' ' Cinema Romantico: Oscar Live Action Short Nominees

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Oscar Live Action Short Nominees

Currently the five Academy Award nominees for Live Action Shorts are screening at the Landmark Century Cinema in Chicago. These are brief reviews of each film followed by my “all important” endorsement for which one should take home the Oscar.

Asad (South Africa/United States) directed by Bryan Buckley. In a sentence: a 13 year old Somali boy named Asad is torn between the life of a fishing rowboat and a piracy motorboat. But that sentence is an injustice. Buckley's film is in the details, the way a band of youthful Somali pirates speeding off to hijack a luxury yacht is presented no differently than a New Yorker catching the G-train for work and the way walking in the street can suddenly and frighteningly flip on a dime to genuine terror. Yet, for all the hard knocks, this film is buoyant in spirit, feinting in one direction at the end before reversing course and going another. It's an odd resolution but also oddly perfect. Hope sustains.

Buzkashi Boys (Afghanistan) directed by Sam French. Gorging visually on the spectacular mountain imagery of Kabul, the longest of the five nominees (half-an-hour) is yet another variation on the age-old theme of dreaming the impossible dream. Young Rafi (Fawad Mohammadi) is fated to become a blacksmith like his father and his father before him and his father, etc. Rafi's homeless pal Ahmad (Jawanmard Paiz), on the other hand, harbors big dreams of being a Buzkashi rider - sort of an Afgahni twist on polo - and he presses Rafi to, you know, be whatever he wants to be. It's well-intentioned, sure, but over-executed, relying on a grandiloquent piece of plotting that doesn't feel earned, reducing one of its characters to a martyr rather than letting its primary Buzkashi Boy figure things out for himself.

Curfew (United States) directed by Shawn Christensen. Imagine if the Scoot McNairy misanthropic slacker of "In Search Of A Kiss Goodnight" teamed up with acts-older-than-she-is Summer Hathaway (Miranda Cosgrove) of "School of Rock" for a mini misadventure through the mean streets of NYC. In the midst of slitting his wrists, Richie (Christensen) is called upon by his in-dire-straits sister (Kim Allen) to babysit his niece, the precocious if ball-busting Sophia (Fatima Ptacek). This is a short that seems to have been based more on images - like a is-this-really-happening? bowling alley dance sequence that I suppose looks pretty - and ideas - like Richie screaming at two club-hopping gossips - than on evincing Sophia's ultimate, inevitable turn-around regarding her uncle. That it works is a testament to the fiercely honest Ptacek who delivers the finest performance of the nominated quintet. She is to Brooklyn what Hushpuppy was to the Bathtub.

Death of a Shadow (Belgium) directed by Tom Van Avermaet. The most visually innovative and narratively original of the lot, it also does a fine job parceling out information, hooking us initially on creepy imagery and a jittery performance from Matthias Schoenaerts as WWI soldier Nathan Rijckx. Eventually it is revealed, without revealing the entire gist of it, that this is the afterlife and Nathan is attempting to rejoin with the real world and his beloved Sarah (Laura Verlinden) by photographing the shadows of dead people. Tragedy inevitably awaits but the film is almost more focused on its look and its peculiarities than its emotional wallop. It's, well, a shadow of sacrificial love.

Henry (Canada) directed by Yan England. When my mom's mother, my last grandparent to pass away, was slowly fading away a couple years ago, she could, in the course of a single conversation, remember me, forget me, and remember me again. And my mom told me stories of her advising her caretakers over and over that she planned to escape through her window and go back home to Chicago, a city she had not lived in for years and years. It was an admittedly disconcerting glimpse into dementia and "Henry" attempts to give us another glimpse, crossing "Amour" with "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." We follow Henry as he struggles to follow his own thoughts, remembering, forgetting, jumping back and forth between present and past. It ends with a moment of brightness but it can't negate all the bleakness that came before.

And my "all important" endorsement goes to........."Asad." It didn't provide me the same level of joy as "Pentecost" did last year but its spirt and its window into Somalia left me quite satisfied.

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