While the Oscar-nominated animated shorts take a little time to pick up some momentum, most of these live-action nominees find a way to grab you immediately by introducing a mystery of some kind. One begins with a suicide attempt, another starts with a kidnapping, one features a man with a mysterious camera that can record shadows, and another opens with the striking image of children casually carrying around AK-47s. More than animated films, live-action short movies can provide a notice to audiences and studios that these are talented filmmakers worth putting on your radar.
Hit the jump for my reviews of the 2012 Oscar-nominated live-action short films: Henry, Asad, Death of a Shadow, Curfew, and Buzkashi Boys.
The movie begins with a clever opening where we see the eponymous protagonist kidnapped by shadowy figures, but then drifting between time and space. One moment, he’s in a strange facility, and the next moment he’s in a house in World War II meeting his wife. The plot device does an excellent joy of putting you inside Henry’s mind, and it brings the short to a moving conclusion that is slightly undermined by an unnecessary closing quotation.
The sentiment is nicer than the execution. The cast is comprised of Somali refugees and there’s a sweet story at the middle about the innocent protagonist breaking his streak of bad luck, but film’s conclusion and the lazy symbol of “hope” it finds feels corny and unearned. In the face of tragedy and the soldiers who ruin the meager lives of the Somali, the ending is unworthy of the real-life refugees who star in the short film.
DEATH OF A SHADOW
Death of a Shadow is excellent. The story involves a specter of death whose job is to take photographs of people as they die, and record their silhouettes at the moment of death so they can be put in a macabre gallery. If he takes 10,000 photos, he’s allowed to live again and be reunited with the woman he loves. Look out for writer-director Tom Van Avermaet because his visual style and tone here is astonishing. It’s a bit reminiscent of early Jean-Pierre Jeneut but with more organization. The short also shows off the range of lead actor Matthias Schoenaerts, who plays the lonely, lovelorn protagonist Nathan Rijckx. His work here is a far cry from his hulking, physical performances in Bullhead and Rust and Bone. Nathan is a sad, reserved character hiding behind his glasses and stuffed inside a bulky winter coat. I would love to see these two talents reunite on a feature film.
Curfew is an important reminder of the old adage: “You can’t judge a screenwriter by Abduction.” The writer-director-star of Curfew is the same Shawn Christensen who wrote the panned Taylor Lautner film, and this short film makes us realize, “Whoo. That screenplay must have gotten fuuuucked on the way to the big screen.” This short film isn’t a revelation, and it’s a tad on the sappy side, but it’s well-directed, well-acted, and quickly sets up a protagonist you care about with a nice hint of dark humor. It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on Christensen when it comes to intimate, character-based dramas.
Buzkashi Boys is easily the weakest of the five nominees. To a greater extent than Asad, it feels like the Academy wanted to nod to poorer countries and their cultures, and chose shorts that are made more “emotional” by their child protagonists. The cloying story has the eponymous boys Ahmad (Jawanmard Paiz) and Rafi (Fawad Mohammadi) eager to become Buzkashi riders (i.e. cool professional athletes), but only Ahmad has the courage to follow his dream while Rafi feels resigned to becoming a blacksmith like his father. The story heads in a maudlin direction with a final shot that could be repurposed for ad where you can pay 10 cents a day to help an impoverished 3rd-world child not die. The short’s only strength is Paiz, who acts with a maturity beyond his years, which is fitting since Ahmad has to survive on his wits and strength alone. If only the rest of the short were as strong as its young star.