Sunday 10 July 2011

Alfred (or the Story of a Wonder Fish) (2011)

Directors: Aaron Hobson, Jean-Charles Lehuby and Mathieu Rigot
Stars: Sarah Marie Curtis, Aaron Hobson and Michael Sullivan

My favourite No Festival Required screening of the year is always the selection of short films shown at the Phoenix Art Museum. Here's Selection 2011.
The only live action fiction in Selection 2011, Alfred rambles along like a beat poem but leaves us thoroughly engaged in a quirky story. It begins with a burp and gets cruder, foul language being punctuation in this short, but the mumbling narrative means we don't quite catch it all anyway. This was annoying for a while but gradually I realised how appropriate it was. It feels like a story told to you by a drunkard late one night in a noisy bar. You don't catch every word, not that every word was probably even spoken, but you always catch enough to get the gist. The fast pace and editing helps this impression too, as does the surreal nature of the story which is never fully explained. Quite why Jack wanders around with his fish in a bowl we don't really know but it doesn't matter. The whole thing is just as gloriously absurd, but it's consistent enough that we grin throughout rather than wonder what the director was smoking.

Jack's fish is named Alfred, as you might imagine from the title, and the story explains how he saved Jack's life. I won't spoil how, but it's just a punchline to a joke detailed enough to become its own story. The other players are Jenna, a young runaway, and her twisted but unnamed dad who is chasing her to bring her home. She meets Jack, who whisks her away and the rest of the story writes itself, if you happen to have the mind of a Terry Gilliam. Fortunately the imagination isn't just in the situation comedy but in the way it's shot too. We don't merely see our barefoot runaway dance around Alfred's fishbowl in the forecourt of a gas station to the accompaniment of a banjo picking attendant, we see it from the fish's perspective too, a wonderful touch indeed. I'd love to see Alfred again, though only a teaser seems to be online. While it began flawed and abrasive, it grew in magnetism and it remains fondly in my memory a couple of weeks on.

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