Friday, January 30, 2015

Best live-action shorts (for Oscars) emphasize personal empathy

I got to the 2015 Oscar nominated shorts today, and the program, from Magnolia Pictures, runs a little longer than in the past, at 118 minutes.  And there is a recurring theme of receptiveness to interacting with strangers, even “radical hospitality”.  (Maybe that should be the name of a movie as well as a famous 2012 sermon in Arlington VA.)
The biggest film (39 minutes), and for me the choice to win, is “Aya” (site ), directed by Oded Binnum and Mihal Brezis, Israel.  The film is a curious combination of “Locke” and “A Man and a Woman”.  A young woman Aya (Sarah Adler) trolls the “reception line” at Tel Aviv airport.  A man holding a greeting sign asks Aya to hold it for him for a bathroom break, and when the guest, a Mr. Overby (Ulrich Thomsen) arrives from Helsinki, she winds up letting him hitch a ride to his swanky hotel in Jerusalem.  (I thought, you aren’t supposed to take hitchhikers.)
I wondered, where is this material going?  Overby (from Denmark) is a music researcher and perhaps piano teacher.  Is this going to be some political scheme, or just plain heterosexual opportunity, which does quickly come up with the thigh shots.  The movie manages to build some suspense, with a few spectacular shots of the Israeli countryside and of Jerusalem at night.  A big hint is that she already has a family.
The music score, listed as by Ishai Adar, included a piano passage (through Overby’s headphones), has a passage that I think sounded like the fast middle section of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, and later some slow tempo piano music that sounded very familiar but resembled Poulenc. 
The first chapter of my own “Angel’s Brothers” has two young men (one with a family, the other a precocious gay college student) meeting “by accident” on a visit to Auschwitz, and sharing a cab ride back to Cracow, leading the reader to wonder if there is a connection.  There indeed will be.  The tone of this movie was a little bit like my own first chapter.
The film is shot 2.35:1, but cropped smaller to fit the consistent shorts format. 
The second biggest film was Parvaneh (25 min, site), directed by Talkhon Hamzavi, Switzerland (spectacularly filmed, apparently round downtown Zurich, in winter), in German.  Parvaneh (Nissa Kashani) is about 19, and working alone in Zurich and tries to send money back to her parents in Afghanistan.  When Western Union turns her down, she begs in the street for someone to help cosign for her.  Who would really do this, given the world today?   Another young woman, Cheryl Graf, wants a commission cut on the deal at first, but gradually befriends her, taking her to clubs and at one point protecting her from a potential rapist.
The third longest was “The Phone Call” (21 min, site ), directed by Mat Kirby and James Lucas.  In London, Heather (Sally Hawkins) takes a call in a help center from an elderly widower (James Broadbent).  contemplating suicide. This didn’t work for me.  And why the wide screen format?  Yet, I once wrote a short story called “Friendship on the Phone”.  Ironically, “Phonecall” is the name of the most popular song YouTube videos by Belgian singer-actor-producer Timo Descamps (even though one of the earliest videos), and the subject matter is quite happy.

The fourth is “Butter Lamp” (“La lampe au buerre de Yak”), by Wei Hu (China and France), 16 minutes.  A photographer takes pictures of socially cohesive Tibetan villagers against various Chinese photos and tapestries as backgrounds (defeating the purpose of film).  Gradually, a political agenda emerges.  At the end, we see a spectacular shot of a Chinese construction project in the Himalaya, apparently unpopular with the people.
The last film is “Boogaloo and Graham” (14 min, site ), by Michael Lennox, from Northern Ireland.  A father, mother and two boys in a chicken farm tend to their birds, contemplating new additions to the family (literally), while IRA violence subsides outside. 

I saw the films at a late afternoon show Friday at Landmark E Street in Washington DC, before a half-full large auditorium.  
Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Israel, author “Yuval Y”, similar to what appears in first film  (Creative Commons-Share-Alike 3.0 unported). 

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