One of the vastly underrated strands of the BFI London Film Festival is always the Short Cuts, showcasing the best in unseen or unknown talents. The School of Life brings together seven diverse short films all focusing on the intricate confusions of relationships as we learn to deal with the various hiccups life throws at us, whether it be family, ourselves or how to adapt to the ever changing world of social media.
Scott Weintrob’s Two Legged Rat Bastards is a gritty telling of a son making a final attempt to reconnect with his alcoholic father. Eddie finally explains to his son how he came to lose his leg, but gain something even more valuable, in a poker game as a young man. Based on the short story by Daniel Wallace (Big Fish), and starring Michael Rossenbaum as Young Eddie, Two Legged Rat Bastards is a surprisingly heartfelt yet brutal tale of the strange turnings of fate when the deck is in Lady Luck’s hands.
Douglas Hart (interesting fact – also bassist of The Jesus and Mary Chain) embraces the gritty realism of the Scottish working class in Long Distance Information. Sat alone in a dank bedroom, a young man calls his cantankerous father at home on Christmas Day. This awkward but touching catch up between estranged family members reminds us that no matter how long it has been, there will always be someone to answer the phone, even if it feels like you are strangers.
Family plays a key role in Bird, directed by New Zealanders Jane Shearer and Steve Ayson. Free spirit, Bird is rebelling against his age and the cage he has found himself in, sealed by his doctors and his daughter. Grieving for his deceased wife, Bird’s only desire is to be free and be with his wife, but of course his daughter is less willing to release him.
In Chris Foggin’s Friend Request Pending, Mary (Judi Dench) is in a predicament, sitting before her laptop, staring at a little chat box in the corner of the screen – why is Trevor taking so long to reply? This is Facebook for the older generation. Only these ladies don’t speak like you’d expect at the church coffee morning – they speak like us, worry about the hi/hello quandary, whether it’s too forward to reply so quickly, whether you should befriend your friend’s son on Facebook?
Written by Chris Croucher, Friend Request Pending, is a gently comic introduction to the world of social networking and dating for the mature generation, or maybe a reminder for younger generation that social networks can be for more than posting debauched photographs.
Typically twisted and wonderfully styled, Terry Gilliam’s The Wholly Family (pictured), follows an obnoxious American family as they wander the streets of Naples. But when their young son picks up a grotesque Pulcinella doll, thought to bring the owner bad luck, we are sent spiralling into a terrifying, almost Grimm’s inspired moral tale that will be sure to keep children in check on all future European jaunts.
If there is one lesson to be learned from The School of Life, is that the concept of a social network, in its literal sense, becomes all the more clear when we move away from the computer.
The School of Life will be screened at the 55th BFI London Film Festival (in partnership with American Express) as part of the Short Cuts strand, on Friday 14 and Monday 17 October.
For times and venues, visit the BFI website.