Rendez-vous with God [Kevin Van Doorslaer, Belgium, 2018] /// Predilection [Tabitha Walker, UK, 2017
Funerals gone wrong make for surprisingly common comic material. Death at a Funeral [Frank Oz, UK, 2007] and the continually unsung nineties classic Mousehunt [Gore Verbinski, US, 1997] both show that in some dark, twisted and sometimes touching way, corpses and comedy just go together. Kevin Van Doorslaer’s Rendez-vous with God is no different. Following the antics of two stoned siblings grieving their father the night before the funeral, this film is a morbidly witty tribute to loss and laughter.
As soon as the film opens in a funeral parlour (run by a brilliantly cast duo of bumbling undertakers) two things are immediately striking. The first: this is a talented filmmaker. The second: this is going to be funny. Given that this is Van Doorslaer’s first film, it is hugely impressive that none of it smacks of amateur. This is equally due to the natural acting as it is to the well thought out shots and the clever script.
Smooth one-liners and believable characters continue as the night unfolds, and the characters get a visit from an unexpected guest named Dieu. This is where the drugs come into it. The mourning siblings share a commemorative joint and decide to jack in the solemnity of funereal proceedings by stealing their father’s coffin. To the horror of their family and the bewildered undertakers, they awake the next morning to find the coffin covered in cigarette butts and penned graffiti.
It might have been more interesting to go into this night in more detail, to explore the characters’ emotions a little more deeply, rather than just stealing the coffin and falling asleep (although this is perhaps a more realistic rendition of smoking weed than the far flung psychedelic adventures that usually dominate stoner films). It could also have been worthwhile to invest more time in Dieu. Yes, his name is God but what is this trying to say besides gently teasing traditional ideas of religion and death?
That said, the simplicity of the final scene during which the customised grave is revealed works really well, and perhaps there doesn’t need to be a deep philosophical take on this. Perhaps death, like life, is allowed to be mundane, messy and scribbled on by your family and friends.
A needle piercing a nipple to the sound of a boiling kettle is both a scene I never thought I would see and a sentence I never thought I would write. Tabitha Walker’s Predilection has changed both of these things. An exhibition of sexual fetishes that takes no prisoners, this short film is unabashedly and brilliantly shocking.
The viewer is confronted with a series of scenes each showing an unusual sexual act: a long lick of a moist, hairy armpit; the painstaking pluck of a single eyelash; the crunch of bones as feet trample breasts… There’s something for everyone. All this is accompanied by a series of jarring sounds: a high-pitched whine gives way to a squeaky toy and the horrible wetness of loud chewing as a man messily devours a burger, revealing between bites the masticated mesh of pleasure and death, of flesh and fluids. The scenes flick between one another, moving faster and faster until they reach a climax that teeters between desire and disgust.
The people in this film are purposefully fragmented. No one stands whole but everyone is cut off by the close-up shots. A mouth, a thigh, a big toe – no longer bodies, but fetishised objects characterised purely by the sexual act. It is perhaps quite paradoxical that the extreme proximity to the body actually creates a sense of distance between these scenes and the human bodies they depict.
The distancing effect is enhanced by the very explicitly staged block colour background. What we see here is not a spontaneous act of intimacy but a crafted and curated portrayal of lust. This estranges it from what is perhaps a more common experience of sex, which lacks optimum lighting, artistic direction and a carefully selected backdrop of juxtaposing sounds (or maybe that’s just me). This is by no means a criticism. The aim here is clearly not to replicate what is so often shown as standard copulation, but to defamiliarise the audience with their bodies and common notions of desire.
Although some viewers may find Predilection hard to stomach, the excruciation achieved by this short film is what makes it stand out. It would be almost impossible to have no reaction to this piece and this is surely a mark of something good. With its brave exploration into subject matter that many filmmakers wouldn't dare to touch, Walker’s film is a true triumph of discomfort.
‘Rendez-vous with God’ and ‘Predilection’ were both film submissions in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.