This year’s Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short films are a solid bunch. The group of them ranks second among the three short film categories for me this year. Number three are the animated group and a clear number one is the documentary shorts. All of these categories find brilliant filmmaking – especially because telling a robust story in such a compact time is no simple task. Here’s how the live action short films made me feel. I’ll write about each of the films I saw in the order in which I saw them and then give my selection at the end.
1. Parvaneh by Talkhon Hamzafi and Stefan Eichenberger (A-)
A young Afghan girl living in the Swiss Alps is working so she can send money home to her family who are still living in Afghanistan. The emotion our title character is palpably on display after asking, “How much?” and then saying, “OK, I’ll send the money.” It’s brilliantly wonderful acting. I felt her persistence and was immediately on board with her. That idea right there sets a solid foundation for the story. Of course there are bumps along the road. She’s rejected from being able to send money because of identification issues. She seeks the help of strangers in her broken German and finally finds an unlikely assistant in a rebelliously dressed punk girl. Parvaneh takes some serious risks to do good for her family. She shows that stepping out of one’s comfort zone can be uncomfortable, but taking the risk can sometime be fruitful.
2. The Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak) by Hu Wei and Julien Ferét (D)
The whole movie is from a single vantage point. What’s in front of the camera changes however. The vantage point is that of a family portrait photographer. Each family who is shepherded into frame has a different background selected – which is lowered into place by one of the photographer’s assistants. There is small interaction between the photographer and subjects until the photo is snapped and then a new family is on screen and a new background is lowered into place. If there is any sort of social commentary here, it’s lost on me. I think smart films that have subtle commentary are fun to watch. But if the commentary is too subtle? Well then I feel nothing and don’t enjoy it. It’s an interesting gimmick and pretty well shot which saves it from failing.
3. The Phone Call by Mat Kirkby and James Lucas (A)
A help-line call center worker named Heather (Sally Hawkins) makes her way into work one day to receive a phone call from a distressed man named Stan (Jim Broadbent). Her trip into work is boring and cold. A long panning tilt finds Heather sitting and waiting for a bus reading a book. When she arrives to work, the call center looks like a re-purposed elementary school classroom. Her desk is wooden and spartan. Atop the desk is only a phone, notebook and bottle of water. One other person is working this day, but he’s busy on a call. Heather’s phone quickly begins ringing and she sets to work. This phone call will occupy Heather, and the viewer’s heart and mind, for the rest of the film. It’s pitch perfect and the acting is superb. After the sadness clears the film’s purpose becomes clear. It’s about the small moments we overlook as humans. The Phone Call is a simple title and a simple movie. But the depths of the story are an abyss of profundity that play your heartstrings like Jimi Hendrix plays the guitar. There’s lots of distortion and feedback, but melody and beauty remain supreme.
4. Aya by Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis (A)
Of the two live action short films I gave A-rating to, this one is my favorite. It’s complex and is a film I just didn’t want to end. I’m glad this film was made because the subject is so smart and engaging. Here’s the story: A young woman is waiting for someone at an airport. She standing among other private car drivers who are waiting for their passengers to arrive. They’re all holding signs with the name of the person for whom they’re waiting. One of the drivers needs to leave so he asks Aya if she’ll hold his sign just until he returns. She reluctantly agrees. In the next few moments the man whose name is on the sign appears. The story unfolds beautifully from there. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I think the idea of fear of strangers has been perpetuated into our souls too much. Don’t let that get to you. Happenstance meetings can be a beautifully positive thing too.
5. Boogaloo and Graham by Michael Lennox and Ronan Bailey (B)
Without a doubt the funniest of the nominees happens to bring the audience to one of the least funny places in the world: Belfast, Ireland. A soft-hearted father brings home two young chickens for his two sons to raise. Drama ensues when the mother demands changes be made to the household. This is a really cute story that is heartfelt and upbeat despite its location.
Here’s my ranking.
2. The Phone Call
4. Boogaloo and Graham
5. Butter Lamp