Here at Short of the Week we strive to provide variety. Short film is an incredibly broad medium, and as an audience sometimes we want different things from our short fixes. Sometimes we itch for that 20 min character drama that leaves us emotionally devastated…sometimes, y’know, we want to watch 2 minutes of a frazzled cat hilariously messing everything up.
Catastrophe, a much lauded film out of the Netherlands that premiered at TIFF 2017, is exactly that latter type of film, and it delivers on its slight premise with extraordinary skill. It brings back fond memories for us of insane action-comedy classics like Mac n’ Cheese and Meet Buck that were en vogue at the start of the decade, but which have receded in popularity a bit amongst creators in favor of weirder, more personal animations. Or, maybe it’s us who changed?
Either way, Catastrophe is a delight—a tight, perfectly paced bit of chaos, as a bird-besotted house cat is placed in charge of its home when its owner steps out. Suddenly the bird in its cage becomes unresponsive! In fright, the cat attempts CPR, but its good intentions accidentally set off a chain-reaction of calamities.
There is a classic cartooning sensibility to Catastrophe reminiscent of Looney Toons and Tom and Jerry, what with the expert attention to timing, and the hilariously improbable pratfalls, but here it is updated to strikingly designed 3D animation. The twist of course is in sympathy, unlike Sylvester and Tweety, here the cat is trying to save the bird!
Aside from the design, the skill brought to bear on the project makes it surprising to realize that its director, Jamille van Wijngaarden, is not of an animation background. A graduate of the Film Academy of Amsterdam, van Wijngaarden made a name for herself via stylish live-action student shorts that playfully update classic fairy tales in award-winning efforts like Snow White and Happily Never After. This sensibility for modern updates of classic material makes sense in the context of Catastrophe however, as does those shorts’ subtle VFX work. Additionally, since graduating in 2014, van Wijngaarden has been active in directing TV sketches, and her work for popular programs in the Netherlands provided good experience for this short’s visual comedy.
Staying busy as Catastophe embarked on a 100 festival tour before coming online last week, the director has another live-action short, Tienminutengesprek, on the festival circuit right now, and is currently working on her feature debut.