Saturday, May 27, 2017

Philip K. Dick ’17: Für Elise (short)

Beethoven’s famous solo piano composition will never sound the same after watching this short film. For one thing, the sanitation trucks in Kaohsiung City play a tinny calliope recording of what residents refer to as “the Garbage Song.” However, the music will have considerably more ominous implications for the central character of Albert Ventura Roldán’s Für Elise (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Philip K. Dick Film Festival.

Ashin thinks he is a tough guy, but for some reason, he lets a pretty Taiwanese American tourist give him a hard time when she sits down at his outdoor market table uninvited. As coincidence would have it, her name is Elise and she arrives simultaneously with the garbage truck, playing its usual Für Elise. You could say it is her theme song.

Before long, Elise will suggest they have done this before. When she supposedly reveals her true nature, it greatly agitates the formerly cool and collected Ashin. She might not be telling the complete truth, but she still hits close enough to home to get Ashin to chase her through the city’s back alleys, which was apparently the goal all along. At this point, the rug is suddenly pulled out from under his feet.

It is hard to classify Für Elise in terms of genre, but it holds far more twists than you would expect from a twenty-five-minute short. To explain any more than the initial set-up would give much away. However, it is very impressive how skillfully and insidiously Roldán keeps upending Ashin’s perception of reality. Für Elise is also absolutely drenched in nocturnal noir atmosphere, which is further amplified by the eerie but classy cinematography of Jyun-Ming Wang and Carles Viarnès’ variations on the Beethoven theme. It is a tense, suspenseful film, yet it totally puts viewers in the mood for late-night street food.

Zai-Xing Zhang and Yi-He Chiu are both terrific as Ashin and Elise. Their chemistry is complicated and they face extreme circumstances, but they are always highly compelling and convincing. They really sell each revelation with their screen presence and dramatic credibility.

This is an excellent film that really delivers everything you could want from a cinematic experience. Frankly, the essential Macguffin could easily sustain a feature treatment, but it is best served by the briskness and muscular compactness of the short film format. If you enjoy psychological thrillers like Hitchcock’s Spellbound (seriously) and reality-twisters like Jacob’s Ladder than you will be duly impressed by Roldán’s film. Very highly recommended, Für Elise screens this coming Monday (5/29) at the Producers Club, as part of the 2017 Philip K. Dick Film Festival.