Danny Sangra isn’t your typical filmmaker. His satirical style is novel and makes his films provocative, comedic and foreboding all at once. In oddly subtle ways, his short films reconcile the complexities of human nature and address contradictions of life that are common to everyone. On a side note, he’s also colorblind.
His short film “Pro Advice” focuses on a man in need of change in his life, but his superficial preoccupations act as barriers. His self-proclaimed spiritual guide appears as the ghost of a former NFL running back.
Another short, “Pearl Chrysler,” is about a young woman who believes she’s an Italian gangster at heart. The short is built on a monologue given in her inner voice, the genuinely hardened voice of an Italian boss. It has a way of catching the viewer off guard, making them think about how people internalize identities of themselves that aren’t in line with reality.
Like many other filmmakers who create short films, his work is on Vimeo, and he’s done advertising work for a number of clients. The brands and designers he’s worked for include Elle, Brioni, Louis Vuitton, Burton Snowboards and even CNN.
All the ads I’ve seen of his have been good — they are both quirky and entertaining, much like his artistic style — but more shallow content-wise than his short films. They just don’t speak as much to the human condition, and feel more restrained creatively. The short films are a completely different story. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the best.
This is a surreal one, with simple but deep themes.
The story begins with a young couple settling into a hotel room. They casually air their grievances about the surly receptionist downstairs and how bad the hotel is until getting into a slight riff with each other. The girl is put off by how tenderly her boyfriend is unpacking his clothes. He gets defensive, exploding with an exasperated “I don’t know what the fuck you want sometimes.”
The boyfriend starts to simmer down as the girl becomes puzzled. When she asks, “Did you hear that?” they realize they’re in the “sensitive room.” Any profanity is censored by a loud bleep and the girl’s middle finger blurs out when she flips off her boyfriend. They stop arguing and call the lobby, only to find out there are no non-sensitive rooms to move to.
At this point, the couple is getting more and more annoyed and resigned. Then the viewer sees the boyfriend come out of the bathroom, his genitals censored. In a deadpan British accent, he notes: “So I didn’t realize they would be censoring everything.” The short ends with his girlfriend’s reply, a loud and censored “F***!” as she collapses backward onto the hotel bed.
Although the plot is simple, the concept of the film allows it to be interpreted in interesting ways. For one, the couple blames the hotel room for limiting their ability to express themselves, but it’s clear that their relationship has communication problems, so it’s ironic.
If they communicated better, the boyfriend would have known “what the fuck” his girlfriend wanted in general. They probably wouldn’t have even realized they were in the sensitive room, because they wouldn’t have started arguing.
Another point is that the singular, obvious bleep could symbolize whatever is blocking the couple from telling each other their true feelings. Profanity is often a way to mask our emotions — the boyfriend curses in an angry way, but what he’s feeling on a deeper level is inadequacy. To me, the whole point of the film is to make fun of how people argue, to allow us to laugh at our own humanity a little bit.
2. “Elysian Fields”
“Elysian Fields” is a brief monologue of a man named Carl who just died. “Like, literally a few seconds ago,” Carl explains at the beginning. The viewer meets Carl as he drinks coffee on his couch, looking at his tattooed, thin body on the floor in front of him. He’s strangely indifferent, but in a lighthearted way, making remarks like “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say … maybe you’re expecting a story or something?”
The viewer easily feels his discomfort and how resigned he is as a person. Lines like “I’m not much of a talker, especially now that I’m dead” just seep with apathy. And of course, nothing better to capture an attitude of indifference than the ending line — “I had a feeling today was going to be a shitty day.”
That one almost makes you wonder if he’s actually still alive and if his death was intended to be figurative. Simply showing his physical body is understandable (presumably he’s in the afterlife), but its suspect that he’s drinking coffee as a dead person.
Dead or not, the voice acting in this one makes it one the funniest I’ve seen. It’s tough to beat authentic dry British humor.
3. “John Travolta”
“John Travolta” is the story of why wormholes on Earth were never recognized as real. It begins with the shot of a car in the desert. The viewer soon meets the man in the car, who goes by Mike but is named John Travolta after his grandfather.
Mike laments the story of how his grandfather’s research into wormholes was never taken seriously because the actor John Travolta became famous. His grandfather John Travolta became ridiculed by everyone, went into hiding and as the story goes, he vanished into a blue light, another universe, through his coffee cup.
The key development of the story is that Mike has found the coffee cup. The film ends with him declaring: “Here I am, John Travolta. Ready for space travel,” after which nothing at all happens.
Mike’s immature sense of complete certainty makes the film funny, but also gives it meaning because it reflects how people deal with emotions like shame. His impulse to bring redemption to his grandfather’s name brings him to the edge — he won’t entertain the possibility that he might have been named after a crazy man, because it would make him just as crazy for driving into the desert. He tries to cover his doubts with words and gusto. However, judging by his tone it sounds like he’s trying too hard to convince himself he’s right.
Essentially, “John Travolta” is a satire of how people take things too far, following “blue lights” to dangerous lengths to get rid of shame or to chase pride, in the process becoming unable to admit when they’ve gone beyond reason.
4. “Absurd in Paris”
At least a few of the one-liners in “Absurd in Paris” are bound to resonate with any viewer — it’s hard not to be charmed by this one. The whole film is spoken in French by a young actress who’s placed in different settings as her dialogue goes on, causing a mild roller coaster-like effect.
Each line is fragmented enough to be absurd, but coherent enough to be amusing. For example: “Despite all my positive thoughts, I will never find my left sock,” or “When I was young I once saw a snowman drink coffee until his face melted.” It’s basically anti-humor. Completing the film is the key line: “Everything sounds better in French, even the absurd … especially the absurd!”
In addition to Sangra’s short films, which are compiled on the site Voltaville, I also recommend his full-length movie, Goldbricks in Bloom. In a similar but more serious style, the film tackles the superficial struggles of a group of freelance artists/designers and follows an amateur painter who makes it big only to fall harder than ever.
Although some of Danny Sangra’s content might sound boring, he is the type of artist who will flare something up just for the sake of not selling out, the type of guy who could make a film about broccoli feel sublime.
For people who don’t believe the concept of selling out exists or don’t understand where that attitude comes from, the content could be a little obnoxious — but anyone will at least appreciate the style that results from that rebelliousness. Bringing something new to the table is important even if some see it as unnecessary.