When the term no man's land rose to prominence during World War I, it was used to denote that ambiguous space between armies that was both unattended and well guarded, because both sides were afraid to move. The opposing armies would bolster their positions with heavier artillery, barbed wire, mortars, and such things. Tensions increased until it became a situation where death or surrender were the only options, leaving no room for diplomacy.
With his short film Sort (a.k.a. No Man’s Land), animator David Adler takes on that ambiguous space with a fresh perspective, attempting to artistically illustrate the trials of war and life. If it all sounds a bit heady or pretentious, just watch the opening scene and let it tear up your brain. The hyper-stylized sequence harnesses the same energy found in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, with red-hot bullets tearing through soldiers and explosions blowing them apart.
Two surviving Danish soldiers serving the Germans fall into a bunker, kill some soldiers, and hunker down. Despite having just met, the two men are forced to work together in order to survive. Out of that necessity, a bond is slowly formed. One is a captain. His face has been disfigured by war—you can literally see the death on his face. The other, a corporal, is clean—handsome even—and appears to be the paragon of good. Death threats veiled as orders are shouted at them by the surviving German.
The look and animation of the short will probably shock more than the content, due to its jarring and interesting use of motion capture footage. Shot with a handheld camera and later turned into a 3D animation, the film has a distinct look that, at points, gives the impression of stop-motion or a video game.
The film unfolds quickly, and layers gradually reveal themselves. Why are friendships formed and the status quo challenged, even while staring certain death in the face? How do societal expectations and guilt transform people? These notions are subtle at first, but then it smacks you right in the face. While not always the most nuanced film, Sort makes up for its bluntness with sheer grit and technological achievement.
All in all, the film is a remarkable achievement, even more so because it's Adler’s student film. After premiering at the prestigious Telluride Film Festival six weeks ago, the film has now found its way online for you to see for yourself.
To watch with subtitles, click the CC button on the Vimeo player.
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.