Culture & Conversation

Waxing over Waning

When I was getting my Master’s degree in film studies, I had to grade an undergraduate assignment in which students were asked to transcribe a shot-by-shot breakdown of a classically edited silent short. I can only imagine the befuddled looks (and disgruntled emails!) from students if they had instead been given Gina Haraszti’s Waning, the centrepiece of her triptych of short film screening this weekend.

Waning is a narrative short drenched in Lynchian menace, a by-product of its disturbing imagery and unnerving sound design. The sparse story–a fashion photographer murders his beautiful subject–takes a backseat to Haraszti’s experimental montage, with echoes of classic films such as Peeping Tom, Blow-Up and Memento along the way.

The film plays with cinematic space and time in a beguiling way, presenting present and past concurrently within the same frame. The majority of the short plays out in a single long take, but there is nevertheless a great deal of editing going on: the space captured by the static camera is ruptured in diagonal streaks, each of which gives us a window onto a slightly different version of events, or a different moment in the timeline of events.

But don’t fret: what sounds like a confusing mess in prose is elegantly communicated cinematically. Cinephiles will relish Haraszti’s imaginative play with intraframe editing (for me, the film works best as an interrogation of and challenge to our conception of “the shot”), and there’s enough traditional cinematic intrigue (beautiful people! fashion! murder!) to keep the average viewer engaged for the entirety of the film’s hypnotic eight minutes.

Waning has played to acclaim at film festivals around the world, as nearby as last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and as far away as this year’s Shanghai International Film Festival. It was nominated for “best short film” at both.

I haven’t seen the other two films on the programme, but based on my repeat experiences with Waning, I’m looking forward to rewatching them. According to the press notes, the first film on the bill, Orison, is a black-and-white meditation on the tension between scientific knowledge and religious belief; the closing film is REI, a narrative about a hikikomori’s (a Japanese term referring to socially withdrawn adolescents) alienation from society extending to her perception of reality itself. Neither of these films have screened publicly before.

Haraszti, an MFA student of film production at Concordia, was born in Budapest and has lived in Montreal since 2009. She’s already won the Emerging Artist Award at the 2012 Alaska International Film Festival, so though these are technically student films, it’s better to think of this screening as the coming-out of an exciting local filmmaker as she embarks on the next phase of her career. She’s one to watch.

Gina Haraszti’s short film trilogy screens at the De Sève cinema at Concordia University on Saturday, September 22 at 8PM.

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