Short films, like short stories, have certain advantages over their longer cousins that we often overlook. They can get away with a lack of exposition, no character arcs, and endings that just sort of… end. For us to invest in the length of a feature film, there are certain demands we make on the filmmaker: sympathetic characters, some kind of narrative journey we can’t predict the ending of… or something. Just give us something to make it worth our time.
But a short film can jump in and out a situation without explanation- it simply has to make a point, and as long as it makes that point well, we’re good. It’s hard to get excited about sitting down to watch a short film, and yet often, the good ones stay lodged in our mind much deeper than most full-length films ever would.
Marie Grahtø Sørensen’s Teenland is a good example. A Danish sci-fi short from 2014, it captures the spirit of teenage rebellion- specifically, female teenage rebellion- in ways that would probably never work as a feature film. The premise- that teenage girls with “extra powers” are kept sedated and imprisoned in a big government facility for the protection of society- sounds pretty campy as a feature film. One can imagine a killer soundtrack with the latest bands peppered throughout, and a lot of cheesy one-liners about fighting the power as the spirit of rebellion roams free. They escape, of course, in the end, breaking the power structure… or maybe they don’t, gunned down at the last minute by The Man.
But in this 30-minute version, most of that never happens. And even the bits that do- like the two punk-rockish songs thrown in true American rebel fashion- have a completely different feel and effect in this short, desperate little film. Here, the metaphor of this dystopian future is used to criticize just how our current society treats women, complete with its ridiculous expectations and shackles. But it works as a short film, because it can jump into your psyche, kick you in the gut, and run away before the metaphor grows thin. I doubt the 2-hour version would manage anything better. The result is a beautiful, simple, minimalist film that lets itself fly only when it needs to, and lets its two memorable teenage protagonists do the rest.
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