Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Oscar-nominated Live Action Short Films

Following are my brief reactions to the five films nominated this year for the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. The wonderful thing about a short film is how it reminds you that not all stories need to be told in two hours. To see a story presented in 20 or 30 minutes is just a wonderful relief. You really get to see how much fat gets added into feature films to pad their length. Any one of these five films could easily be developed further, but what’s the point? They are all nearly perfect as they are. However, I didn’t think this year’s lot were as strong as last year’s and there’s nothing I feel very strongly about. They are in my rough order of preference.



Asad is the one of the five that best expresses zest for life and hope for the future. In war-torn Somalia, where bands of rebels come passing through villages taking what they want and killing when they please, a boy is stuck between the old world of fishing the open seas, where all the villagers know he’s had no recent luck, and the new world order of piracy. Asad longs to join his older friends on a pirate raid, but luckily for him they don’t allow it. On his first solo fishing trip he later makes a surprising discovery – one that sort of sums up the oddities of life.


Death of a Shadow has Matthias Schoenaerts starring in this dark and mysterious Belgian fantasy thriller about a man photographing shadow images of death for a macabre collector. Schoenaerts has been given the chance to return to life if he collects 10,000 shadows. He’s motivated by love for a woman he met moments before being killed. I was most amazed at how well this story tells a complex story in just 20 minutes. You can easily see it expanded to feature length, but the brevity keeps it light and intriguing rather than a dull slog.

Buzkashi Boys is the most melodramatic entry this year. It’s about two young boys in Kabul, one is the son of a blacksmith, the other a fatherless street urchin. Together they have big dreams. Ahmard, the beggar, wants to become a Buzkashi rider, participating in a sport that involves two team of riders on horseback moving a dead goat around the playing area toward a goal. Ahmad is bold and impetuous. Without any grounding in his life, he’s free to roam the city, climb to the top of an abandoned castle, and steal the occasional horse. The films we see about Afghanistan don’t often reveal much about the people, least of all the children. With Buzkashi Boys I felt like the emotional wallop at the end would have a deeper impact if it were expanded to feature length so we could have more time to get to know these kids so full of life.

Henry is a Canadian production in French about an old man beginning to come apart at the seams when a strange younger woman sits with him in a cafĂ© and then he discovers that his wife has gone missing. He begins having visions of himself as a young man falling in love and making music with his wife. He is a pianist and she is an Italian violinist. they met at the end of WWII in Italy. The central mystery is not well concealed. You can see quickly what’s happening and who that woman is, but that doesn’t take away from the deeply affecting story of the crisis of old age, a crisis that sometimes takes a much bigger toll on those around us.

Curfew has the unpolished look and feel of independent filmmaking with that rough finish, acting that doesn’t always hit the mark, and sound mixing that, in comparison to Hollywood, sounds cheap. I don’t mention these as detractors, but as descriptors of the experience of watching this gritty little family drama about Richie, a man whose suicide attempt is interrupted by a frantic call from his sister, who is desperate for a sitter for her 9-year old girl. Richie is into drugs and who knows what? He looks haggard and oily, reminding me of Vincent Gallo in Buffalo ’66. When a spontaneous and dreamy dance number breaks out in a bowling alley, I knew it couldn’t be coincidence. Curfew is mildly amusing but the overall tone didn’t really work for me. The girl is too precocious (I sort of can’t stand precocious kids in movies) and it’s all a little too flippant about suicide.

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