First Takes Feb review...Dealing with O.C.D.

It’s a night of obsessive compulsive tendencies at the first First Takes of the year, not all that heavy-going, kinda dreamy in a hallucinatory way as too. The films screened all display The line up is a mish-mash of the dark and heart-warming, the forlorn and the funny. It also spans various genres which include a traditional narrative, stop-motion animation, experimental and even a mockumentary.


The first film ‘Candid Shot of Youth At Play’ by Athalia Ho is languid and dreamy in the way it portrays 2 youths trying to cover up for their deed, a likely murder of a common friend. Dragging his dead body across the grass plain, they look for a suitable resting place. Shot in blurred focus, handheld and with an esoteric eye for quirky yet intimate angles, you can’t help but notice a certain aesthetic knack about the way the director is framing what’s in the scene.


Strangely, the cloudy skies and the ‘sanctuarious’ nature of the open field gave it a very ‘Country Western’ look to the film, which I suspect having 2 young men dealing with a dead body adds to it. It’s got a grey-hued palate reminiscent of Hollywood’s ‘Cold Mountain’. In short, I am just alluding to a very subtle sense of romanticism the film had over a killing act, which made death seem balmy and peaceful.


‘Backyard Bowler’ by Amanda Tan, though shot in cheerier and warmer colours, is actually more carcinogenic than you think. With pun intended on its story about a lackadaisical man who finds his soul in bowling and rests his health in the hands on cigarettes. What might have been smothering could be the choice of an uninspiring character, begging the question of why this story needs to be told.


The film is told in different timeframes, starting in mid-life, going back and forth between marriage, old-age and childhood. Throughout that life-span, we see a man, brought up in a dysfunctional family, insecure about himself, jittery at his biggest moments (like his wedding) and living in regret half the time. Narrated by the voice of his mid-life self (which is a self-defeating voice), you look for point of redemption but find yourself lost in a state of addictive consciousness in which the only respite is the pleasure of bowling.


This film however, had some quirky poignant directorial touches like the protagonist bowling into a birthday cake and seeing that birthday cake quashed under the weight of the ball. Also visually punctuating was the Fortune Cat waving its arms in the foreground while turmoil has unfolded in the background.


‘A Green Ticket’ by Anoo Priya was the sweet surprise of the evening. It is a modest film that opens your heart without trying too hard or telling a big, grand story. It’s in the actors’ gestures and temperament that this story flutters in my heart. A poor boy struggles to earn money while studying in school. Amidst the overpowering tinge of sepia that is aimed to recreate the year 1976, his innocent, somewhat naïve single-mindedness sparkles and exudes an undeniable subtle charm.


He comes home late every night from collecting used drink cans in order to sell them for money. One day, his mother comes home, fatigued from work and he relentlessly pesters his mum to take him out for a show. The ‘green ticket’ to this is when he flashes the ticket itself to his mother, surprising her. This is of course, when the truth inevitably unfolds and his mother discovers his ‘moonlighting’ endeavours. Avoiding the potential drone of explaining his ‘labour of love’ he simply hurries his mother, drawing attention to the fact that they could be close to wasting the ticket since the show was about to begin.

It‘s guts meeting good intentions that makes this little short film, the tiny empowerer it is. It also draws attention to the fact that human nature and responses transcend language and culture. I did a double take at the director’s name and was assured of this.


The later films took an experimental, experiential turn. ‘You Disappear’ is a contemplative, mood-evoking stream of images played to a hypnotic soundtrack. It follows the journey of a blind-folded girl, treading through forest and beach-scapes seemingly searching for someone. Vacillating between the phantasmic and idyllic, the film takes us on a journey, sometimes lucid in its clarity of textured details and landscape and sometimes shrouded in a blurred interplay of light and movement. This duality of lucidity and the moments of pandemonium, in fact, gave this visual journey some depth and solidity, preventing it from being just another dream-scape.


‘Don’t hate the player, hate the game.’. That’s apparently the T-shirt that made our protagonist, Rick Shamus, famous in Stephanise Bousely’s ‘I Make T-Shirts’. He is a ego-centric, anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive young man who thinks too highly of himself. Told like a satire of the cocky, ambitious Gen-Y youths who want to dominate the world like Marcus Zuckerberg, this mockumentary is a strange animal, sometimes funny yet sometimes intense and affecting.


It is funny because it contrasts Rick’s inflated-ego-driven ideas to the reception towards them. The turn out at his investor presentation was one out of twelve. It is also intense because of the way he exploits and torments his Indian intern. Odd moments in the film make you wonder if you are watching a film about human exploitation. He quips about his intern being Indian and hence, naturally more hardworking, yet he cracks the whip unnecessarily and throws his temper over the most trivial of things. He would knot his eyebrows, his face would crumple up and he would be struggling to contain his irritation at the things that stumble him. For the behavioural detail, you wonder if this film is really more a dig at a fellow friend, rather than an attempt to tell a story. Nevertheless, disregarding the ‘classroom exercise’ that this film seems to be, you might want to grab a T-shirt or 2 from Rick, but you sure need his attitude to go with them.


The final 2 short films felt like random picks given yet another genre-departure or thematic departure. ‘Squared Shaped’ by Zen, on closer analysis is still in the same grounds as the rest, except that it takes a lighter look at an OCD problem and has a happy ending as well. Boss needs everything on his table to be square while his secretary tries to coexist with that and even share some of her sunshine energy in the office. Eventually and predictably, he succumbs to it and airs his plush toys on the table…. Which begs the question, this film square-shaped or circular?


Finally, never go on a date with a bigmouth. His appetite could kill. Told through spunky stop-motion animation, this musically-driven short film tickles with black humour and discernible style. Half the time you are staring at a menacing looking set of carnivorous teeth, the other half of the time, you are grooving to the music. I guess that kind of sums up the eclectic, dual nature of this particular installment of First Takes.


You can check our their synopses at the First Takes page of the Substation website.

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