreating a childhood photo. As they do so, there are some conflicts, drama but generally a lot of hilarious, cheesy moments. The film contains only one shot showing the angle from the camera the brothers use to take the photo. It creates the authentic, amateurish feel for the film, as I feel like I’m watching a raw footage straight from the brothers’ camera. A lot of audience laughed while watching The Bathtub, and I appreciate that it’s placed as the last film of the screening. After depressing films on heavy topics, it is a relief to see simple, joyful every day life moments again!

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