Cannes review: Sideral (2021)

Festival de Cannes
Short Film Competition

Image Credit : Les Valseurs & Casa da Praia & O Sopro do Tempo

The work of Carlos Segundo – the director behind such festival circuit favourite shorts as Subcutâneo (Subcutaneous, 2017) and Fendas (Slits, 2019) – often displays a certain tension between the minutiae of everyday life with more fantastical and surreal elements. His latest work Sideral, premiering as part of the Official Short Film Competition in Cannes 2021, displays more of this sensibility in which a life of domestic drudgery is juxtaposed with something that is – quite literally – out of this world.

In Natal, on the Brazilian coast, the country’s first manned space rocket is preparing to launch. Much of the city is taking the day off, ready to watch the big event. One couple (Ênio Cavalcante & Priscilla Vilela) live near the space centre with their children, the father being a mechanic and the mother working as a cleaner at the centre. As she heads to work, the father heads to his garage, chews the fat with a colleague and sees the rocket launch. But when he heads home, he discovers that the rocket contained one more passenger than originally thought.

This is a subtle film from Segundo, relying on dry humour and understated character examination. The first two thirds of the film are steeped in realism, as the relationship between the father and mother are explored, seemingly the same kind of relationship that many people have around the world.. A loving couple in a long term relationship, stuck in a rut of domesticity and everyday life. The mother washes dishes, looking tired and gaunt. The father drinks at his garage, and engages in laddish banter with work colleagues. All a typical example of working class comfort / malaise.

The final third, in which the film’s ‘punchline’ is revealed, is a masterclass in visual and performative restraint in which humour intertwines with a genuine strain of emotion in which a life-altering situation is undercut with absurdity. Indeed, short aficionados may recognise a certain affinity between Segundo and the works of Spanish filmmaker Chema García Ibarra as both filmmakers juxtapose everyday life with more otherworldly concerns and utilise humour and absurdity.

The film plays with its tonal differences qualities constantly. The crisp black and white photography from cinematographer Julio Schwantz has a realist aesthetic yet there is always a gloss, a sheen that speaks of something fantastic beyond the confines of the screen. A focus on the father’s eye as he digests the news he’s been given speaks of a man in emotional turmoil. Yet one can’t help feeling it also works as a cheeky nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

A fine use of the short form, Sideral is both funny and affecting as Segundo provides a clever tonal balancing act that is consistently entertaining.

Image Credit : Les Valseurs & Casa da Praia & O Sopro do Tempo

Year: 2021
Runtime: 15
Country: Brazil, France
Language: Portuguese
Directed by: Carlos Segundo
Cast: Ênio Cavalcante, Priscilla Vilela
Editor: Carlos Segundo
Cinematography: Julio Schwantz
Screenwriter: Carlos Segundo