Bronagh Gallagher, Bob Goody and Mackenzie Crook in Jamie Stone's Orbit Ever After.
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Bafta Shorts 2014: Eight small wonders, stocked with infinite space

The short film, unlike the short story, is a stray with no home - which is why a cinema release of the eight short films that competed at the Baftas is a joyous subversion of the norm.

The short film is a form all its own, with different rules and pitfalls from its feature-length cousin. It can act as both calling card and initiation, as it has done for some of today’s visionary British film-makers (Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold spring to mind). What it can only rarely do is be shown. Short stories are routinely rounded up into anthologies but the short film is at best a stray whose sole hope of adoption in the market is to go viral, or win an award.

A cinema release for the eight shorts that competed at the recent Baftas – five in the live-action category and three in animation – is therefore a happy anomaly. Crystal-ball-gazers are too late to speculate on the winners. For anyone interested in playing a long game, though, a flutter could be had on the probable identity of the next Ramsay or Arnold.

Jane Linfoot occupies the same approximate milieu as those film-makers: Sea View is a tart picture-postcard from a seaside B&B where a gruff bruiser arranges a tryst with a teenage poppet who is as babyish and breakable as a Farley’s Rusk. Some of the details are wince-making (the landlady mistaking the couple for father and daughter; the prosaic shifting of an interloping table before shunting the single beds together). The film peters out slightly, but even that tailing off feels faithful to the subject, with its inbuilt guarantee of anticlimax and curdled dreams among the scratchy blankets and UHT milk.

A different sort of coastal claustrophobia is given a screwball spin in the lively Island Queen, in which a tour guide, Mim (Nat Luurtsema, who also wrote the film), decides to jazz up her life with motherhood. The rapport between Mim and her pal (Sam Pamphilon) is almost too winning; we quickly realise what they don’t – that they’re made for one another.

Those shorts are vignettes, whereas some in the programme have the feel of potted pictures unsuited to the abbreviated running time. Keeping Up With the Joneses is the slickest film here but it is also the one that most ignores the demands of the short; watching it is like stumbling in on the final reel of a 90-minute thriller. Maxine Peake is superbly coiled as the wife of an MP whose business deals have landed him in serious bother with a pair of thugs. When they take her hostage, her integrity works its magic on at least one of them. The other, whose explosive temper provides an excuse for some passé Tarantino-style comic violence, is beyond hope. The director, Michael Pearce, a National Film and Television School graduate, has control and cunning but he hasn’t embraced the short format so much as made a dry run for a feature.

Orbit Ever After also has the swagger of a much bigger picture. Set on a drifting spaceship where people mingle with farm animals among junk-shop bric-a-brac, it feels like a junior Gravity but its plot is at least tailored to the miniature. Thomas Brodie-Sangster, the love-struck scamp who evaded airport security implausibly at the end of Love Actually, is now a love-struck teen swooning over a female astronaut who’s making eyes at him across the cosmos. His family doesn’t approve but he is determined to take the leap – literally. The film has the cluttered look of early Terry Gilliam and a mordant punchline that drops out of the blue like an asteroid.

Detail is the key in the short animations. Everything I Can See From Here, in which a football lost in a dun-tinted watercolour landscape is returned by a Day-Glo alien with a floodlit smile, scores aesthetic points only, as does I Am Tom Moody, about a musician with a personality disorder, where form (moist, twitchy stop-motion) is more sophisticated than content. Both lost the animation Bafta to Sleeping with the Fishes, a love story that brings together a fishmonger and her trout-like suitor. The distinction between the species is academic, the tone an unlikely mix of the wistful and the macabre.

The live-action winner was also a work that respects the confines of the form properly. Room 8 brings some Twilight Zone alchemy to a pocket-sized tale set in a prison cell. Its location is deceptively cramped but hidden in the narrative are compartments of infinite physical and philosophical space. And if you are searching for a definition of the sort of advantage that a short film can have over a feature, I just gave it to you. That was my best shot.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 26 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Scotland: a special issue

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The Sad Part Was: this story collection puts the real Bangkok on display

Thai author Prabda Yoon descends into the voices and minds of a small cast of characters.

