Sunday, January 23, 2022

Shortlisted Short: Censor of Dreams

Science fiction author Yasutaka Tsutsui is responsible for several adventures into the subconscious. He created Paprika, who was immortalized in anime by Satoshi Kon. Now, you can here his dream-working characters speaking French. An overworked drone in a woman’s subconscious does his best to scrub potentially upsetting images from her dreams in Leo Berne & Raphael Rodriguez’s Censor of Dreams, which has been shortlisted for the best short film Oscar (with Gus Van Sant on-board as an executive producer, granting it some name recognition value).

Our unnamed focal character and his colleagues work as dream censors in much the same way Burt Reynolds and Tony Randall worked to bring about sexual functions in the final segment of Woody Allen’s
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), but the tone here is far more serious. Each night, they manically strive to keep the people and images of a great tragedy she suffered out of her dreams. They only get a few minutes lead time, so they are often forced to get creative.

Censor cannot possibly compete with Paprika visually, but it still has a good deal of inventive images that cleverly evoke the mystery of the subconscious mind. Honestly, it can hold its own with a lot of Black Mirror episodes and it has more heart and soul than Coma. In fact, Berne & Rodriguez, in collaboration with their cinematographer Khalid Mohtaseb, show a real knack for framing the things and places of our world in a way that makes them look otherworldly.

Yet, what really makes the film unforgettable is the manner in which it questions the efficacy of censorship—particularly in this fantastical case, but the argument applies across the board. The exhausted dream-censor eventually suspects his client needs to face the upsetting event he had been laboring so valiantly to spare her. That realization is surprisingly powerful thanks to the quiet but sensitive performance of Damien Bonnard (previously seen in films like
Only the Animals and Dunkirk).

Instead of protecting people, censorship only hides the issues they need to deal with. What a concept—and so true. If society is like the sleeping woman, perhaps we should stop trying to censor the books and comedians we do not like and start to better understand where they are coming from. Looking at you Cancel Culture. Regardless,
Censor of Dreams is an emotionally compelling science fiction short that deserves to be in Awards contention. Highly recommended.