Amir here. Yesterday we had a look at the animated short films nominated for an Oscar this year. Today we’re moving on to the live action shorts. In a nice bit of symmetry with the animation category, this one also features two great films and three not-so-great ones. Collectively, however, these nominees are a much stronger bunch than last year’s.
First up is Death of a Shadow, a Belgian-French co-production starring Franco-cinema’s it-boy Matthias Schoenaarts. It’s a fantasy film about a soldier whose job it is to capture the moment of death on a camera that registers shadows. The images are stored in a collection by the (very creepy) patron of his photography. Eventually, his love for a woman called Sarah pushes him to make her lover the final victim of his photography. It sounds concept-y, and quite frankly, it is. The visual effects leave a bit to be desired, but the much bigger problem is the complete lack of emotional resonance. The biggest achievement of Death of a Shadow is the impossible feat of making Schoenaarts look unattractive.
Four more shorts after the jump including the probable Oscar winner
Proceedings didn’t improve at all with the second screening, Henry, a Canadian drama about an old man with Alzheimer’s disease. This film’s themes of coming to terms with mortality and the horrors of illness in the final stages of life make it an interesting double bill with Michael Haneke’s Amour, though it’s affected sentimentality and overscored histrionics fall well below the standards set by the Austrian maestro. The central performance by Gerard Poirier is a strong one, but it’s undermined by overdirection and film school aesthetics.
Then there was Curfew, the sole American film in the bunch and easily the most inventive. As with last year’s Tuba Atlantic, its originality might cost it the award, but it certainly put writer/director/star Shawn Christensen on my ‘to watch’ list, despite knowing that he’s capable of writing mediocrity like Abduction. Curfew is about Richie, a young man who gets a phone call from his estranged sister, asking him to look after his niece for a few hours. One would assume that a man on the verge of suicide in a tub wouldn’t take his rotary phone to the bathroom with him, much less actually pick it up when it rings, with the hand that’s been freshly cut! But that’s just the opening of this brilliant short film; and the wild ride continues from there.
An incisive look at depression and family relations, Curfew is at once hilarious and thematically rich. It also features a confident, promising performance from child actor Fatima Ptacek. Fans of Nathaniel’s ‘Best Musical Sequence in a Non-Musical Film’ Film Bitch Award should particularly seek this film out: it has a sure-fire nominee in a bowling alley sequence that bursts with energy on the screen.
The next film is Buzkashi Boys, an Afghan film about two young boys from Kabul who dream of becoming a star in the local sport of Buzkashi. (Buzkashi, literally means “dragging the goat” in Farsi and is a sport in which the carcass of a goat is carried around by players riding horseback polo-style. Bullfighting may not be for the faint-hearted but the brutality of this one really puts the Spanish pastime to shame.) Beautifully photographed by Duraid Munajim - a camera operator on Kathryn Bigelow’s latest two films - Buzkashi Boys gives a new perspective on the everyday lives of Afghan civilians but like Henry, though not quite to the same extent, it tugs at our heartstrings with a heightened score and synthetic sentimentality. Still, a story about children gift-wrapped in such lush lensing is always a threat in this category.
Last but definitely not least was Asad. Shot with a cast entirely made up of Somali refugees in South Africa, this comedy tells the story of a young boy – the titular Asad – whose life in a fishing community is intertwined with civil war, Somali pirates and his own incompetence at fishing. But his quest for his special first catch leads to a hilarious finale. Asad’s sharp dialogue and warm humour make it the easiest nominee to embrace, and I have a feeling voters will feel the same. It will be a well-deserved win for a film that makes light of a bitter situation without losing touch with the grave reality of life in a war torn society.
PredictionI’m scratching my head a little bit. If last year’s winner, The Shore, is anything to go by, fabricated emotions can make Academy member vote through their tears, in which case Henry can cruise to the stage. I tend to think voters will go for the emotionally rewarding film that also has an aura of importance and is actually enjoyable. In that case, Asad will rule the day. But then, what about the Academy’s love for children? Buzkashi Boys features adorable boys trying to make it in the men’s world and that’s an easy narrative to fall for.
Will Win: Asad
Could Win: Buzkashi Boys
Should Win: Curfew