A Year in Shorts Day 337: "Gridlock"
I’ve learned by now not to say whether or not a particular short is the “last” of something. Even now, this close to the end of our Year in Shorts, I am all too aware that it’s entirely possible to be blindsided. So I will not make the claim that today’s short, Dirk Belien’s 2001 film Gridlock, is our final One Joke Short, even if I’m fairly certain it is. All I’ll say is that whether or not it’s the last one, it’s certainly one of the best!
Gridlock (or Fait d'hiver if you wanna be fancy) comes to us from the great land of Belgium, home of waffles and Hercule Poirot. It tells the story of Tim (played excellently by Tom Van Dyck, who manages to begin the short as a steaming pot of rage and still grow from there) as he drives home one snowy winter's evening. As he's stuck in traffic (a gridlock, you could say), he decides to use his new cell phone to call home. This one innocent action kicks off a series of unfortunate events which you really have to see to believe. As is usually the case with the One Joke Shorts, I don't want to go into too much detail at the risk of spoiling the fun. And few shorts have more fun to spoil than Gridlock. But fate is one our side today, because the short's available to watch on YouTube!
In many ways, Gridlock is a very simple short- after all, most of the runtime is just one guy talking to a little girl on a phone. This simplicity is reflected in the direction, which is straightforwardly effective, but not spectacular. (It seems pretty clear to me that the film was made on a fairly limited budget.) But like all One Joke Shorts, Gridlock really lives or dies on the strength of its script, as well as the talent of the actors bringing it to life. And Gridlock more than delivers on both fronts. Johan Verschueren's screenplay is perfectly paced, escalating from a mere bad day in traffic to a bloody house of horrors in an efficient but believable seven minutes. And the punchline lands spectacularly, thanks in no small part to Van Dyck's delivery. A lesser film would spoil the joke by having Tim be horrified by what he's done; the fact that Tim seems, at worst, mildly embarrassed, elevates the joke to another level. (It also helps that his co-star, Ellen Van Cutstem, undersells everything too, to the point of being incredibly creepy!) Really the only thing about this short which doesn't work is the end credits song, which is too on-the-nose and pretty annoying. But I don't really take end credits songs into account; otherwise I'd have to dock points from The Emperor's New Groove, which I refuse to even consider.
The 75th Academy Awards were a banner year for international live action shorts; only one, Lexi Alexander's Johnny Flynton, came from America, with the others coming from South Africa, France and Denmark. (Hell, one of them was another One Joke Short!) I haven't This Charming Man, the short which won that year, so I can't say whether or not it deserved the Oscar. It very well might have! We'll find out one of these days, but for now we have to be content with what we have. And what we have is a damn good film!
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