Dana gives us a look at all the Oscar nominated short films.
The creators of live-action short films have a very difficult task set before them – in one-third of the screen time, they must be able to tell stories as captivating as feature-length movies, and they must imbue their films with characters to which audiences can relate enough to care about.
The live-action short films chosen as this year’s Academy Award nominees run the gamut of culture, language, laughter and tears – from gentle religious humor to the drama of personal relationships during war, these five films showcase the art of storytelling in microcosm.
Ave Maria – Palestine / France / Germany
Director: Basil Khalil
While driving through the country in the West Bank, an Israeli family’s car suffers a breakdown and they find themselves in need of assistance from a cloister of nuns – who happen to be observing a vow of silence at the time. Hilarity ensues as religious and communication barriers pitch a series of challenges as they try to find a way home – but with a little ingenuity and understanding, the film suggests, even the most different of individuals can find enough common ground to solve a problem. Humorous and heartfelt without seeming preachy on either side, Ave Maria brings kindness and charity to the forefront of what could have become an even more daunting situation for its characters.
Shok (Friend) – Kosovo / UK
Director: Jamie Donoughue
This heart-wrenching tale of friendship strained by the cruelties of war for two young boys in 1990s Kosovo finds its protagonists, Petrit and Oki, caught in the crossfire of ethnic conflict as they simply try living their lives in a country ravaged by poverty and terror. Forced to sacrifice one of the only things he really has, Oki finds himself questioning his friendship with Petrit and the consequences of the boys’ decision to sell cigarette papers to soldiers stationed in their neighborhood for extra money – and as brutality escalates, both boys are faced with the violent realities of military presence in their lives. Mournful and at turns touching and appalling, the film manages to define the moment a pair of friends are forced to grow up with both aplomb and sensitivity.
Alles Wird Gut (Everything Will Be Okay) – Germany / Austria
Director: Patrick Vollrath
Eight-year-old Lea expects to have an enjoyable weekend visit with her father, Michael – especially when he takes her to the toy store and tells her she can have anything she likes, and promises they will attend the fair and do whatever she wants to do. But as their day together is continually interrupted by strange errands, and Michael begins to act erratically, she begins to suspect something is wrong. The film seems intent on forging sympathy for a father who is living under a cloud of despair at the thought of permanent separation from his child, but generally fails to garner enough of a connection to either of the characters in the time it has to tell its insular story, and rather than remaining a painful story of parental devotion, it becomes a confusing melee of thoughtlessness as it dips into emotional blackmail.
Stutterer – UK / Ireland
Director: Benjamin Cleary
Matthew Needham stars as Greenwood, an introverted typographer whose intense stutter has shamed him into silence – except online, where his words have brought him solace in his internet relationship with the warm and witty Ellie. He is happily smitten with her, but when she announces that she’s interested in crossing the virtual barrier to meet him in the flesh, he must decide whether he’s ready to face his social phobia and show her his true self in person. In only twelve minutes, Cleary tells the story of a man trying to overcome his greatest internal challenge – its beautifully empathetic narrative and Needham’s performance, which includes his internal dialogues, bring to life a quietly triumphant moment in the life of a genuinely likable character. The warmth of the final scene speaks volumes without a word.
Day One – USA
Director: Henry Hughes
Feda, a young and enthusiastic interpreter beginning her first assignment with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, finds herself faced with a much larger task than translation when a bomb-maker’s wife is injured in soldiers’ pursuit, causing her to go into labor. Completely unprepared for the task of assisting the woman in childbirth, she must overcome her trepidation – and the limitations imposed upon her by the cultural norms of the people she must aid – to save the lives of both mother and child. The film is ostensibly based on a true story, which lends the suspense even greater power as Feda tries to deliver a breach baby, without any medical training, out in the field and exposed to the elements. The film’s narrative and performances are solid, making it a compelling choice for the Oscar.
Predictions: In terms of cinematography and simple emotional effectiveness, Shok – which allows its story to unravel through keen characterization and deft performances, particularly by its youngest actors – may be the most deserving of the Academy Award. However, the film most likely to take the statue home is Day One – based on actual events and real people, and with a modern setting touched closely by tradition and full of firm physical and cultural challenges, it is likely to be a favorite.
Average Score for All Five: 6/10