Over the weekend, I attended a screening of this year’s Oscar nominated animated and live action shorts on a program put together by ShortsTV. Here’s what was included:
Since a majority of this year’s nominees for Best Live Action Short are downers, it was nice that the program started with something light. Ave Maria is a light-hearted co-production from France, Germany and Palestine about a group of French nuns on the West Bank who find their lives temporarily disrupted when a Jewish family crashes their car into their statue of the The Virgin Mary. It’s sundown on the Shabbitz so the father can’t drive or use the phone, and worse the nuns can call a cab because they’ve taken a vow of silence. The center of the story is about bonding in the face of potential crisis. It’s a good lesson, and while I enjoyed this short, I found it only a minor entertainment.
Ave Maria was good padding for this intensely dark true story from Kosovo about two friends Petit and Oki who grew up during the war in the 1990s. The film deals with the world they are growing up in, where they and their families are constantly bullied by Serbian soldiers. But the glue to this film is the relationship between the two boys, which is more convincing than most Hollywood love stories. Yet, as I say, this one is the darkest of all the nominees.
Everything Will be Okay (Alles wird gut)
Probably the most involving of this year’s Live Action Short nominees, this German entry concerns a divorced father on weekend visitation with this young daughter. The day doesn’t seem all that unusual; he takes her to the toy story and then to the air, but then she begins to piece together that he has a plan to break the law. The director Patrick Vollrath does a smart thing here by keeping the viewer with the child so that the father’s machinations roll out slowly. The achingly emotional climax is not what we expect, but it’s overturned by the fact that the movie just ends. There is a resolution that is just left hanging. Maybe the budget ran out.
My favorite short out of the whole bunch is this sweet-hearted confection from Ireland about a lonely typographer who has trouble dating due to a stutter so severe that he has taught himself sign language. He’s been carrying on an online iRomance for the past six months but hasn’t told his internet paramour about his problem. Worse, she wants to meet him. Where this lovely film goes I won’t say, but it’s delightful. It makes you wish that the Hollywood rom-com could be this sweet and happy.
The best written of all of the nominees is this tough drama about an interpreter in on her first day in Afghanistan who finds herself forced to deliver the baby of the wife of a terrorist bomb maker. I won’t spoil the massive complications that spring up both physically and culturally but the script keeps raising the stakes. I don’t think this could ever be a feature, but I wish most features were this intense. Also, kudos go to Layla Aliza for her performance as the interpreter. I hope to see more of her.
Sanjay’s Super Team
Pixar’s accompanying short for The Good Dinosaur was this sweet, but not exactly deep confection about a little Indian boy Sanjay who would rather watch his favorite cartoon show than pray next to his father. His father tries to rectify that situation but Sanjay grows bored and imagines the Hindu gods as superheroes. The joy here is the style. While the real world is 3D computer animation, Sanjay’s action fantasies revert back to a colorful style of 2D. While it’s fun to look at, the short doesn’t really reveal a purpose. It’s just entertainment, but we expect more from Pixar than that.
The World of Tomorrow
If you just see the film on its own, then it might be a little frustrating that this bizarre pencil-drawn short is this year’s frontrunner. But if you know the backstory, then it makes more sense. The story involves a five-year old girl named Emily who is visited by one of her ancestors from 227 years in the future who shows her what the world of tomorrow will look like. The story moves from comedy the melancholy at a pace that, admittedly, is tough to keep up with. The backstory is far more endearing: The director Don Hertzfeldt recorded the sounds of his niece Winona Mae playing in her bedroom and built a story around them. It is her natural sounds that provide Emily’s lines.
This is a beautifully crafted short that tells the story of a bear that works as a tinkerer and spends his down standing on a corner telling his tragic story via a clockwork box with a crank on its side. It seems that some time ago, Mr. Bear’s family was taken away to the circus and never returned. While it is lovely to look at, I found it a bit too melancholy for my taste and the ending never really resolves anything.
Of all the films here, this is the only age-appropriate short film in the bunch due to full male nudity and graphic violence – and at only 5 minutes, it’s also the shortest. This film opens with a shot of hundreds of used pencils followed by a stack of paper. Director Richard Williams’ film is visually composed entirely of that stack of drawings, and is really stunning as a recreation of an incident in the Spartan-Athenian wars from 2,000 years ago. It’s also quite bloody.
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
My favorite short out of the bunch is probably the simplest, a wordless, hand-drawn tale of two Russian friends – designated by the numbers 1203 and 1204 – who grow up with the shared dream of becoming cosmonauts. We follow them through their training and spend time with them as they dream of floating out in space together. Then something happens which I won’t reveal but I’ll just say that it leads to an ending that put a tear in my eye.