Two important but very different documentaries from 2018 showcase the power of the short film form.

Neil Young
Young is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: November 24, 2018

The Houses We Were / DIALOGUE

(Le case che eravamo )

Arianna LodesertoYuka Sato

Arianna LodesertoUgo AdilardiYuka Sato

Italy, 2018, 18min. / Japan, 2018, 17min.

This year, Ny Tid and Modern Times Review have shone a monthly spotlight on new short documentaries, a lively and vibrant format that is all too often overlooked in our feature-length-oriented world. Each month’s dispatch from the film festival scene has focused on two outstanding selections from one such event at a time, but as we near the end of 2018 we’d like to glance back and cover two outstanding works, which for various reasons slipped through the cracks but are much too important to ignore.

Two powerful films

Arianna Lodeserto’s The Houses We Were (Le case che eravamo) and Yuka Sato’s DIALOGUE (the title always written in upper-case script) run 18 and 17 minutes apiece, and their near-identical running times aren’t their only points of similarity. In both cases a female artist, whose output crosses the boundaries between photography and cinema, presents a specific, densely populated urban environment – Rome, Tokyo – and both directors handle writing, production and editing duties.

«The Houses We Were is a rousing kaleidoscopic survey of Italy’s chronic housing problems from the 1940s to the present day.»

The latter task of cutting is a further and crucial point of context: The Houses We Were and DIALOGUE are both a world away from currently fashionable «slow cinema» trends. Instead a relatively rapid-fire approach is adopted: few shots are held for more than ten seconds at a time. This results in compact, stimulating miniatures that, like many of the best short films of any type, manage to cover surprising amounts of ground in their restricted durations. But in nearly every other aspect the two films could hardly be more different, operating at near polar-opposite ends of the documentary spectrum and thus revealing the full diversity of the present day non-fiction moving image.

Of the two directors, Lodeserto is better known, having over the last half-decade staged several well-received photographic exhibitions in her native Italy as well as further afield. Lodeserto’s work across various media is unified by her engagement with cities and psychogeography and is notable for a strong social conscience. Her directorial debut, The Houses We Were, was made in close collaboration with Rome’s AAMOD, the Archivio audiovisivo del movimento operaio e democratico (Audiovisual Archive of the Democratic and Labour Movement), which was set up in the late seventies.

Kaleidoscopic images and sound

One of the AAMOD’s founders, and the president for many years, was the esteemed screenwriter Cesare Zavattini (1902-1989), a triple Oscar nominee whose credits include such Neorealist classics as Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. The AAMOD reportedly holds thousands of documentaries and newsreels, mainly from the collections of the Italian Communist Party. Enjoying all-area access to this treasure trove, Lodeserto has spliced together images and sounds from more than 30 films – many anonymous and fragmentary to begin with.

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