The longest, and heaviest of the short film nominees are usually the documentaries, and this year is no exception. With many pushing up to 40 minutes, they operate as almost mini-features, with compelling subject material and a multitude of captivating characters. They range from intimate to sprawling, from inside a hospital room, to out on the Mediterranean Sea. Their subjects deal with racism, immigration, illness, death, and community.
I’ve always had a fondness for animation, primarily because of its ability to transcend the limitations of gravity or genre. From the incipient stages of cinema, animators have shown that their work can tell a variety of stories, from adventure to horror and even avant-garde experimentation. Despite there being a fair number of animated films aimed squarely at adults, however, the majority of audiences in the western market still view them as strictly “family fare.” This makes the lineup this year a bit more interesting as the majority of them are about families, but they cover surprisingly weighty themes on loss and change.
A common strain among the majority of the live action short film nominees this year is a focus on child figures who come of age in the most traumatic ways imaginable. The children in these films learn of the terrible weights isolation, violence, and frail mortality can carry, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll come out the other side. Spanning four countries, these shorts, while I would not call any of them masterpieces, all have their own strengths and attributes.
Of the many things to be gained from the year in film, arguably the most notable was the growing role of multi-media platforms in exhibiting world cinema. Many of the year’s best films hailed from all over the world, from Mexico to South Korea, and a great deal of them were distributed by streaming services. This isn’t to say that companies like Netflix don’t have some ground to cover in terms of equaling or surpassing the theatrical screening experience. Nevertheless, the films of 2018 provided a benchmark for globalist discourse that fundamentally challenged the isolationist policies of far too many political leaders, right down to the popularity of films like Black Panther or Crazy Rich Asians which addressed, either directly or indirectly, a legacy of colonialism while looking toward an optimistic future. This fundamentally wary optimism, entwined with a pragmatic understanding of how far we have yet to go, was a common strain in the best films of the year.
This year’s line-up at the Cannes Film Festival, what I was able to see of it, featured some of the strongest entries in the seventy-one years of the festival’s history. If there was a common thread in the seven films I saw (five of them in competition for the Palme d’Or), it’s that many of them grappled with global crises on either a social or existential level. Even without the public display of solidarity from supporters of the #metoo movement on the Croisette, the topic of one’s role in a tumultuous present was inescapable at this year’s festival. Either directly or implicitly, all of these films provided their own distinct theses in an ongoing dialectic on the relevance and efficacy of cinema as an instrument of both political and personal expression.