In Bangkok’s budding literary scene, Prabda Yoon sits at the centre. Born in 1973, he’s the scion of a well-known family (his father Suthichai Sae-Yoon is the co-founder of the Nation newspaper) and is known in Thailand as not only an enfant terrible of letters but as an illustrator, screen-writer and director (his first film, Motel Mist, was shown at European festivals in 2016).

His reputation rests mainly on a collection of short stories published in 2000 entitled in Thai Kwam Na Ja Pen, roughly translated as Probability, and it is from this early collection that most of the stories now collected in The Sad Part Was are derived. Translated with cool elegance by Mui Poopoksakul, they are among the first modern Thai stories to be published in the UK.

As Poopoksakul points out in her afterword, she and Yoon are the products of similar backgrounds and epochs: upper-middle class children of Bangkok who came to consciousness in the late Eighties and Nineties. Often foreign-educated, fluent in English and conversant in global pop culture and media – Yoon did a stint at Parsons in New York after prep school at the Cambridge School of Weston – this new generation of Thai writers and artists were born into a society changing so fast that they had to virtually invent a new language to transcribe it.

In The Sad Part Was, the result is stories that one could glibly label as “post-modern” but which, in reality, perfectly match the qualities of the megacity where they are set. Bangkok is infamously mired in lurid contradiction, but it’s also a city of subtle and distorted moods that journalism and film have hitherto mostly failed to capture. The whimsical and playful surfaces of these stories have to be read against the high-octane anxieties and surreal dislocations of what was, until recently, one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.

Yoon uses the short form of the ten-page story to descend into the voices and minds of a small cast of characters: a schoolgirl and a beautiful female teacher who form a platonic lesbian infatuation while riding a daily bus in “Miss Space”; a couple making love during a thunderstorm whose activities are interrupted by the dismantling of two giant letters, which fall onto their roof in “Something in the Air”; a young man who meets a mysterious older man in Lumpini Park called Ei Ploang, who forces him to consider the intertwined nature of good and evil. In “Snow for Mother”, a mother waits for her little boy to grow up so that she can take him to Alaska to experience the real snow, which he never knew as a little boy in the tropics.

In “The Sharp Sleeper”, a man named Natee obsesses over losing his shirt buttons and is led into a strange reverie on the nature of dreams and the competing qualities of red and yellow pyjama shirts (Thailand’s political culture is riven by two parties popularly known as Red and Yellow Shirts). The commentary slips into effortless sarcasm:

Natee has proudly worn the red pyjama shirt several times since then, and his dream personality hasn’t altered at all. On the contrary, the shirt has encouraged him to become a man of conviction in his waking life. As to what those convictions were supposed to be, Natee wasn’t quite sure. But it was safe to say that a night shirt so principled wouldn’t drop a button so easily.

Since these stories were written, Bangkok’s political schizophrenia has lost its former air of apathy and innocence, but Yoon’s tone is quietly prescient about the eruption of violent irrationality a few years later. It’s a reminder how precious the subtlety of fiction is when set against the shrill certitudes of activism and reportage.

My favorite story here is “Something in the Air”. Its dialogues are written with hilariously archaic, bureaucratic formality, while delving into the disorientation of sexual and romantic hopes in the present century. After the couple’s love-making is interrupted, the young man suggests insolently to the woman that they resume in the open air, exposed to the furious elements. She agrees. They then notice that a dead body is lying on the roof nearby, crushed by the giant letters.

While waiting for the police to arrive, the woman sits quietly and describes her future, a happily married future in which her current lover will play no part whatsoever. He listens in melancholy astonishment until the couple are called to give their testimonies about the dead man. The officers then suspect that the couple themselves have done something scandalous – and so, stung by shame, the woman considers breaking off the relationship and setting in motion her own prophesy.

The Sad Part Was is unique in the contemporary literature of Bangkok – it doesn’t feature bar girls, white men, gangsters or scenes redolent of The Hangover Part II. Instead it reveals, sotto voce, the Thai voices that are swept up in their own city’s wild confusion and energy, and it does so obliquely, by a technique of partial revelation always susceptible to tenderness.

Lawrence Osborne is a British novelist living in Bangkok. His next book, “Beautiful Animals”, will be published by Hogarth in August

The Sad Part Was
Prabda Yoon
Tilted Axis Press, 192pp, £8.99

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder