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Fourth Dimension, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Four dimensions, three short films."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The makers of this anthology were given dozens of instructions that ranged from restrictive to twee, or so the legend goes, although ultimately they had a fair amount of leeway so long as they made a movie on the subject of "the fourth dimension". And while Harmony Korine's piece with Val Kilmer is likely the one that will jump out to English-speaking audiences in most listings, it's the other two pieces, by "Silent Souls" director Aleksei Fedorchenko and Polish newcomer Jan Kwiecinski, that take simple sci-fi-ish concepts and turning them into stories which resonate surprisingly well.

Things do start off with Korine and Kilmer, though, and "The Lotus Community Workshop" is kind of amusing. In large part, that's because Kilmer has reached the point of his career where there are no expectations but he still has just enough big-movie-star residue left on him to make presenting himself as very silly seem doubly amusing. He's clearly having a blast as "Val Kilmer", an inspirational speaker who mentions that you might remember him from the movies but is here to tell "awesome secrets" about the fourth dimension, although it mostly amounts to singing a goofy little song before roller-skating home to play video games with his girl Rachel (Rachel Korine).

It's all very silly, and director Korine pushes everything to within sight of being just obnoxious: The image is matted down to a ridiculously wide aspect ratio (three or four times as wide as it is tall), Kilmer babbles the sort of incoherent nonsense that makes one wonder if he's confused stoner philosophy with alien abductions, and there's certainly a hint of disdain for everyone playing along with this silliness under the surface. If Kilmer didn't play his avatar as so cheery and sincere, it could get really annoying (and likely will for many, anyway), but somehow, actor-Kilmer's awareness of character-Kilmer's childlike innocence twists the short into something featherweight but amusing.

The middle segment, Aleksei Fedorchenko's "ChronoEye", is the one that plays the "fourth dimension" angle in the most straightforward way. In it, Grigory Mikhailovich (Igor Sergeev) has figured out a way to build a time machine of sorts, placing antennae at the top and base of his apartment building to facilitate his attempt to travel to and/or view the past. His work keeps interrupted by a nosy and annoying neighbor, Valya (Darya Ekamasova), a dancer whose constant apologies for her loud practice are as disruptive as the act itself.

Where Fedorchenko is going with this is fairly obvious, of course - guy is so focused on the past that he can't recognize the cute, friendly girl doing everything she can to get his attention - but it's enjoyable nonetheless. Ekamasova is quite charming as Valya; she's able to make the way Valya is overdoing it a little a part of that charm, even. Sergeev, meanwhile, carries just the right balance of eccentricity and tragedy as Grigory that the audience can both feel for him and want to slap him upside the head. And while the short's opening seems a bit padded ("exactly thirty minutes" seems to be one of the rules), Fedorchenko peppers the body of the short with amusing time-travel bits.

The third and final leg, "Fawns", presents the audience with an abandoned town; some form of calamity (a flood?) is about to wipe it off the map. Three men and a woman in their twenties - Philip (Pawel Smagala), Mickey (Pawel Tomaszewski), Pace (Tomasz Tyndyk), and Koko (Justyna Wasilewska) - show up and romp around in the abandoned place, seemingly unconcerned that the imminent disaster will wipe them out as well.

"Fawns" seems to begin as one of those arty films that counts itself clever for not drawing a bright line between innocence and nihilism, and it can certainly be frustrating to watch for that reason - you've seen one set of kids who enjoy breaking things for no reason and/or don't consider their life terribly valuable, well, maybe you haven't seen them all, but you've seen a lot. Jan Kwiecinski and company do a nice job of making the environment eerie for this one, creating an atmosphere that's apocalyptic but not definitively so. He and his cast give the audience room to infer a fair amount of backstory without needing to nail anything down, and while there's no statement for why the characters have earned something from the audience at the end, there are a couple of good reasons why they may have.

The three short films aren't connected in any formal way - though I suppose they get more serious as the collection goes on - so if a person is only interested in one or two, it will certainly be easy enough to watch them that way on video. And that may be the way to go later on, even if all three have enough merit of some sort to go for the whole thing the first time around.

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originally posted: 09/22/12 09:44:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

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