The New French Shorts 2020 program is a way to travel to distant lands during a time when many are stuck at home. From a public bathhouse in Paris to a remote filling station in Greece, the settings of these selected shorts are sure to take you away for just a bit. And despite some somber moments, the overall general tone is uplifting and redemptive — enough to act as a balm of optimism and hope.
“Ahmed’s Song (Le chant d’Ahmed)” (30 minutes)
The story: Ahmed, an elderly public bathhouse custodian, connects with Mike, a teenage boy assigned to train and work with him while on probation.
In short: A quiet, quotidian, yet familiar narrative that tenderly explores relationships across generations. The intriguing detail of Ahmed’s background as a Muslim immigrant in Paris — whose wife and children, now grown, are still living in his home country — deepens the narrative from a cliché adult/youth tale to weave in one man’s solitary existence in a foreign land.
Grade: 4 stars
“Sheep, Wolves and a Cup of Tea (Moutons, loup et tasse de thé)” (12 minutes)
The story: As a household settles in for the night, a child takes a surreal road trip with a wolf that he summons from a box under his bed.
In short: This animated film evokes the watercolor illustrations of a children’s book with the whimsy of Where the Wild Things Are. It’s a dream of childhood escapism and fantasy, with a slightly eerie, borderline creepy ambiance. Free of dialogue, yet full of foley art that congeals into a musical background score, it’s a painting come to life.
Grade: 4 1/2 stars
“Tuesday from 8 to 6 (Mardi de 8 à 18)” (26 minutes)
The story: Névine works as a middle school monitor, a thankless job that she remains emotionally invested in.
In short: Rime Nahmani plays Névine so perfectly that viewers may well forget that she is playing a role. The lived-in middle school setting and banter between students and administrators are perfectly familiar and nostalgic to anyone who attended a public school.
Grade: 4 stars
“The Distance Between Us and the Sky (La distance entre nous et le ciel)” (9 minutes)
The story: A man panhandling at a gas station gets something other than the bus fare he’s seeking.
In short: A traveler stranded at a remote gas station in Greece hangs up his erotic-video call with a man in another city in order to haggle with a motorcyclist who has just arrived for a fill-up. The banter between the two shifts from slightly confrontational to highly suggestive in a hurry. The tenderly romantic ending leaves viewers of this boy-meets-boy tale to think, “Well, that would never happen,” while at the same time rooting for the motorcycle guy over the creep-from-the-video-call.
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
“The Tears Thing (Le coup des larmes)” (25 minutes)
The story: An actress signs up for a firearms lesson as research for a role she’s playing but gets more than she bargained for when the instructor turns out to be her ex-girlfriend who disappeared without a trace four years prior.
In short: The bulk of this film is a flashback that keeps viewers glued to the screen to see how we’ll land back at the beginning and guess what will happen in the present. The moral ambiguity and the garnish of deadly weapons makes for an intriguing narrative cocktail.
Grade: 4 1/2 stars
“Magnetic Harvest (La traction de pôles) ” (24 minutes)
The story: Mika wants many things — to certify his farm as organic, to find his lost pig and to connect with another human.
In short: Director Marine Levéel uses everything from the computerized navigation system of a field sprayer to a proximity-based hookup app to drone footage to track her protagonist throughout his day, but the film spends so much time playing with this technology that the script isn’t given enough thought.
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Special Bonus: “The Glorious Acceptance Speech of Nicolas Chauvin (Le discours d’acceptation glorieux de Nicolas Chauvin) ” (26 minutes)
The story: Chauvin, an apocryphal French historical figure from whom the term “chauvinism” was coined, makes a comedic and brash acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award.
In short: Chauvin lives up to his reputation, bragging of his sexual and wartime conquests, all while using the modern vernacular — perhaps most memorably when he challenges us to “Google it” after he addresses the rumor of Napoleon Bonaparte’s third nipple. It’s a fantastically acted monologue full of sly and crude humor, reminiscent of a Monty Python bit. Extra credit awarded for the JSTOR reference.
Grade: 5 stars
Available to rent via grailmoviehouse.com