No one could accuse the four films screening in the SOS Australian Comedy Shorts season of lacking ambition. Thematically, the individual works grapple with everything from the generational divide in our multicultural society, fulfilling one's dreams despite physical limitations, adulterous love, faith in miraculous conception, and the existence of God itself.
But you have every right to ask, “Uh...where's the funny?” The 'funny' is in the technical skill of each filmmaker, the pitch-perfect performances of Abe Forsythe, David Wenham, George Kapiniaris, Susan Prior and Rhys Muldoon, and, like most great comedy, the sly commentary on ourselves and our society.
And, as we all know, that stranger at the party explaining why everybody else's jokes are funny is not the guy to hang with. So I'll shut-up now so that you can have a laugh...
SOS: Australian Comedy Shorts
(Screened: SBS ONE, Saturday November 26, Midnight)
Glenn Owen Dodds (2010, 16 mins)
Director: Frazer Bailey
For centuries, great artists and philosophers have speculated what God may look and sound like or if, in fact, 'He' even exists. Director Frazer Bailey finally offers a definitive answer: God is a struggling mug-punter, working out of a cluttered office in a Brisbane backstreet. And he looks remarkably like David Wenham. Working from Trent Dalton's absurd AFI-nominated script, Bailey gives Wenham free rein, and the celebrated actor doesn't disappoint. Comic foil Abe Forsyth, terrific as the skeptic-turned-convert, and the impossibly sweet Bella Heathcote, round out the cast. Though distinctly local in its characterisation of a beer-drinking deity who uses phrases like “jerkin' the gherkin”, the comedy travelled well – it won the International Competition award at Europe's prestigious Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival.
Bad Language (2010, 14 mins)
Director: Viron Papadopoulos
In Hellenic culture, the Kafenois is a meeting place for men to indulge their fiery machismo – play cards, drink coffee and, in general, flaunt their manliness. In one such an establishment, owner Lefteri (played by iconic actor George Kapianaris) oversees a contest between the fiercely proud Greek traditionalist Kosta (a bullish Tony Nikolakopoulos) and young buck Bill (Chris Asimos). For a large sum of money, they must spend five minutes in each other's shoes: Bill must only speak Greek, Kosta only English. A crisply-told battle-of-wills set against the deeper issue of generational change and conflict, writer/director Viron Papadopoulos inventively pits new-age cockiness against old-world street smarts. A confident directorial debut clearly inspired by his own intimate knowledge of this hotbed environment, Papadopoulos' comedy took home the SBS TV Award at this year's Flickerfest. Laughs may prove secondary, though, to one's enjoyment of Bad Language; there is much to debate post-viewing as to the symbolism inherent to the outcome of the contest....
GPS (2010, 5 mins, pictured)
Director: Sam Bryant
Sam Bryant's vivid slice of stylistic bravado tells the life story of Thompson (from boy to man: Sebastian Lowe, Jeffery Chan, Paul Wong) who dreams of being Gusto GPS's next in-car voice. His dreams are shattered and his life spins out of control when the cruel hand of fate deals him a shocker: an impenetrable lisp that threatens to guide the world's drivers to who-knows-where. Easily the most non-conforming visualist of the four SOS filmmakers, Bryant exhibits a ballsy, music-video brio that's edgy and, at times, unexpectedly dark (a rain-soaked street-beating is strikingly effective). But Bryant never loses sight of his film's heart, using sweet melancholy and offbeat imagery to entertain. Festival judges have lauded the work: in addition to the SBS TV honour at Flickerfest 2010 (where it also took home Best Editing), GPS was shortlisted at the Asia-Pacific ADFEST 2011 and earned Bryant a Young Director notice at Cannes' Lions Festival.
The Saviour (2005, 17 mins)
Director: Peter Templeman
Those that contend that the Oscars voters don't have a toe in the door when it comes to contemporary issues should have a look at Peter Templeman's The Saviour. So dark it almost absorbs light, this tale of a door-to-door evangelist (Thom Campbell) consumed by sexual obsession after a chance encounter with a blonde housewife (Susan Prior) was nominated for the Best Live Short Film Oscar in 2006. Packing more narrative punch and character development into its 18 minutes than many modern features accomplish, The Saviour humanises religious fundamentalists through one missionary's spontaneously sinful actions. Campbell, destined to be played by Jonah Hill should the film ever go through a Hollywood redux, is superb, as are all the cast. Templeman's much-anticipated first feature Not Suitable for Children, starring Ryan Kwanten, is due in 2012. Keep an eye out for the Australia-based actor Nicholas Hammond, best known as Friedrich from The Sound of Music, as the Pastor.