Sunday, January 21, 2018

Slamdance ’18: AniMal (short)

It is time for a little body horror, but at least it is for a good cause. A dissident desperate to escape will take on the appearance and characteristics of a bighorn ram. It is a crazy scheme, but it might work only too well in Bahman and Bahram Ark’s short film AniMal (trailer here), which screens as part of the Anarchy shorts block at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival in Park City.

Making a break for the heavily patrolled chain-link border is a low percentage move, as viewers quickly see for themselves. It is worth noting in passing, this border wall is designed to retain freedom-seeking citizens imprisoned within, rather than keep outsiders out. Regardless, the well-armed guards mean business—and they seem to enjoy their work. However, the would-be immigrant has a plan to disguise himself as a ram, capitalizing on his hunting and taxidermy skills. To make it look convincing, he will binge-watch old nature documentaries on VHS. What could possibly go wrong?

The Arks are distinctive filmmakers, who have crafted a gritty and slightly macabre character study. Although we should be judicious in our political readings, the fact that they are Iranian is not insignificance, especially in light of the many recent Iranian films that address the challenges of (mostly legal) immigration, such as Goodbye and Melbourne. In this case, the man’s extreme circumstances force him to resort to extreme measures. It is a powerful sight to behold, but unfortunately, there are two rather obvious O. Henry-esque endings this story can take—and the Arks duly opt for one of them.

Nevertheless, you have to give all due credit to Davoud Nourpour’s performance as the “animal,” because it is truly fearless, in many ways. Thanks to his convincingly animalistic performance, some enterprising programmer ought to pair AniMal up with Rune Östlund’s The Square, featuring the ape-like Terry Notary.

AniMal is a film that just might hold equal appeal for art-house cineastes and unruly cult movie fans. Highly recommended, AniMal screens again tomorrow (1/22), as part of the Anarchy shorts package at the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival, which is having a really great year for short films.