Monday, February 16, 2015

FILM: 2015 Oscar-Nominated Shorts

A few years ago, some friends let us in on a secret. Some of the best films are the shorts, and the Laemmle Theaters run screenings of them every year a few weeks before the Oscars. You can see as many as a dozen great films in one evening! Last weekend, we screened all the live action and animated shorts.


PARVANEH (Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger) – 25 minutes/Switzerland/Dari and German. Parvaneh, a teenage Afghan girl, is a lone refugee in Switzerland, where she attempts to navigate a cold, unfamiliar environment. When desperate and blocked in her attempts to send money home to her parents, she enlists the help of Emely, a punked-out young Swiss teen she meets on the street. What starts as a quick transaction turns into a night of new experiences and a developing friendship. The film adeptly portrays Parvaneh's initial solitude, desperation, and determination, and their transformation into tentative trust and confidence. We watch as Parvaneh (which appropriately turns out to be Dari for "butterfly") blossoms.

BUTTER LAMP (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak) (Hu Wei and Julien FĂ©ret) – 15 minutes/France and China/Tibetan. This film consists solely in watching a traveling portrait photographer take photos of various families in a remote Tibetan village, posing them, choosing an artificial backdrop, and "click", next. The premise sounds dry on the face of it, but it was surprisingly charming. The village is full of characters, and just in the minute or two that the photographer spends with each of them, you get a glimpse of their character. It will make you smile.

THE PHONE CALL (Mat Kirkby and James Lucas) – 21 minutes/UK/English. A young woman working at a suicide hotline gets a phone call that changes her life. The scope of story and emotion that is packed into this 21-minute film is impressive, heart-breaking, and touching. I think this may have been my favorite.

AYA (Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis) – 39 minutes/Israel and France/English, Hebrew, Danish. Aya is an intriguing enigma, a woman who feels more connected to strangers than she does to her own family and friends. We learn this over the course of a car ride to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv airport, where she has gone to pick up her husband but instead capriciously gives a stranger a ride.

BOOGALOO AND GRAHAM (Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney) – 14 minutes/UK/English. An utterly charming story of two young boys in Northern Ireland in the 1970s during "the troubles", who attempt to keep two pet chickens. The charm of a good Irish storyteller recalling the earnest innocence of youth with a golden "Wonder Years" patina is a heartwarming winner.


ME AND MY MOULTON (Torill Kove) – 14 minutes/Canada/English. An engaging illustration of a middle daughter's impressions of her own life in a family that's just a little bit different from everyone else. When your father is the only man in town with a moustache, and your architect parents buy you a funky bike that looks different from all the other kids' bikes, it's rough to be a teen. These light-hearted reflections are stylishly and humorously illustrated in colorful line drawings.

FEAST (Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed) – 6 minutes/USA/Non-dialogue. An endearing dog's-eye view of his master enjoying bachelorhood but then getting married and starting a family, all experienced by the food that lands on the floor. Rich, evocative cartoon imagery and some good belly laughs.

THE BIGGER PICTURE (Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees) – 7 minutes/UK/English. A very stylish and impressionistic rendering of two grown brothers dealing with their aging and dying mother, and the conflict when one brother gets stuck with more of the work. A whole arc with emotional nuance is conveyed in only 7 minutes, with skillfully crafted dialog and editing, and the animation is vivid and colorful, in a very subjective, impressionist painterly style. I think I'd put my vote here for most beautiful animation.

A SINGLE LIFE (Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins, Job Roggeveen) – 2 minutes/The Netherlands/Non-dialogue. An LOL funny short short film about a woman and a time-controlling record player.

THE DAM KEEPER (Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi) – 18 minutes/USA/Non-dialogue. A post-apocalyptic Aesop-style fable about bullying and judging others too superficially, with a pig, a fox, and other animal characters going to school and inhabiting a town. The animation is rich and vivid, in a painterly brushed style.

Some "bonus" animations (not nominated, but honorable mention) included "Duet", a beautiful, graceful, sweeping depiction of a girl, a boy, and his dog as they grow up, all done in luminous line drawings on dark background; and "Bus Story", a quirky little cartoon of a plucky woman taking on a school bus route, overcoming the unappreciative kids, the Quebec winter, and a misanthropic old man who owns the bus.

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