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Review: The short films of ‘The Year of the Everlasting Storm’ will leave you wanting more

A young boy and a man lay side by side on their backs on a bed in the anthology the "The Year of the everlasting Storm.
Zhang Yanbo, left, and Zhang Yu in the short film “The Break Away,” part of the anthology “The Year of the Everlasting Storm.”
(Neon)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

The problem with cinematic escapism is that after the entertainment and distraction are done, you eventually have to return to the real world. Anthology film “The Year of the Everlasting Storm,” with seven different shorts shot during the coronavirus pandemic, is aware of the unexpected trauma in which we’re living. Smartly, though, it avoids languishing only in the bad. By cycling through humor, joy, sentimentality and surrealism, “The Year of the Everlasting Storm” reminds viewers of the myriad possibilities of daily life. The film’s poignancy comes from its confirmation that even in tumultuous times, our senses of wonder, love and loyalty remain integral to the human experience.

Directors , Anthony Chen, Malik Vitthal, Laura Poitras, Dominga Sotomayor, David Lowery, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul contributed from the corners of the world in which they were quarantined in summer 2020. As the pandemic has dragged on, the conditions in Iran, China, Chile, Thailand and the United States have remained in flux. Reflecting this unpredictability, “The Year of the Everlasting Storm” doesn’t attempt to tell a broad story exclusively about COVID-19 so much as it is devoted to sharing the unseen and unexpected.

In fiction, there are domestic dramas about the pressures of telework and childcare (“The Break Away,” from Chen); the intimacy of a home birth (“Sin Título,” from Sotomayor); and a road trip toward a unique reunion (“Dig Up My Darling,” from Lowery). In nonfiction, there is an investigation into the NSO Group, a shadowy Israeli spyware manufacturer whose products are used by nefarious governments (“Terror Contagion,” from Poitras); and a conversation between grandmother and granddaughter about the pain of separation (“Life,” from Panâhi). And in the experimental space, we see a partially animated representation of a man recounting his attempt to regain custody of his children (“Little Measures,” from Vitthal); and a mashup of visuals of insects flying into lightbulbs and audio of pro-democracy protestors in Bangkok in summer 2020 (“Night Colonies,” from Weerasethakul).

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“They say the outbreak is a real disaster,” Panâhi’s mother-in-law Mokarameh Saidi Balsini says in “Life,” and “The Year of the Everlasting Storm” uses that observation as a connective through-line. How do we react to circumstances we cannot control? Various installments suggest spontaneity and tolerance, with emotions and actions often caught on small screens by individuals forced into close quarters.

In “Life,” Mokarameh’s disgust toward her granddaughter Tahereh’s lizard Iggy softens into a beautiful scene of acceptance that the girl surreptitiously films. In “Sin Título,” the mysterious recordings of a woman (Francisca Castillo) singing pay off in an expression of empathy that Sotomayor lets stretch out for uninterrupted minutes. And in a pair of installments focused on the specific difficulties faced by parents, Jonathan Djob Nkondo’s gold-hued animations complement Bobby Yay Yay Jones’ raw narrated admissions about his relationships with his children in “Little Measures,” while in the realist “The Break Away,” the domestic responsibilities of a wife and mother (Zhou Dongyu) reach a breaking point in a familiar, but still compassionate, way.

But a few short films veer off into less effective directions. In “Dig Up My Darling,” the evocative voice performances of Bill Callahan and Jude Swanberg bring to life a series of letters written after what is implied to be a societal collapse, but the storytelling is too opaque. “Terror Contagion” is legitimately horrifying, but the investigation into the NSO Group’s immorality is so dense that it is sometimes difficult to follow. And although “Night Colonies” strikes a surprisingly haunting tone with the contrast it presents between free will and self-determination, its abstractness demands a fair amount of patience.

What every film in “The Year of the Everlasting Storm” accomplishes, though, is a desire for more — more time with these characters and individuals, their fears and joys and their coping mechanisms and hopes. Given that “The Year of the Everlasting Storm” reflects the pandemic in which we’re still mired and from which many might want a break, the fact that the compilation will leave viewers wanting is a reflection of the talent of the filmmakers involved, and the engrossing slices of life they have created.

'The Year of the Everlasting Storm'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Royal, West L.A.


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