Something Strange is happening in North Bend. It’s been a couple years since our favorite festival for shorts has had its normal presence. We all know what happened. And last year it was folded into an online venture with a group of other fantastic outsider film-adjacent festivals. This year, North Bend is back where it belongs, in the sanctified home of Twin Peaks. We love Twin Peaks. We love North Bend. We love the absurdity of the shorts that are programmed there, from their off-kilter vanguard approach to filmmaking (please, just don’t call them all Lynchian), to something more regionally specific. There’s something good about watching these films with this festival as their rightful home. This year’s Something Strange selection is a good range of the peculiar and absurd. Come with us as we go wild with Denis Lavant, attend a couple picnics, experience uneasy political statements, and relive the same day over and over again. We certainly got a lot of practice at that last one this last year. North Bend is back, and so is our collection of their short films, always some my favorite pieces to put together every year.
The Nipple Whisperer
“Magic Sandy” they called him. “The Nipple Whisperer,” he was so-named, given his magical touch for blowing on nipples and awakening nipples from their reverie. “Denis Lavant” is the actor’s name. You know Denis Lavant. You should know Denis Lavant. If you do not yet know Denis Lavant, have the decency to someday watch Claire Denis’ Beau travail (1999) and Leos Carax’s Holy Motors (2012). For extra credit, watch Alverson’s The Mountain (2019), the most overlooked art film from a couple years ago. Denis Lavant is important. Here he blows on some nipples and it’s inspiring. Because anything he does is inspiring, strange, and larger than the description of it could possibly be. The short itself is tightly photographed. It’s a tight, peculiar little thing, that you watch because of Denis Lavant, “The Nipple Whisperer.”
You Wouldn’t Understand
A title like that hopefully backs it up. A title like You Wouldn’t Understand. That’s just the simple comedic premise of Trish Harnetiaux’s short, which is fine. Played by television actors Anthony Arkin and Jacob A. Ware, it’s a short that plays as quirky comedy, but isn’t that formally interesting, and doesn’t really have any laughs. A man is having an expansive picnic, really committed to a full place setting and is reading his Aviation Mathematics book, as men do. Another man wants to borrow his horse radish, he’s having a party with hundreds of friends way off behind the brush. And is that horse radish gluten-free? Ha-ha-ha? Then he reveals his true, sci-fi motives, and some guy drops from the sky, and suddenly he either dies or falls over or maybe the conflict is over now. Who knows, you wouldn’t understand, either.
If you hoped this title conveyed literally anything else, I have bad news, it is a Trump reference. I have significantly worse news. In fact, this whole paragraph out to be read as the worst possible news. Grab Them is a deep fake short film about a woman who looks too much like our disgraced former President. She gets nasty looks everywhere she goes. Her husband isn’t interested anymore. Life with Trump’s face is a life lived with a perpetual target hanging over you. A terrible Halloween mask that cannot come off. We are not ready for deep fake cinema. Certainly not this kind. Anyway, in her dream, fake Trump meets someone with a Putin deep fake and then starts masturbating with a vibrator. The mockumentary premise, that we can all be kinder to one another and look into our hearts and help someone with an unfortunate look, is an insulting gag that doesn’t go anywhere else. I hope the filmmakers are never allowed near deep fake technology ever again and get to make literally anything else.
A brief character sketch, Mustachio exhibits a common short film trope. Henry van Loon’s character is working through past traumas. He confronts them by conjuring old imaginary friends to life and processing his grief. All this amid moving house. It’s such a simple and concise thing, with no room to move or really create a broader sketch. There’s not too much to chew on, but what’s here is fodder enough for a more expanded short. Certainly it couldn’t expand into a feature, but it’s halfway to something compelling and more emotionally moving. Very likely the director will get there next time.
Picnic Pals in Dreamland
Bright eyed and bushy-tailed, this fluorescent confectionary short explores the space between lucid dreaming and waking life. What’s not to like about this cotton candy daydream manifested as film? Much of its luminescence radiates from Lizzy McGroder’s lead — if we do not see much more of her, that’s just not good enough — she is superb and fully formed as an actress. Through its chaotic and loud expression, it navigates a troop of friends who have read in a Dear Abby column that they can explore their dreams and take more control of their waking hours. They each try it out and through Instagram pop filters and cheerful almost-’90s eccentricity; the film pulls it all off. I write these blurbs hoping to find sweet little films I can hang my hopes on, little slices that make up a delicious whole pie, with every hope these creators get to explore full visions. I sincerely hope David Ferino gets to make more movies. I hope everyone in Picnic Pals in Dreamland gets to, as it has crucially satiated my festival sweet tooth.
Ever had to get children out of a pool? It’s the damndest thing. There is nowhere more difficult to extract them from. Their two most dramatic exits in life: from the womb and the swimming pool. That’s how it goes in Swimmer. A hit and run suspect is identified by his car outside a swimming center. The police try to intervene but he refuses to leave the pool. Five hours pass and he still refuses. Clever underwater photography and perspective shots make this a nice short film based on a funny true story. The Swedish production plays carefully with the space and coloring of the pool to create interesting framing. Very well made and much like a child in the pool, we may not want to get out after just 13 minutes. Originally covered in this year’s Nordic Lights Film Festival.
I want to play a game. An SEO game. Try Googling “Today.” See what you come up with. NBC’s long-running program of that name. So the predominant association is taken by a show. Try Googling “Today Short Film.” You could go back many pages, it won’t help. There are other short films called Today and it will trigger other time-sensitive topics, of course. Adding the year won’t help. Googling the date this recursive Groundhog Day event takes place won’t help, either: “Today November 19, 1969,” will just tell you what happened on that day in history. The third and fourth humans landed on the moon. It was an ordinary Wednesday. For the subject of Today, it was something else. Like her film’s search history, she is trapped in an endless void. It’s probably worth flagging this one as “Content Warning, the Short Film,” as she’s also trapped in a cycle of abuse. It’s a horrible proposition to be stuck in. She just can’t escape the void. The film does a good job of making us feel trapped and helpless for about twenty minutes and it’s also super hard to watch. If it’s instructive of anything, it’s that the titling of your movie may be equally important as what’s inside it, certainly if you want to be found.