Six films were selected for the ‘Girls Shorts’ category of the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. Reading the category name for the first time, I figured it only included women filmmakers, but no.
Five out of six filmmakers were women. The odd one out, and first in the line up was 6:23 am by Geoffrey Breton (please note that the ‘Boys Shorts’ film category didn’t have a single female director, which is: not surprising). When contacted, a Kashish representative clarified that the film categorisation was solely content-based, irrespective of gender and sexuality (of the filmmaker). Still, the gendered separation of content into categories like ‘Girls Shorts’ and ‘Boys Shorts’ seems at best, odd and so is 6:23 am.
The film’s bio reads: ‘Two women, who met in a club early in the morning, are watching the sun come up together, when one of them realizes something which could ruin everything.’
The story description does its best to signal the stereotypes and cliches that await us in 6:23 am. That one of them has forgotten the other’s name, despite having spent 5 hours together- is the conflict in this film. Here it is important to realise that they met in a (presumably loud) club and probably exchanged names only once. The fact that they spent 5 hours together should mean more than forgetting the other’s name. But no, men love painting women as overreacting to everything. The-one-whose-name-has-been-forgotten even says something on the lines of- oh no I am being oversensitive about it. It seems like it’s every man’s wet dream to have a woman say this to them. Even without the male gaze, the dialogue feels gimmicky, like the two are playing out their parts in a melodrama, and time is running out. The only good thing about 6:23 am is that it’s about 5 mins long and is immediately followed by Babe.
Babe tells us the story of a lesbian couple in South Korea trying for a child.
As they meet each potential sperm donor, director Sylvan Zhao, illustrates three different men (gay and straight) united in their misogyny. One refuses because he is homophobic, the second (who is gay) accepts on the condition that both women get pregnant and give the second child to his partner and him. The third sexually propositions them and goes on a homophobic rant when refused.
In obvious mental anguish, the two women reach out to each other and comfort themselves. A mutual friend is the third female character, whose cafe is a safe space for the three of them. In the cafe, they eat dinner, drink, and laugh, reveling in the warmth of their friendship. Your heart breaks for these women, but it also allows a sense of comfort when you see them in the cafe, at the end of difficult days, filled with love and support for each other.
Babe shines the brightest in this category.
Compared to Babe, the third short film, ‘Touch’ refuses to pacify us with warm moments.
The film’s bio calls it a ‘visual poem of memory, grief and letting go’. Whatever little comfort the film offers us, is snatched away quickly. Shot on 16mm film, a woman drags a chair through the wilderness, climbing past rocks covered in smatterings of turquoise and emerald, looking in between the green canopy and the grass for her lover. At brief moments her memory complies and she is reunited with her, only to be dragged back to reality.
With the visual aesthetic of a sapphic cottage core dream gone wrong, director Noemie Nakai’s silent short fills in the dialogue void with orchestral music, rising and falling with the protagonist. Touch is a five minute long visual experiment that at first confuses and then yields to the viewer’s imagination. It is unlike the visual media adopted by other films in the line up, which is reason enough for its recommendation.
In terms of what to expect, Touch and ‘Knowingly Unknown’ are polar opposites. The fourth film focuses on a mother’s acceptance of her daughter’s sexuality. Kyung Hye -a nurse in her daughter’s school- notices that her daughter, Ye Shin, has started smiling at her phone while texting. This leads to Kyung Hye semi-snooping on her daughter and finding out that Ye Shin likes a girl in her class. An argument between mother and daughter ends in Ye Shin screaming that she is in love with a girl, followed by Kyung Hye’s meek ‘how can you do this to me?’. A few days of silent treatment coupled with Kyung Hye realising there is another gay couple in school, leads to her quiet acceptance of Ye Shin and Su Jeong. She even goes as far as to say that maybe they should invite Su Jeong home for pizza.
While this short film isn’t exactly extraordinary, the chemistry between mother and daughter actor duo is perfect- the daughter’s teenage angst and mother’s despair translate wonderfully from script to film. Also, it is always nice to see a parent accept their child’s sexuality, irrespective of how many times you have seen it before.
In many ways Geoffrey Breton’s 6:23 am and -fifth in the line up- Sparkman Clark’s Greta irk you in the same ways. Greta is about Greta, a depressed employed white girl in New York city, whose parents pay her rent.
The world has moved past the need for another sob story about a rich white girl living in New York, but Clark doesn’t seem to think so. Acting, writing, directing and producing this short film, she tries to go the Fleabag route but doesn’t quite succeed.
This is the film’s bio: “Armed with self-loathing, hopelessness and existential dread, 22-year-old Greta tries to find one thing about adulthood that doesn’t suck. It’s a lost cause until she meets a woman named April. It’s a comedy about depression.”
You are told the film is funny even before you watch it and are supposed to laugh along with dialogues that seem to be picked up verbatim from a Buzzfeed article on Millennials, words like existential dread co-exist with generic rants about adulthood. Greta’s psychiatrist seems incompetent, this may be intentional, as it creates a set-up for another one of Greta’s Buzzfeed sourced dialogues.
The film starts to free fall when Greta’s love interest is introduced. It’s a fan-fic-meet-cute if there ever was one (imagine the awkward = adorable trope, and if you were in any doubt, the dialogue between the two confirms it). Greta’s interaction with her new friend reveals a huge hole in her character. She immediately goes from sullen to talkative. We are supposed to believe that this personality makeover is all due to the new girl in Greta’s life.
I sincerely hope that we, as a society, have tried to replicate heterosexual rom-coms in our own lives enough times to call bullshit on this.
In the end, it seems like Greta tries to advertise a new relationship, jogging on the waterfront and watching the sun rise, as a cure for depression. Apart from the many things that don’t make it Fleabag, Clark’s Greta tries to redeem the main character in the end, which is completely missing the point.
‘And Returning’ is the last short film. As Rina prepares to meet Eli for dinner, you realise something is off right into the film. Before and after talking to Eli on the phone, Rina’s face wears an almost pained look. As night falls they make their way to the restaurant, and reminisce about the first time they ate there. Later by the water, Rina has something to say, the narrative has been building up to this moment, it suddenly starts to feel like it’s the last time they can be together this way. They embrace -hopefully not their last one- as Eli learns Rina is to be married next month.
‘And Returning’ is a mild short about the difficulties of same-sex love for most Asian women, bound by overwhelming societal pressure to marry a man (Taiwan is the first and only country in Asia to legalise same sex marriage) and settle. It gives us a much needed narrative about the arranged marriage scam Asian women are subjected to, and how it is especially unfair to queer Asian women. This short gives us a quiet ending -with just the right amount of melancholy- to the ‘Girls Shorts’ category.