Shorts/Take 2: The Letter/Bottles/Speed Grieving/Breathtaking

The 2010 Talking Pictures Festival (May 6-9)

By Marilyn Ferdinand

The Talking Pictures Festival has put together an intriguing program for its second group of short features. All of the films are, in one way or another, tales of the fantastic animated by themes centering on death, vengeance, or both.

The Letter (2009)
Director/Screenwriter: Edward Heffernan

Alfred (William J. Norris), a rich, elderly man who sticks with a strictly circumscribed routine that has him do little more than go out to church, read, paint, and rail at the weekly indignity of a visit by his doctor (Richard Henzel). The morning that starts the film has his maid Rosalinda (Carmen Cenko) bring him his breakfast tray, which also contains a hand-inscribed letter. Alfred looks at the plain envelope and stuffs it into his nightstand’s drawer. When he receives another letter, however, he opens them and reads them. They are addressed “Dear Beth” and seem to be from a sweetheart who has not seen his beloved in a while. The second letter announces his intention to come to see her, and his concern over whether she has been with someone else seems ominous. But does this man really exist, and who could Beth be? William Norris, a wonderful actor who has been on the Chicago acting scene for as long as I can remember—best known, perhaps, for playing Scrooge in The Goodman Theatre’s annual staging of A Christmas Carol—strikes all the right notes in showing Alfred’s loneliness, terror, and confusion. Edward Heffernan is an unusually talented 16-year-old high school student who has written a genuinely puzzling script and created an eerie atmosphere that suits it to a tee.


Bottles (2008)
Director/Screenwriter: Jon Stout

Mira (Teressa Byrne), a divorced mother, narrates this film about a strange power she and her daughter Cheyenne (Jillian Henry) share and how she decides to handle Cheyenne’s experiments with animals and people. Emotion is something Mira has never let carry her away—because of the consequences—and that, it is suggested, is what drove her husband Marc (Greg Baglia) into the arms of another woman (Heather Goddard). It would be unfair to share their secret, but it’s a chilling reminder of how deep emotions can run in even the most even-tempered of people. Some great spooky music adds a bit of humor to a film that, ultimately, shows a ghastly outcome for one of its characters.


Speed Grieving (2009)
Director: Jessica Daniels

Malia (Alysia Reiner) is a working woman who has just been told her father (James Naughton) has stage 4 cancer and will not recover. Shaken by the news, the usually take-charge Malia is at a loss about what to do. Unexpectedly, she sees her life flash before her eyes—specifically in a “clinical trial” designed to test whether a person can efficiently grieve in 15 minutes. Grief can cause hallucinations, and this witty film uses that fact not only to lampoon our speeded-up world but to teach the lesson that grieving takes time and perhaps can and should be savored.

You can view the trailer here.


Breathtaking (Dasak, 2009)
Director: Vojin Vasovic

It’s no surprise that the most fanciful of the shorts in this program comes from the Balkans—specifically, Serbia—a region that, in my opinion, cannot be topped for black, absurdist humor. Breathtaking concerns Sveta (Dimitrije Stojanovic), a doughy, 30ish man who lives under the oppression of his mother. He follows a simple routine each day, outlined for us by a narrator (Miroslav Petrovic Mishko), of running a gauntlet of neighbor ladies who comment about his packed lunch of beans and the advisability of him getting married, a card game of “Cheat” at his friends’ tavern, and a walk to his job at a military museum. Quite by chance, he finds he has the power to make anyone stop breathing simply by flicking his fingers at them. Things get out of hand as Sveta feels overwhelmed by the bustle of his town and decides to “protect” himself. Stojanovic plays this lethal sad sack with aplomb, and director Vasovic has a great eye for framing shots flatly or at odd angles for humor. Special kudos go to costume designers Sefanija Ilic and Iva Sokovic for outfitting Sveta, his mom, and their home in a gaudy flower material that is reminiscent of Scarlett O’Hara’s improvised drapery dress and perfectly captures the ridiculous symbiosis of mother and son. I laughed heartily through this absurd, dark comedy (which I believe the opening credits say was [credibly] inspired by Luigi Pirandello) that has to be seen to be believed.

Shorts: Take 2 will be shown May 8 at 12:30 p.m. at the Hinman Theater on the 9th floor of the Hotel Orrington, 1701 Orrington Ave., Evanston, Illinois.

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