Last week Kanye West released a video for “Bound 2.” It is the year’s most ridiculous musical achievement, which in 2013 is really saying something. But in part because West took all the air from all the rooms, not enough has been made about a couple of short films that’ve been making the rounds. Wes Anderson made one with Prada’s backing called Castello Cavalcanti, in which a 1950s race car driver (Jason Schwartzman) crashes into a tiny Italian village at dusk.
The tracking shots are masterful (the wonderful Darius Khondji shot it). The camera simply moves from left to right, taking in Anderson’s tableau, but at some point it abruptly stops and reverses when a character changes his mind about leaving the frame. When Anderson is at his best, there’s no one better right now at using personal style to create surprise — sometimes his characters are more than dolls and props. At his worst, the air goes flat, and we’re back to dioramas.
Castello Cavalcanti is done up in thick, heavily bright Play-Doh hues. The movie made me laugh. It gave me a case of the Fellinis. It made me remember that I need lunch. Also, it’s a warm-up for next year’s Grand Budapest Hotel, which like looks a bunch of precious little daydreams wrapped in crinkly paper and served in a portable castle made of marzipan and chocolate.
The other short is actually attached to something currently playing.
Do you remember that moment in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity in which Dr. Ryan Stone reaches an abandoned Russian space station and makes desperate, weary contact with the voice of a stranger? He seems jolly in whatever language he’s speaking. She’s frustrated that they’re talking past each other. Well, the voice is now the star of a seven-minute short directed by Cuarón’s son and cowriter, Jonas: Aningaaq. That’s the gentleman’s name, he’s a fisherman, and the language is Greenlandic.
The film (which Warner Bros. is submitting for the live-action-short Oscar) consists of their conversation as it appears in the film but entirely from his end. She’s in space distress. Down on the tundra, with his wife and infant son, Aningaaq explains to her that he’s in a more practical kind of distress. One of his sled dogs is gravely ill. The short is a fascinating supplement. It’s neither necessary nor gratuitous. I watched Dr. Stone’s side of the story wondering what the man on the earthbound end was up to: You can hear dogs and a crying child.
We couldn’t have known Aningaaq (Orto Ignatiussen) was also worried for himself — I, at least, don’t speak Greenlandic. How Dr. Stone is able to understand his name further speaks to her deductive brilliance (I would’ve pressed all the wrong space-station buttons in both Chinese and Russian). He thinks her name in Mayday.
The short is generously amusing, one that manages to create new comedy in the failure of these two people to understand each other. He feels sentimental about the babies and the dogs. Sandra Bullock must be picturing someplace warm. The amusement comes from their respective dog imitations. She goes “arf.” He howls. Only when they become animals do they speak the same language. Things get more bleakly funny when she begins to talk about how she’s probably going to die and he puts down the receiver and turn to the woman standing over him holding the child. Things are tragicomically put into perspective. These are two sad people who really can’t help each other at all — kind of like Kim and Kanye.