Shorts at Home: ‘We are always performing’

April 24, 2020, 1:12 a.m.

Three shorts, one hour.

Former A&L Managing Editor Olivia Popp will be going through and handpicking a set of three excellent short films from a selection of current online film festivals, with emphasis on variety — genre, style, language, you name it — and the ability to watch the triptych in under an hour. This way, you can either curate your very own “shorts-at-home” festival based on what you like or watch the set and see why they’ve been put together. Note that many of these online screeners won’t be available forever, just like an actual festival, so don’t miss your chance to watch these high-quality shorts before they’re gone.

Selected films will come from UniFrance’s MyFrenchFilmFestival Stay-at-Home Edition Official Selection, Tribeca Film Festival’s “A Short Film A Day Keeps Anxiety Away” program and the SXSW 2020 Official Short Film Selections. All of these are available free of charge.

Today’s set consists of three live-action narrative fiction shorts: a bizarre contemporary comedy, a personal exploration of strained parent/child relationships and a quirky take on white familial suburbia. Let’s call this triptych “We are always performing.”

“I’m Happy, I Promise” (2019, Mimi Cave, 6 minutes)

  • Country: USA
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles available: None
  • Themes/categories: Comedy, grief, digital world

It might be more fun to take this film at face value, but “I’m Happy, I Promise” reveals itself to be a surprisingly deep meditation on grief and coping mechanisms. Through a series of three phone calls, the protagonist attempts to show that he’s “doing all right,” despite falling headlong into a series of strange obsessions. With a variety of cutaways that may or may not be depicting reality, “I’m Happy, I Promise” may hit closer to home than you might expect with its nonchalant comedic style.

“Un homme mon fils” (“A Man My Son,” 2017, Florent Gouëlou, 34 minutes)

  • Country: France
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles available: English
  • Themes/categories: Queer, family, road trips

A bit on the longer side for a short (although a short is often designated as anything less than an hour!), “Un Homme Mon Fils” unrolls itself more like a feature than a short film. This is a tribute to how well it’s written, with a short flashback at the beginning informing nearly the entire film. Florent Gouëlou, a student of La Fémis — France’s (and one of Europe’s) top film schools — wrote, directed and stars in it as the titular son, Fred, who has a complicated relationship with his more conservative father. “Un Homme Mon Fils” features a number of beautifully shot dance and night sequences, filled with emotion, becoming a thoughtful venture into reconciliation and connection.

“Peggy” (2018, Justin O’Neal Miller, 12 minutes)

  • Country: USA
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles available: None
  • Themes/categories: Comedy, suburbia, parenting

“Peggy,” which features an actual funhouse/bounce-house, screened in the “Funhouse” category at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. Clean and smoothly shot, the film is a quick romp through the up-and-down dramatics in peak white suburbia: a child’s birthday party. Tracking that person in our lives who’s always too perfect — in this case, the eponymous character — this short indulges the viewer by giving us little clips of internal narration from many characters, namely, “Fuck you, Peggy.”

Contact Olivia Popp at oliviapopp ‘at’

Olivia Popp was a managing editor of Arts & Life for volumes 251 through 254 and the editor-at-large for The Stanford Daily's board of directors for volumes 254 and 255. She hails from Michigan and enjoys science fiction TV shows, independent film festivals, and the Bay Area theater scene.

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