I love short films.
I love that I can watch the ones I really like over and over without a huge demand on my time.
Maybe that’s why I like television so much.
You know what show is the most tightly plotted and consistently exciting show on TV? It’s not Breaking Bad, although I love it, and it’s certainly not True Blood which is so incoherent it’s not even fun anymore. It’s The Clone Wars. 22 minutes of effortless storytelling that owes more to old-fashioned movie serials than even the original Star Wars did. Don’t tell anyone but its subtextual pathos is also lovingly and expertly art-directed.
I love shorts because they’re necessarily more focused on a single idea or two than most features I watch. To be honest, few feature films involve me from start to finish, even ones I have an overall positive response to. I have moments of boredom in about 90% of the films I watch. Further, the idea that feature films, the ones that people actually see, need to be at least 80 minutes long has been determined entirely by the pressures of convention and commerce. It has nothing to do with art. Most directors struggle to articulate a single idea. But three or four, spread out over 90 minutes or even the over 120 that’s so tediously common now, particularly in these bloated big-budget Hollywood summer movies based on comic books? Now that’s pretentious.
So I’m kind of awed by an effective short film. The 15 luminescent minutes of director Roberto Fiesco’s David hit me as quick and breathlessly as a cum shot. And after a little rest, I wanted to watch it again, and again.
The title character is a Mexican teenager wandering the streets at midday. He peers into a theater with interest, looking at the array of posters of vintage Spanish-language films on the walls inside. He wants to go to the movies but instead, after picking up an older man on a bench outside, he ends up making one.
The appearance of the theater is not simply a random plot point or art direction but an indication of what director Fiesco, his co-writers and collaborators Julián Hernández and Luis Martín Ulloa as well as cinematographer Alejandro Cantú are up to in David: The re-appropriation of a previous film era’s cinematic language and style to express gay desire and retroactively insert it into the canon. At least, that’s what I think they’re up to.
For instance, although the film takes places in a contemporary setting, the film’s color palette has a vintage look – golden hues, greenish tones, a bit washed out – and the distinctive camerawork consists of unfashionable emotive close-ups of the two characters’ faces or carefully choreographed tracking shots that sweep, explore and reveal both interior space and psychological states in surprising, refreshing ways – the sequence in a hotel lobby, for instance, in which we’re shown both the set and David’s changing reactions to it, while across from him the older man he’s picked up reels at the cost of the room, all in one masterful take, like a scene from Rope.
In another sequence, the camera circles around the two lovers as they have sex on the bed, each shot washing out to white and cutting to the next. In this scene, as in all the others, young Jorge Adrián Espíndola as David is so classically good that I’m shocked he’s not a big star yet.
But it’s not a common performance and it’s not a common film. Every gesture is given a weight — almost like those in a silent film — which I’m not used to feeling in most gay-themed movies, particularly American ones in which camp, pop culture and a coarse vulgarity often inform the narratives — when David stops on the street after clocking José, the way he rubs the back of his neck made me feel his need, his trepidation and the anxious look on his face as he waits for José’s answer to his proposition. In David, the a priori dignity of gay desire is expressed stylistically, not just thematically or narratively, and just as powerfully and seriously as in An Affair To Remember or any other great Hollywood love story.
There’s no point going into the plot details of a 15-minute movie but I will say that David is mute and this trait provides some of the film’s most tender and beautiful moments. The musical score by Arturo Villela features some lovely guitar-picking and the one romantic old Mexican song that runs over the end credits could not have been better chosen.
You can see David by buying a DVD compilation of Spanish-language shorts here on Amazon
I’ll eventually be writing about co-writer Julián Hernández’s other films, Broken Sky and Raging Sun, Raging Sky, also shot by Alejandro Cantú. I already wrote about A Thousand Clouds of Peace.