Friday, January 31, 2014

Oscar-Nominated Short Films (Live Action): two real thrillers, and two sci-fi experiments, and a comedy

The Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts indeed sold out at Landmark E Street in Washington DC tonight, and there were plenty of heavy moral lessons in them.  Variety’s website list for Shorts HD (Magnolia Pictures)  is here.
This time, Landmark prefixed the program with the previews, and the shorts were interspersed with comments by several directors on the value of short films.  You get to be you own boss a lot more often, with a smaller project.  Shaun Christiensen and Steve McQueen were among the speakers.
The longest and second most intense film was “Just Before Losing Everything” (“Avant que de tout perdre”, 30 min, France,  by Xavier Legrand, 2.35:1).  I recall seeing a sign “lost everything” on a bulletin board at a church at MCC in Dallas back in 1980.  It was common for vulnerable people to say that.  In this case, the victims are a wife and her kids.  She is sheltering them at her job in a grocery store, and tells her boss that he needs to fire her so she can escape, and stay with relatives.  We gradually learn that her abusive husband is chasing her.  This is a taut thriller. (I actually stopped substitute teaching the second go-round myself because of an unusual family glitch, and "fired myself.")

That Wasn’t Me” (“Aquel no era yo”, 24 min., Spain, by Esteban Crespo) was the most intense.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen tribal and warlord-driven violence as graphic as this.  The film was sponsored in part by Save the Children.  A young male and young female doctor (maybe like “Doctors without Borders”) cross the border into Sierra Leone, and are greeted by 12-year old boys with rifles pointing at them.  The male (Gustavo Salmeron) tries to deal soccer cards to placate one of the boys, when one of the warlords shows up. The couple is kidnapped, and soon a ferocious battle erupts as the UN arrives with choppers.  The man is shot by a child, and the lady Paula (Alejandro Lorente) doctor makes a run for it with the child, hoping to save his life and give him a real future, possibly in the West.   Conditions are like this in Somalia, the Central African Republic, and some other remote parts of Africa. Sebastian Junger has written about Sierra Leone.  The film was actually shot in Ecuador, according to the credits, and the look of it is stunning.  This is my choice for the Oscar.

 “Helium” (23 min., Denmark, by Anders Walter, 2.35:1) presents us with a hospital attendant (Casper Crump) bonding with a dying boy.  He tells the boy a story about what heaven will be like, and his vision is rather like that of some of Pandora in “Avatar”, of islands floating in the sky, held up by balloons.  The janitor risks his job and breaks the rules to get to see the boy as he gets closer to the end. But what’s interesting is the janitor’s own vision of the afterlife, and what happens when you go.  I’ve always wondered, how can you live forever as a child in the afterlife if you didn’t get the chance to grow up to be an adult. 
The Voorman Problem” (13 min, UK, by Mark Gill, 2.35:1) is a restatement of the Anthropic Principle, perhaps.  A psychiatrist (Mark Freeman) shows up at a British prison to interview an inmate (Tom Hollander) who claims to be God.  He demonstrates it by changing reality:  suddenly, the psychiatrist discovers that the maps of the world have Belgium deleted.   (That sounds like my own 2004 script, “Baltimore Is Missing”).  Then to prove his point, the inmate pulls a trick right out of Smallville.  Remember when Clark Kent and Lex Luthor traded bodies for a day?
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” (“Pitaako min kaikki hoitaa?”, Selma Vilhunen,7 min, Finland) presents a family not quite properly prepared for a funeral in downtown Helsinki.

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