Friday, January 30, 2015

More Oscar-nominated Short Films: This time it's the five live-action narratives

As critic A.O. Scott points out in today's NY Times, the nominees for best short films -- animated, live action and documentary -- often avoid the more mainstream "Oscar bait" predilections of their longer-form brethren. So it is again this year. I covered the animated films yesterday; today it's the live-action narratives and tomorrow I'll hope to finished with the live-action documentaries. All three series are being shown theatrically around the country, beginning today, and you can find the theater closest to you by clicking here and following the instructions.


AYA,  Directors: Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis 
Synopsis: A young woman waiting at an airport has an unexpected encounter with an arriving passenger.
Countries of origin: France, Israel;  40 minutes; Lang: English, Hebrew

An airport mix-up that jumps off from all those times you've seen people holding up a sign at the arrival gate that reads, Mr. ______, waiting for folk they don't know, Aya combines coincidence with a sudden deliberate action by our title character that results in a lengthy getting-to-know-you conversation in an automobile. Splendidly acted by Israeli Sarah Adler and Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen, and equally well written and directed, this is a stunning little film about connection and roads taken or not. (Among its odd joys is probably the first piano concerto played on a woman's hand and thigh.)

Directors: Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
Synopsis: Jamesy and Malachy are presented with two baby chicks to raise by their soft-hearted father. Country of origin: UK; 14 minutes, Language: English

A dip into the past and charm galore is provided by this short that takes place in Belfast, 1978, but instead of tackling the Brits vs the IRA, the movie uses that as a mere backdrop to a story of a kindly dad and the little chicks he gives his two sons. Think of this one as a kind of coming-of-age tale featuring poultry protagonists.

BUTTER LAMP (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak) 
Directors: Hu Wei and Julien Féret
Synopsis: A photographer and his assistant photograph the inhabitants of a remote Tibetan village.
Countries of origin: France, China; 16 minutes; Language: Tibetan

Probably designed to make us forget about China's disgusting incursion into and take-over of Tibet, this odd and funny little film nonetheless works its wonders, as we see a photographer and assistant take various kinds of family photos by changing the backdrop. In the process all kinds of cultural mores surface, while the finale provides a fabulously funny and silent visual joke.

Directors: Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger 
Synopsis: An Afghan teenager living in a refugee center in Switzerland encounters difficulties wiring money to her family and asks a young Swiss woman for help.
Country of origin: Switzerland; 25 minutes; Language: German

Immigration is as hot-button an issue in Switzerland as anywhere else, so this little short is a welcome reminder of both that subject and also the ever-present one of feminism. A young Afghan, not quite old enough to have a legal ID must get help in order to send off the money she earns to her family. How she does this proves an eye-opening, surprising, and of course moving fable of sisterhood.

Directors: Mat Kirkby and James Lucas
Synopsis: A woman working for a crisis center phone line receives a call from a suicidal older man.
Country of origin: UK; 21 minutes; Language: English

The documentary short section, to be covered tomorrow, offers a look a crisis call center for possible suicides, U.S.-veteran variety. This narrative film does something similar -- in a very small British crisis center. But with Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent and Edward Hogg in the lead roles, along with a fine script that mixes reality with a final bit of fantasy (or perhaps just drug-induced imagination), this little movie proves exceptionally moving and real. 

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