Short Films With Flavour
Foodies unite! This month’s Screening Room post is authored by Colin Maunoury, a French film producer and festival programmer based in Paris. Since 2008, he’s been contributing to the programming of the Capalbio Cinema International Short Film Festival in Rome, which celebrated its 21st year in 2014. Colin shares three short films that explore aspects of our relationship with food. Touching on temptation, gluttony, greed, and the communal nature of our daily meals, these are short films with a bit of flavour!
It’s difficult to select three shorts that are able to show the programming of a festival that has just run its 21st edition. To help make the selection process a little easier and provide a bit of an Italian flavour, I decided to choose a theme that happens to be one of my personal interests: food.
Brillat-Savarin, the great French food writer of the 18th Century, wrote that “a dinner table is the only place where one can never get bored during the first hour”. To be fair, it’s definitely not the only place, but we can forgive him; he didn’t have short films! Could it be then, that 15 minutes tops is the right time to do things well, as is our programming philosophy at Capalbio? Let’s see what the shorts have to tell us about that.
Note: you should watch the films before reading – there are a fair number of spoilers!
Director: Jeff Stark
Jeff Stark’s Desserts is a typical “funny with a twist” short that uses one of our weak points to question how we feed ourselves as a species: greed. The Chaplin-esque quality of the unnamed “stroller” (played by Ewan McGregor) makes him likeable in a split-second. It also helps us understand his decision to go for the gross (but most likely delicious!) option.
Because we like him, we feel sorry for his fate, and because we feel sorry, we think about the deeper implications. He not only becomes a single fish in our eyes, but represents all the fish in the ocean. That happens because he looks deeply human, and it is our shared love for food that channels this humanity.
Director: Dennis Villeneuve
Out with sympathy and humanity! Denis Villeneuve’s goal with Next Floor is more or less the same as Jeff Stark’s, but the film decidedly uses different means to reach the same end. Once again, there is an unnamed character and no dialogue. Our guide in this world of greed – which appears to be the darker side of the same coin – is an eerie and scary looking waiter and his crew, along with an almost de-humanized epicurean party.
There is no shortage of detail on how disgusting the over-consumption and over-sophistication of food has become and how the effects of gluttony destroy the world. A sort of Tex-Avery-structure that only goes one way: down.
Director: Andrea Zaccariello
Let’s break this gloomy tone to finish and consider Andrea Zaccariello’s Caffè Capo. This short is as chatty as the previous two are quiet. The method used to prepare us for the final twist is to drown us in words (for which Italian is the perfect language) and to give us a not-so likeable main character.
Little by little, we feel like we understand things and people better, like our anti-hero does. We start to assume superiority over him, who already feels superior to his environment. It’s one of the devices of comedy. It is food, the ceremony of getting to eat together, that Zaccariello uses to bring us back to the ground, along with the main character.
It was Brillat-Savarin again who once wrote “tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are”. If we’re eating together, or from the exact same plate, then we are all the same. There must be ways we can exchange, invent a better world, a simpler life, healthier food, and more beautiful films. After all, there is nothing like sharing a meal or going to the movies together to initiate the discussion and start reshaping the world. Maybe that’s breaking the 15 minute rule, but what happens afterwards can be at least as interesting as what happens during the show.