Friday, June 02, 2017

BFF ’17: First Bloom & Not Yet (shorts)

Both couples could be safely described as imperfect, but in each case, their relationships are complicated by circumstances outside their control. They are also happen to be the subjects of visually distinctive short films. Frankly, nobody could accuse the young princess and her eunuch servant of untoward behavior, because obviously. Yet, their emotionally intimacy is still forbidden in Tingting Liu’s First Bloom (trailer here), which screens as part of this year’s Brooklyn Film Festival.

He did not volunteer to serve in the palace. Money changed hands, but it would still be misleading to say his parents sold him into service. Yet, one of the first people he meets will be his royal mistress, who takes an instant liking together.

Essentially, the two young people grow up together, in intimate proximity. Yes, it is his job to care for her, but he is utterly devoted to the Princess. Soon their friendship evolves into something deeper, but still chaste. Unfortunately, fraternization with the servants is rather looked down upon in the palace, particularly in this case.

First Bloom is an absolutely gorgeous film modeled on the look and vibe of Chinese watercolor painting. In terms of style and tone, it would pair up nicely with Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which is high praise indeed. Despite its elegance, Bloom also packs a real emotional wallop. It is only five minutes, but has the feel of a potential Oscar contender (we can always hope).

Radically switching gears, Arian Vazirdaftari’s Not Yet is an Iranian domestic drama in the tradition of Asghar Farhadi’s work, but it makes dramatic use of split screens. The awkward truth is Hasti’s parents maybe should be divorced by now. They largely live separate lives, but they keep up appearances during skype sessions with their daughter in America. These return visits pain them both, for very different reasons. Yet, neither believes it is in Hasti’s best interest to return anytime soon, so they both intend to maintain the pretense.

Through the split screen, Vazirdaftari visually represents how very different their perspectives are, even though they are mere feet away from each other. Only when they focus on Hasti do their POV’s merge into one. Vazirdaftari’s restless cameras also conveys a sense of the claustrophobia she feels and the depression that engulfs him in the flat they formerly shared. Farhad Aslani and Pantea Panahina convincingly portray the sadness of the couple nearly (but maybe not entirely) resigned to their separation, who clearly still feel something for their former partners.

First Bloom and Not Yet are unusually accomplished shorts, but Liu’s film is truly a rich feast for the eyes. Both deserve long lives on the festival circuit and award attention in the case of Bloom. Very highly recommended, they each screen on Monday (6/5) and next Saturday (6/10), but as part of different short film programs during the 2017 Brooklyn Film Festival.