Robert Altman’s criss-crossing multithread drama Shortcuts (1993) had a lasting impact on popular and art house cinema, inspiring a slew of disconnected peek-through-the-blinds dramas with little or nothing in the way of overarching storylines.
Melbourne-set drama Little Deaths takes the Shortcuts route to its logical end, presenting a pastiche of standalone stories strung together. Its roots are also firmly planted in the culture of short filmmaking, which, if you separate the stories, is where Little Deaths belongs.
The segments play one after the other ala New York, I love You (2010), and a bunch of different directors try their hand with writer Giula Sandler’s material. There are 11 directors in total, which was always going to pose challenges in terms of keeping a cohesive whole – a challenge that, with Little Death’s fluctuating tone and content, is only ever temperamentally realised.
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The title is the translation of a Fresh metaphor to describe orgasms, so the segments are themed under the banner of romance and – less ambitiously – downright sleaziness. They include one about a “toxic bachelor,” one about a couple who decide to film themselves in the bedroom and – more memorably – one about a woman who takes her vibrator home for a tipple, a chat and some bedtime relations.
The standout is saved for last: the elegantly executed I Like the Knight Life about a woman (pre-weight loss Magda Szubanski) with a snoring husband who fantasizes about a better life after watching an infomercial advertising a rainbow pill. Once swallowed the pill promises to transform people from Beasts to Belle’s, fattsos to slender gym junkies with tight abs and round butts.
A quaint low-fi soundtrack keeps the film feeling ruminative and soft, belying the meatier undertones in some of the stories. Like any collection of shorts, the viewer naturally gravitates towards some more than others, but the overall quality of Little Deaths suggests most of the directors and actors are still very much finding their feet.
Little Deaths’ Australian theatrical release date: November 4, 2010.