Growing Pain

ColdWarrior2_WEB The actual medical cause of physical ‘growing pains’ among children remain unknown, Wikipedia (reliably?) informs the curious reader: they are not thought to be directly linked to spurts in height. This mildly poetic physiological peculiarity seems relevant to the selection of short films at the Arts Picturehouse entitled GROWING PAIN– the five pieces chosen explore various rites-of-passage in non-adults of all ages, and discomfort is found at unpredictable turns.

The removal of the ‘s’ at the end of the stock phrase ‘growing pains’ was a decision made by organisers in order not to patronise the genuine difficulty of adolescent development. The resulting emphasis on ‘pain’ is fitting for this sometimes dark collection, in which trauma of many kinds is thoughtfully touched upon. A through-line is created by the series’ possibly co-incidental concentration on young women and girls – each film contains a strong female protagonist.

COLD WARRIOR is a short UK-made drama by Emily Greenwood, and tells the story of a youthful gymnast in the run up to the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow. As the Socialist Republic of Romania asserts its independence from the Soviet Union, shady government department officials arrive at the teenager’s training facility and reveal a disturbing regime aimed at boosting physical performance.

Images of our heroine interspersed with footage of Communist processions instantly set the scene, the first example of a visual panache that continues throughout: a well-chosen colour palette effectively captures the time period, and one slow-motion gymnastic sequence in particular becomes very emotionally resonant. The short also manages to create enough narrative engagement in just a few minutes to treat a large social issue without ever feeling forced. Excellent manipulation of silence by the lead actress in particular compliments a minimalist script, so that there is both tension and empathy in the build up to the climatic competition scene.

LA OU JE SUIS takes place in a brutal Quebec winter, a cold climate that becomes the backdrop to a teenage girl mourning the death of her best friend in a car accident. Director Myriam Magassouba is drawn to the incredible whiteness of the French Canadian tundra, which parallels the washed out features of the very convincing central actor. A moving camera focuses on the intense feeling of the afflicted, and the physical stasis of her grief becomes a counterpoint to this. A sparse plot, which centres on preparation for a funeral, earns a depth on which to stage a more sentimental finale.

The resulting emphasis on ‘pain’ is fitting for this sometimes dark collection, in which trauma of many kinds is thoughtfully touched upon.

Jaunty music introduces THUMBELINA, a.k.a. seven-year-old Anna, an infectious companion who walks around her small German town with the opposable digit firmly between her teeth. On being told that she is too old for the habit, Anna wonders why adults become so joyless as they leave childhood, and imagines a utopian world of play for all. Her dream has its own failings. Addressing the problem of loss of innocence in a light style, the real draw of the film is its regularly chuckle-worthy visual humour.

In a Q&A after the screening, Theresa Braun, director and writer, talked about the benefits of treating things one knows – THUMBELINA being a partly autobiographical idea. Braun spoke too about the ‘narrative exercise’ entailed in the short-film format, where a story has to be communicated quickly. She also informed a group of film students about the kindness of strangers in production – many of the featured extras were locals to the picturesque town near Leipzig where filming took place, including an amusing elderly trio.

MERRY-GO-ROUND focuses on Taro and Lola, young siblings playing hide-and-seek in a fairy-tale-inspired spooky attic. This is a short that seems to be less about ‘growing’ than the other pictures, as Esther Löwe annexes her sooty protagonists in a warped environment and old-fashioned clothing. The adorable young Taro is a major draw, while the beguiling space is expertly navigated.

André Turpin’s INA LITOVSKI takes its title from the alias of Sophie, a mysterious Russia-obsessed girl who lives with her troubled mother in a poor area. The school concert approaches, and the protagonist is caught between her mum and the music. Shot with close-ups that highlight the electrically personal experience of youth at the expense of the outside world, the film is a stimulating close to an interesting strand.