This year’s Oscar-nominated Live Action Shorts are as eclectic as the countries, characters and themes that they represent. In the Spanish film Éramos pocos, perennial under-achiever Joaquin wakes up to find that his wife has left him and his vagabond son. Desperate after living on a diet of Doritos and Coke, Joaquin goes to the nursing home to seek out his
mother-in-law, Lourdes, who, so happy to be wanted again, fulfills her role as the new happy homemaker. All seems resolved until director Borji Cobeaga springs a surprising and refreshing plot twist.
A visit to a nursing home is the plot of another family-centered short, Helmer & Son. Mr. Helmer has locked himself in his nursing-home wardrobe and refuses to come out, adding just one more problem for his already overworked son. The nondescript encounter proves so effective because it forces the audience to imagine the long past between these two family members, making the film’s resolution that much more touching.
Of course, the selection includes more unorthodox films, including The Saviour. The film portrays Malcolm, a somewhat unsure evangelist who finds himself having an affair with the woman he is trying to convert. Topping The Saviour is the delightfully zany West Bank Story. Director Ari Sandel presents us with the most hilariously offensive musical this side of Springtime for Hitler in which two star-crossed lovers from different sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sing and dance out their woes amongst suicide bombers and a lot of falafel.
For me, the highlight of the selection is Binta and the Great Idea, which captures life in rural Senegal. Accompanied by a stirring selection of music and a touching portrayal of the daily contrast of happiness and disappointments, Binta and the Great Idea is a must-see.
Like their Live Action counterparts, the animated shorts are diverse and delightfully assorted. My personal favorites include Torill Kove’s The Danish Poet, Geza M. Toth’s Maestro and Roger Allers’s The Little Matchgirl. The simplistic yet touching The Danish Poet is narrated by Norwegian film veteran Liv Ullmann. The film’s engaging story of lovers whose paths are constantly criss-crossing blends a poignant love story with simplistic, yet enjoyable humor, resulting in a highly entertaining experience. The unique animation style of the film also gives it a fresh appearance.
The straightforward and traditional storytelling found in The Danish Poet is contrasted with the mystery and mechanical surrealism of Maestro. Geza’s attention to detail in angle, light and sound engage the audience in a vibrant display of film technique. What makes the film even more enjoyable is the fact that it is a tremendous buildup to a simple joke that only reveals itself in the last seconds of the film.
Perhaps The Little Matchgirl, although very traditional, impressed me most. The short movie is based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, in which a cold and vulnerable girl sells matches in order to survive. The tremendous detail and technique remind one of the deep colors and lines used in the early days of Disney, and I’m sure that Walt himself would be quite proud of this wonderful gift of a film. One of the most touching films in recent memory, The Little Matchgirl alone is worth the price of admission.