February 20, 2009

Oscar Nominated Short Films Surprise and Inspire

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As someone who hasn’t even gotten around to seeing Slumdog Millionaire, Milk or The Curious Case of it Benjamin Button — no, not even one of its 165 minutes — I can say that I was very wary of taking time to watch the 80th Academy Award nominees for Best Live Action Short Film (you probably know them as the part of the ceremony during which you flip through the channels).
However, after viewing the nominated shorts, I can now say that these films are phenomenal — not perfect, but definitely worth anyone’s time (plus all five of them take up 65 less minutes of your time than Benjamin Button does, not to mention one of them is not even half the time of an episode of Gossip Girl!).
The first film shown, Auf Der Strecke (On the Line), directed by Retro Caffi of Germany and Switzerland, gets off to a slow start, but all of a sudden redeems itself. The protagonist sees a woman with whom he is in love (albeit as a security guard, so he really only knows her by watching her on his security camera) on the subway with a man with whom she seems to be engaged in a lovers’ quarrel. The woman storms off the subway in a huff, and then a group of teenage boys begin to violently harass the man. Jealous, the security guard walks off the train without intervening, only to find out the next day that not only did the youths murder the man, he was the woman’s brother, not boyfriend. So we see the resulting struggle of the protagonist to live with his decision not to intervene, as he becomes closer with the woman who grieves the loss of her brother — an embodiment of a terrible case of the bystander effect.
Up next was New Boy (Steph Green of Ireland). Cute, but not nearly as inspiring as Auf Der Strecke, New Boy depicts a young African boy, Joseph’s, first day of school in Ireland. From getting tortured by a boy who is half class clown and half bully, to eventually laughing with the same boy at the end of the film over Hazel, the comical teacher’s pet, Joseph’s experience in what is depicted as a foreign place compared to his old school (of which scenes of him attending are frequently cut to) is poignant and sweet. It’s hard not to ponder, however, that if it weren’t for the children’s adorable Irish accents, it just wouldn’t be anything that special. I suppose an Irish person would be able to say so for sure.
Third was Speilzeugland (Toyland) by Jochen Freydank of Germany. Whatever you do, find a way to watch this 14-minute glimpse into the Holocaust. In this film, two boys must end their joint piano lessons when the Jewish boy must go to the concentration camps, or as the other boy’s mother tells him, to “Toyland.” The ominously ironic lines such as the mother telling her child that he wouldn’t want to go to “Toyland” because the “teddy bears are much bigger there” will remain ingrained in your mind forever as will the other boy, Heinrich’s, dismally sweet utterance that his friend should not go away because they’re “blood brothers.” Then the film cuts between scenes of Heinrich’s mother running through town, screaming that her child was put on the train by accident, and scenes of her son getting up in the morning, intending to go to “Toyland” with his friend. Up until the twist, which I won’t give away, the film was incredibly engrossing; afterwards, it was indisputably one of the best films I’ve ever seen, long and short alike.
Then came The Pig, a comical film about a man facing surgery who takes a special liking to a picture of a pig randomly hanging in his hospital room. The Pig was followed lastly by Manon on the Asphalt, which cut from a scene immediately following a woman’s fatal bike accident to scenes of her prior life with her family and friends and them finding out about her death, all the time with her narration. While managing to be light while still impressionable and unique, Manon is nothing compared to Spielzeugland in terms of presenting ponderings about death.
Unfortunately, these short films are available for viewing in few theaters and, most likely until after The Oscars, are not (gasp!) on YouTube. Keep your eyes open for them, however, because what’s better for an overworked overtired Cornell student than a film that takes up just 15 minutes?