Friday, February 17, 2012
Oscar-nominated Live Action Short Films
The Oscar-nominated short films are playing in select cities around the country. In New York I saw them at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village.
The first of the Oscar-nominated live action short films was Pentecost, a light Irish comedy about an altar boy who just can’t resist the urge to ruin Sunday mass. After a supposed accident in which he caused the priest to fall by swinging the incense ball too close to his face, he’s given a second chance by default to be part of the altar boy elite ‘squad’ to perform a mass given by the Archbishop upon his return to this small town. Taking place in the late 70s, the boy is threatened with never being permitted to watch or listen to football again (and Liverpool has the European Cup final coming up!) The boys are given a pre-game talk that amounts to a sports team pep talk. Directed by Peter McDonald, it’s light, amusing and somehow distinctly Irish.
Next up was Raju, a German and Indian co-production directed by Max Zähle about a young German couple who adopt a 4-year-old orphan boy in India. Shortly after adopting him, the boy disappears in a street market. During the search, the father discovers an uncomfortable truth about India and its relationship with Western do-gooders. He also learns something disheartening about his wife. You can see in this film the potential to stretch it out to feature length and really milk the melodrama. It works well as a short film precisely because it doesn’t have the time to sell a bill of goods. It moves briskly, quickly bouncing from joy to despair to reserved acceptance in the span of less than a half hour.
The Shore is from Northern Ireland and directed by Terry George, best known for writing In the Name of the Father and as the writer-director of Hotel Rwanda. It’s the only one of the five with a recognizable actor in Ciaran Hinds as a man returning to his homeland with his daughter after several decades’ absence. He bears a secret about the girl he once loved and his best friend, both of whom he’s not spoken to since ‘the troubles’ broke out and he was sent to live in San Francisco. The Shore hints at some heavy drama, but then backs off in the end. It’s a pleasant and occasionally quirky little comedy-drama that is ultimately inconsequential.
Time Freak was the funniest and best of the lot. Directed by Andrew Bowler, it’s a Groundhog Day-style time travel romp. A former quantum mechanics student has built a time machine, but has found himself mired in the minutia of trying to get every interaction exactly right. As a result he’s spent quite a long time repeating events from one single day. His good friend to whom he demonstrates the machine is troubled by it and closes the film with a clever solution to the problem. Truly well-edited and scripted, I think this one deserves to win the Oscar and I believe it will.
The final film of the program was Tuba Atlantic. This comedy-drama from Norway and directed by Hallvar Witzo is about an elderly man given 6 days to live by his doctor. He decides to use his time to reconnect with his estranged brother who may now be living in New Jersey. His plan is to use a giant tuba the two of them constructed as children that will create a sound so immense it will travel across the ocean. The old man is beleaguered by a plucky young girl from the Jesus Club trying desperately to become an “Angel of Death” by helping ease his passing. The problem is he doesn’t make life very easy for those around him what with his bizarre penchant for executing a genocide against seagulls.