This year’s Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh brought us ‘Being Alone Together’, a programme of shorts focusing on human connection – or lack of it. Inspired by John Donne’s famous quote ‘no man is an island’, these shorts ask what if, in fact, everyone is an island?
On the programme were four shorts – two from Taiwan, one from Korea, and one from Japan. Ranging in genre and style, the shorts fitted together beautifully. The care that was taken in selecting these shorts is a testament to talent and hard work of the programming team led by Liu Kuan-Ping and co-curated with the Edinburgh Short Film Festival.
What struck me most was how each one was so rich with emotion and well rounded characters. Even Where Am I Going? – a short with very little dialogue – was able to capture a very particular feeling (a feeling that is quite difficult to describe).
First up was A Taxi of Coldness, a Korean comedy/drama set during an uncomfortable taxi ride. Full of mystery and littered with humour, the short was engaging and funny but lacked the oomph that others had. That’s not to say it was bad – far from it – and it worked well as an introduction to the theme of the night.
The second short – Siren, from Japan – was my highlight of the night. Showing the relationship between an elderly man and his new neighbour, it focuses on perspective and how loneliness can harden us to outsiders. It is impossible to describe the plot without stripping the ending of its power but, it will suffice to say, the work was dramatic, funny, and touching, all at once.
The last two shorts were from Taiwan and, despite both dealing with loss, they were each very different in tone.
First was a stunning little morsel of a film called Where Am I Going?. We follow an elderly man throughout his day as he meanders across town on his rickety little bike. At the beginning, we see a demolition sign on the door as he leaves his crumbling shack of a house. It’s not clear if this is his last day there but it doesn’t really matter – just the idea of him being forced out of his home leaves an ache in the heart. As the day goes on, large creatures start to appear that only the man can see.
It was the shortest of the night but carried just as much impact and weight as its companions, largely due to the fantastic animation. The stopmotion lends itself perfectly to the gentle – almost sombre – subject matter.
Can You Hear Me? was the last, and longest, of the programme. It is a heartbreaking yet hilarious tale of grief that sees a man, Jhong, wake up only to realise he’s dead. As a ghost he observes his family as they struggle to process their new reality.
Inspired by real-life conversations the director had with her family following her own fathers death, this short packs an emotional punch. It had the audience howling with laughter but at the end I struggled to stop my eyes from welling up.
In a post-Filmhouse Edinburgh, events like the Taiwan Film Festival are even more important to the preservation of cinema in the city. And, if the shorts programme is representative of the festival as a whole, it’s a treasure to hold close.
By: Morven Mackay