2007 SUNDANCE ONLINE SHORT! Hooray and hallelujah for “The Tragic Story of Nling,” which is one of the most delightfully original comic films to come around in ages. Running a mere 15 minutes, this flick packs more imagination and wonderfully morbid humor into its tight frame than many a Hollywood flick.
The film is set on the island of Capilia, which is in an advanced state of chaos – especially when it comes to disposing of its growing quantity of garbage. A solution is determined by creating a subsection on the island: a walled city called Nling that is populated with the homeless and perceived undesirables of that society. Those poor folks are given the garbage to consume, and to divert them from their agony they are given endless supplies of alcohol. All goes well until one day when the garbage and alcohol mysteriously stop coming – and the people inside Nling begin to perish.
The last survivors within Nling are August, a once-promising university student, and Donkey, his former professor. Donkey is a donkey – sort of (he is a man walking upright in a donkey costume, speaking in a cultured British accent). August and Donkey embark on deep conversations regarding morality, perseverance and faith – the latter is particularly amazing, as Donkey shares the notion of “donkey heaven” which is ruled by “a beautiful woman named Lillie Mae” (that deity is all woman from the neck down and all donkey from the neck up!).
August and Donkey escape from Nling, but can they escape from their own predicament? August is hopelessly addicted to alcohol and is paranoid over his fate; the arrival of a third survivor brings out the worst in August. Donkey, for his part, is resigned to his fate. His species has been persecuted into oblivion and he is clearly the last of his kind. Despite knowing August’s severe limitations, he clings to him for being the last person to show any degree of kindness.
Filmmaker Jeffrey St. Jules creates a wonderfully warped parallel universe in this film. Working in black-and-white and making use of intentionally cheesy CGI, he creates an off-kilter visual style that beautifully spices the Dadaist storyline. Tom Barnett’s August and John Neville’s Donkey are a brilliantly mismatched pair, each doomed by their own failures but joined together by a unique bond of nostalgia and intellectual love.
In many ways, the ghost of Samuel Beckett cheerfully haunts each frame of this film. Its eternally doomed characters living on the filthiest fringes of society, surveying their doom with the gift of absurdist observations and inspired word play, are the rightful heirs to the tramps waiting for Godot or the disturbing quartet of “Endgame” (with its own garbage pile inhabitants).
“The Tragic Story of Nling” is anything but tragic – it is actually a cause to celebrate Jeffrey St. Jules’ vibrant arrival as a new force in filmmaking.