As we draw closer to yet another notably-white Oscar ceremony, there is, as always, some excitement to be found in the Short Films category.
Other than the Foreign Language category, the shorts are traditionally the most global-reaching, allowing us to see stories and ideas from different countries and regions which otherwise are ignored in mainstream cinema. Further, short films are largely independent, free of studio interference for the most part. As a result, short films show us stories we can’t see in any other way. Once again, Shorts HD is bringing all of the Animated, Live Action, and Documentary shorts to theaters across the country, so you don’t have any excuse to just be guessing at these categories when you fill out your Oscar predictions. That said, here are some reviews of the five short films nominated in the Best Live Action Short category. (Links to trailers or full movie provided where available.)
(trailer) A comedy of errors about the difficulties and conflicts which often come from observing strict religious tenets, Ave Maria tells the story of a Jewish family whose car breaks down outside of a convent in the Arab territory of Israel’s West Bank. The convent’s nuns have all taken vows of silence, and the holy Jewish Sabbath has just kicked into effect, so both groups are stuck debating which rules they are willing to compromise on in order to get out of their current situation. It’s a clever and original look at the inconvenience of religion without ever being sacrilegious or disrespectful. It’s the kind of gag that a Rabbi might start a service with. The performances are all pleasant enough, and the resolution is amusing, but ultimately there’s not much here beyond the creative scenario. It’s fun and well-made, but ultimately comes up a bit slight. (7/10) Palestine/France/Germany, 15 minutes, Dir: Basil Khalil, Wri: Basil Khalil/ Daniel Yáñez Khalil)
(trailer) Set during the occupation period of the Kosovo war, Shok follows Oki (Andi Bajgora) and Petrit (Lum Vesili), two young boys who take up business selling rolling papers to Serbian soldiers, only halfway aware of what they are doing. This leads to a major rift between the two boys, culminating in Petrit taking a beating on Oki’s behalf during a routine checkpoint. Harshly shot and beautifully paced, the film’s bleak content is carried along by the sheer charisma coming from young Vesili, a boy you can see convincing his friends to do stupid and dangerous things. Beyond this, it exposes a section of struggle we rarely hear about in the Western world, making Shok a reminder of why we even have this category. (9/10) Kosovo/UK, 21 minutes, Writer/Director: Jamie Donoghue
Everything Will Be Okay
(Not to be confused with the 2006 animated short film of the same name by Don Hertzfeldt)
(trailer) Probably the most gut-wrenching of the live action shorts, Everything Will Be Okay follows a divorced father named Michael (Simon Schwarz) who picks up his young daughter Lea (Julia Pointer) for a seemingly-normal weekend together, but the tone slowly and methodically shifts into something more devious. As the audience realizes Michael’s true intent with this visit, we see multiple shifts in power dynamics. First, it’s about a girl manipulating her father the way all children of divorce learn to do (“Mommy would never buy me a toy like this!”), then becomes a man using his control over his daughter to put her in unusual and harmful situations without her knowing. We see what Michael wants to do and the numerous opportunities he has to stop it, or for some outside force to keep it from happening, which allows the tension to slowly build to a boil starting from the opening lines. It’s a slow burn, but masterfully done, making sure to capitalize on the entire runtime’s worth of investment. My pick for the winner. (9.5/10) Germany/Austria, 30 minutes, Writer/Director: Patrick Vollrath
(trailer) Stutterer’s first minute is a great lesson in creating instant empathy while immediately setting up a premise. The titular stutterer is a young man named Greenwood (Matthew Needham), whose inner monologue is sharp-witted and clever, but whose debilitating speech impediment keeps him from having conversations with his father or giving someone directions to the store. We first see Greenwood waiting on hold and struggling to talk to his Internet provider regarding his bill, a situation no one wants to be in at the best of times. Greenwood is faced with a new challenge when Ellie (Chloe Pirrie), a woman he has been in an online relationship with, arrives in town and wants to meet him in real life. The writing is clever, the story is cute, and Needham’s delivery forms an immediate connection, but it suffers from not being as visually distinctive as any of the other nominees. Both Everything Will Be Okay and Stutterer take full advantage of the short-form medium, but Stutterer has less of a point to build and is therefore an easier pace to keep up with. (8/10) UK/Ireland, 12 minutes, Writer/Director: Benjamin Cleary
(trailer) Well-shot but with a completely misguided message, Day One follows Fedah, (Layla Alizada) an Afghan-American woman on her first day working as an interpreter for the US military stationed overseas. Her first day of what she calls “her first real job” doesn’t go so well, as she accompanies troops in pursuit of a suspected bomb-maker, only to find the man’s pregnant wife going into labor. Fedah must assist a local doctor and her commanding officer in delivering the baby while circumventing cultural and religious rules, and it still results in the death of the mother. While being taken into custody, the bomb-maker charges Fedah with watching over his baby daughter and the young niece he was caring for, and the audience realizes that “Day One” refers to her first day of motherhood, not necessarily of her job.
Day One is hard to watch on a number of levels, mainly because director Henry Hughes does not shy away from the grosser and more unpleasant aspects of childbirth, but also because I’m not sure what I’m supposed to take away from the final message. The script very intentionally features Fedah telling another woman that she didn’t want kids, but by the end, it has decided “Well, too bad,” and she seems to be making her piece with it. It’s about a minute short of saying “motherhood is the most important job there is,” though I would argue “military interpreter” is a pretty damn important job. This weird value system puts a sour taste on what was otherwise a strong and interesting story, but instead comes out feeling cheap and hollow. (5/10) USA, 25 Minutes, Writer/Director: Henry Hughes.Liked This? Share It!