16. Simpan (Park Chan-wook, 1999)
After two unsuccessful feature length films and working as a film critic to subsist, Park Chan-wook made “Simpan” (Judgement).
Inspired by the 1995 collapse of a department store, caused by negligent actions that killed over five-hundred people and resembling the biblical “Judgment of Solomon”, this twenty-six-minute movie shows several traits of Park Chan-wook’s narrative construction and directing style and the influences of films like Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashômon”.
Catastrophe, violence, stylised aesthetics, relations within family, drama with traces of cynical black comedy and a brilliantly crafted ending that leaves space for interpretation. These are some of the elements that construct this movie and can be observed in several of Park’s works like “Oldeuboi” (Oldboy, 2003).
Park shot “Judgement” in black and white and finished the short film in colour. In the following year, Park would get his breakthrough with “Joint Security Area”, a hugely critical and commercial success.
15. Foutaises (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1989)
In 1989, Jean-Pierre Jeunet won the César Award for Best Short Film with his eight minute long movie “Foutaises”.
Shot in black and white, the film shows a man (Dominique Pinon) speaking directly at the camera and going through a list of things he loves or hates, this is juxtaposed with images of the depicted subjects.
Its result is a heart-warming comedy with elements that would be seen in his later and well known works. For instance, the poetic realism of the narrative and the technique used to present the characters in his 2001 success “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain” (Amelie). Dominique Pinon would be a frequent actor in Jeunet’s movies.
14. Nan va Koutcheh (Abbas Kiarostami, 1970)
Limited in resources and knowledge, “Nan va Koutcheh” (The Bread and Alley) tells the story of a personal adventure in just under eleven minutes.
The experience of walking back home through an alley that lead to the local bakery in Abbas Kiarostami’s childhood and being frightened by a big dog blocking his way is turned into a sensitive and splendid cinematic register.
Kiarostami shows a mature, unpredictable and unexpected style, which is reflected on both the image and sound of the movie.
As in his other earlier works, there is no dialogue. Instead, the skilled way silence and music are used respectfully underlining dead or intense sequences has a huge effect on telling the story and portraying the child’s feelings perfectly.
The subject present can also be seen in “Where is the Friend’s Home?”: youth, dangers of the outside world, loneliness and adults unwilling to step out of their own affairs to provide any sort of assistance, forcing the hero to be brave and to solve his problems alone.
The open ending is, like the rest of the movie, modest but beautiful. The main character made it, however someone else walks into the alley without the precious bread. A shifting cycle is formed.
13. Vincent (Tim Burton, 1982)
Tim Burton’s fourth short ‘Vincent” is a six minute stop-motion animation.
This short is animated in a reminiscent style of the German Expressionism of the 1920’s. It tells the story of a young boy Vincent Malloy who idolizes Vincent Price. One can find all the references to painting and literature, especially Edgar Allen Poe. The short animation is completely based on a poem written by Burton that serves as Price’s narration.
Vincent Price was an American actor, well known for horror movie performances and his powerful and distinctive voice, an idol and inspiration to Tim Burton’s growing up. They would work together in other projects such as Edward Scissorhands.
The influences of Ted Parmelee’s 1953 The Tell-Tale Heart and similarities between this and “Das Cabinet des Dr. Cagliari” (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920, Robert Wiene) are quite obvious.
The movie contains references to Burton’s later work, such as an early brief appearance of Jack Skellington and Frankenweenie. It’s one of the first stop-motion animations to use claymation, a technique that Burton would also use in The Nightmare Before Christmas.
12. Doodlebug (Christopher Nolan, 1997)
Christopher Nolan started making movies when he was only seven, yet his first known short film is a psychological thriller, shorter than three minutes in black and white, made when he studied English Literature at the University College London.
A man, played by Jeremy Theobald who would later star in Nolan’s first feature length movie “Following” (1998) is insanely trying to smash some sort of a bug with a shoe in a tiny apartment. All of the man’s actions and movements point out his mental condition and state of mind. He has only one purpose.
The mood is brilliantly set by the soundtrack, the black and white image and the right lighting. The anonymous man’s performance and the narrative have been pointed as reminiscent of a Franz Kafka story, like his “Die Verwandlung” (The Metamorphosis, 1915).
In less than three minutes, Nolan’s story is intense, frightening and direct. As always, it still gets the audience to think further than what is visible.
11. Dwaj Ludzie z Szafa (Roman Polanski, 1958)
“Dwaj Ludzie z Szafa” (Two Men and a Wardrobe) is a silent fifteen minute black and white movie. It was said by Roman Polanski to be “about the intolerance of society toward somebody who was different”.
In 1958 there was a short film competition for experimental pieces at the Brussels World’s Fair. With that in mind, Polanski wrote and directed a movie, showing two men carrying a wardrobe and the rejection and rising hostility they suffered when attempting to enter several social establishments. As the hostility towards the two men reaches its climax, the duo retreats to where they first emerged from, the vast sea.
Polanski, then a student at Lodz Film School, would win the bronze medal. Its success gave Polanski the chance to getting involved with Claude Guillemot, and soon after with Jean-Marie Drot, two French filmmakers who would influence the gifted young filmmaker greatly.
10. La Cravate (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1957)
“La Cravate” (The Tie) is a silent version of The Transposed Heads by Thomas Mann. Here, Alejandro Jodorowsky took his first steps into the cinematic world with a twenty minute colour film and an introduction written by Jean Cocteau.
The short film was found in a German attic 50 years after being considered lost. This debut is surprising and notably well-crafted with a liberal yet carefully thought-out colour palette, marking the director’s shift from stage to screen.
Creative uses of camera make special effects unnecessary and give a new sense of life to some of the most important sequences of the film.
Even in such an early work one can find themes that will later be explored in more details by Alejandro Jodorowsky. In “Fando Y Lis” for instance, his film debut eleven years later shows exploration of identity and its importance as much as being dependent on others.
9. L’Opéra-Mouffe (Agnès Varda, 1958)
This is one of Agnès Varda’s earlier works and it was shot during her pregnancy. It records the observations of a pregnant woman through the Rue Mouffetard in Paris, La Mouffe. Varda breaks the film into different segments separated by white handwritten titles on black backgrounds.
The first segment, where there’s no comprehension of the narrative by the viewers yet, starts with short glimpses of a pregnant woman with a clever transition to a pumpkin, soon to be cut open and having its seeds removed.
It illustrates not only Varda’s great ability to examine her own experiences but also the profound influence of western art in her work, stimulating the feelings of impressionist painting, neoclassic allusions to Ingres and drawing our attention to bizarre characters worthy of Bosch. More references may pass unnoticed, but should never be assumed unintentional.
She would be influenced by the “Auteur Theory” and later describe her method as “cinécriture” (cinema plus writing). Agnès Varda would become one of the strongest female voices in the cinema history.