Rescue has always been and forever will be a popular story trope, especially in Hollywood. You know when the clock’s ticking down: 3, 2, 1… and Bruce Willis swings in with a “Yippee ki yay mother fucker,” or some crazy bullshit Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx do in White House Down, or when the hero stops the terrorist like in 1,000,000 other movies… audiences love that. People love heroes. Then there’s the sect of films where people rescue themselves like Tom Hanks in Cast Away or James Franco in 127 Hours. Both got nominated for Oscars. There’s films where people rescue friends from relationships, aliens, government agents, and even animals rescuing humans. People love this shit! Another big seller is filmmakers screwing with audiences—giving them the illusion of salvation to build suspense and terror. For example, when the rescue party finds themselves over their heads in movies like Alien or Black Hawk Down. Countless horror movies have their victims reach someone for help only for their plans to be thwarted by the villain at the last moment: Saw, Misery, The Shining, Halloween, etc. So with a theme so overdone it’s difficult to find a storyline that hasn’t been told, especially one that reveals something profound in its execution. In Jonas Cuaron’s short film Aningaaq, the companion film to the feature Gravity by his father Alfonso, he manages to do just that.
Just as a word of warning for those who haven’t seen Gravity—this short could be considered a spoiler. You may not want to watch, but then again, it functions very well as a stand alone piece on loneliness and isolation and come on… you already know what's going to happen in the movie anyway.
In a pivotal scene in Gravity, after Sandra Bullock’s character Dr. Ryan Stone finds her way to a Russian space capsule, she manages to send out a distress call. Suddenly her call is answered, but goddammit if it isn't by a man speaking in a foreign tongue. Unable to understand each other, their conversation becomes lost in translation. Incapable of communicating through a common language, the man provides a much different type of salvation—comfort. He unknowingly sends her through an ocean of emotions: hope, desperation, isolation, and finally he becomes her consolation. Dr. Stone settles for the familiar sounds of a man’s voice, dogs barking, a crying baby, and a lullaby. Jonas’s film is the flip-side of that conversation and displays his titular character, Aningaaq, expanding the universe of “rescue films.”
The Cuarons put the Hollywood reality of people jumping into action and saving the day into direct conflict with the everyday reality that we all come from different places, have different experiences and skill sets, and generally don’t let ourselves connect. Against that new backdrop, the film manages to illuminate the striking fact that at the end of the day we are still all human and sometimes we forget how amazing that is.
Shot on location on a remote fjord in Greenland we find an Inuit fisherman living a normal day. He tends to his dogs, cares for his baby and wife, drinks liquor, and occasionally listens to the shortwave radio. Aningaaq, like any other human, longs to communicate with others. What Sandra Bullock so cruelly learns and then graciously accepts, is that he just wants someone to listen to him too. He needs to talk about the weather, his location, his sick dog, and whatever else. However, never in his wildest dreams could he or would he ever imagine the profound impact his small life could have on someone else. Beautifully shot “guerrilla style” on location with a budget of $100,000—most going to the crew’s travel costs—Jonas Cuaron created an independent story which, when woven together with Gravity, touches and expands on the same themes as his father’s film.
Jonas Cuaron co-wrote the $500 million-grossing Gravity with his father, Alfonso, and set off on his own to create the 7-minute companion piece which is seamlessly woven into the feature. Both films have been submitted to the Oscars and, if chosen, would make history as the first feature and short covering the same material to be nominated.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as an art and film curator. He is a programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival and screens for the Tribeca Film Festival. He also self-publishes a super fancy mixed-media art serial called PRISM index.
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