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“Dances with Love”- a night of short films

The latest “Futureshorts” medley seems to have been scheduled to avoid mainstream audiences- well, families, the elderly, and those who have to clock in early the next morning- as it’s nearly midnight before the films roll at the Duke of York’s; but most, thankfully, turn out to be enjoyable and worth the wait, as well as accessible.

If the collection’s title “Dances with Love” promised an overall romance thread, “Marvo Movie” was a baffling beginning. Jeff Keen’s 1967 short is uncanny and impressionistic; seemingly set nowhere and without characters, the motifs of costumes, face paint and children’s toys repeating incoherently to suggest Brighton’s seedy underworld (though it’s blink-and-you’ll-miss the local detail). Even without the briefest Dance with Love, it was well-executed horror.

Then the Love; three European films followed, two Icelandic and one French; all focused on forty-something couples with regrets and skeleton-filled closets, and well-balanced between sensitivity and sentiment. My favourite was “Magic Paris,” which punctured its idealistic title and first half with a ending in which the coincidental encounter-romance is gently turned upside-down. For an hour, “Futureshorts” seemed to hang together as a Love-story. But we shouldn’t have expected an integrated piece of cinema, a feature-length film in chapters; the strength of the night was its eclecticism, splicing different cultures and genres; we even saw a Goldfrapp video. If a theme is needed, let’s try post-Valentines cynicism-none of the films were soppy. The 2009 Sundance winner “Lies” heads from childhood through motherhood as a drug addict. The animated figures are silhouettes without facial expressions, but their gait and body language speak eloquently, matching the serious, documentary narration as well as live action.

Then we were in Brixton in 2009, with teen drama “Top Girl” striking a blow for girls in the macho world of urban music (I learnt that your pulling power as a rap producer decreases vastly if you are discovered to be working part-time in a phone shop and called Michael). In the brief “Where is my Romeo?” several women watch Shakespeare and the camera follows their nuanced reactions. It seemed to elicit shrugs from the audience, but its bite-sized concept didn’t require any more time to make the point. “Love” left early; the closing film “Zhanxiou Village” concerned instead the universal nature of silent comedy, brilliantly putting Chaplin in China, to the hilarity of a cast of young boys.

The “Futureshorts” label are trying both to give budding filmmakers and actors some exposure, and to assert the genre in its own right in cinemas. The strength of their medley approach is that it resists monotony; I found myself disliking the fairytale sheen of “Come Wander With Me”, but then it was over, and we were somewhere else. Attempts to talk about “Dances with Love” as a whole tend to peter out in platitudes about its being diverse, varied- how little of a whole it all was.

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