Featuring shorts by Gael García Bernal, Mia Wasikowska, Anurag Kashyap, Sebastián Silva, Sion Sono, and Bat for Lashes, Madly broadly tackles the subject of love without, even at its least successful, stooping to the dire, barrel-scraping cultural condescension of Rio, I Love You. The omnibus film kicks off on a disturbing note with Kashyap’s Clean, Shaven, the title referring to Archana’s (Radhika Apte) pubic hair, which she shaves off to the extreme consternation of her old-fashioned husband, Allwyn (Adarsh Gourav), who proceeds to imprison her in their apartment as punishment. Without the luxury of time afforded by the epic scale of the filmmaker’s two-part crime epic Gangs of Wasseypur, the short often comes off choppy in its storytelling, but its feminist anger still comes still resonates quite, well, madly.
A similar kind of frustration over conservative mores courses through Silva’s Dance Dance Dance, which revolves around a young teen, Rio (Lex Santos), who’s met with nothing but resistance from his parents after he comes out of the closet, pushing him to run away from home and leading to him spending an evening at a homeless shelter. There’s an outrageous twist midway through concerning a female homeless-shelter worker who, to put it mildly, turns out to be less helpful than she initially seems. It’s a gratuitous indulgence of bad taste, so much so that the warmhearted emotional elation that Rio, still out on the streets, is allowed by the end comes as a welcome rebuke.
Lighter and funnier is Sion’s Love of Love, an uproarious ode to the liberating pleasures of being a member of an underground sex club, which the three couples at the heart of the short—many of them part of the same family—eventually join after their initial resistance as a way to recharge their currently humdrum love lives. With this wickedly funny short, the Japanese filmmaker adds another panel to his career mosaic of exploring the various ways people express love, often in the nuttiest of circumstances.
Wasikowska’s Afterbirth is a whimsical encapsulation of the anxieties of motherhood, with an unnamed single mother (Kathryn Beck) struggling with the challenges of handling her infant son, her thoughts occasionally straying darkly to neglect and even baby-switching as her frustrations mount. Wasikowska’s attempts at visual invention, such as circling 360-degree camera pans, don’t transcend the feeling of film-school exercises, but the penultimate long take, a gaze at the woman’s baby slowly drifting off to sleep, pushes the short toward a beautiful end-note of reconciliation, wherein the woman makes peace with the trials of motherhood and garners its rewards.
If only García Bernal’s Love of My Life was half as inventive. Instead, this tale of a struggling May-December marriage put to the test when the woman (Justina Bustos) becomes pregnant is told in a pointlessly fractured style that, in trying to be elliptical, further dulls out any interest one might have had in its generic main characters. At least the anthology’s final short, I Do, the directorial debut of Bat for Lashes, née Natasha Khan, has some interesting visual dimensions. Concerning the last-minute jitters that overwhelm a woman (Tamsin Topolski) on the eve of her wedding day, the short is an attempt to translate Khan’s dreamy musical style to film, especially when it delves into surreality with the introduction of a mysterious man from the bride’s past. Khan’s refusal to fully explain this man’s connection to the bride suggests more of an interest in melancholy mood-painting than drama and interiority, and the end result is as frustrating as it is striking.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 13—24.