OSCAR NOMINATED LIVE ACTION SHORTS My rating: B+ (Opening Feb. 1 at the Tivoli)
Rijckx (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a young man who roams the city streets in a khaki World War I-era greatcoat while toting a bizarre camera. His job is to take pictures of shadows. More specifically, his work involves going to the locale of strange and bizarre deaths, waiting until through his camera lens he can see the death re-enacted by…well, ghosts, I guess…and then take his “photos” to a Collector of Shadows (Peter Van Den Eede) who lives in a mansion with an endless hallway lined by thousands of shadowy portraits of individuals at the moment of their deaths.
Apparently Rijckx has been doing this for decades. Long enough, anyway, to have captured 10,000 of these images. The Collector notes that having reached this magic number, Rijckx can either return to normal life or continue his work with the camera.
Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen DCe Waele’s film takes our moody hero back to an encounter with a madwoman (Laura Verlinden); now he will try to undo the tragedy which drove her over the edge.
Okay, that’s a clumsy explanation of an eerie, weirdly poetic film. But this haunting short will stick with you.
“HENRY” (Yan England / Canada / 21 minutes)
We first see the aged Henry (Gerard Poirier) sitting at a piano, playing a beautiful piece. He then calls out to his wife (she must be in another room) that he’s going out. At a sidewalk cafe Henry encounters a woman (Marie Tifo) and suddenly finds himself abducted by men in black.
He awakens strapped to a bed in some sort of prison or hospital. The woman is there, probing his memories, particularly his memories of life with his wife, a fellow musician whom Henry met while serving in World War II.
Our protagonist is confused, alarmed, yet determined to escape and get to the bottom of this mystery.
Savvy viewers will probably figure out early on what Henry’s dilemma is all about, but that hardly matters, given the achingly emotional coda on which Yan England’s French-language concludes. Devastating.
“CURFEW” (Shawn Christensen / USA / 19 minutes)
“BUZKASHI BOYS” (Sam French and Ariel Nasr / Afghanistan / 28 minutes)
Rafi (Fawad Mohammadi) works in his father’s blacksmith shop in wintry Kabul, Afghanistan. He hates the drudgery and would much prefer to hang out with his orphaned pal Ahmad (Jawanmard Paiz), a street urchin who lives by his wits.
Both friends are obsessed with Buzkashi, the Afghan national sport, a sort of tribal version of polo in which skilled riders try to make a goal not with a ball, but with the headless corpse of a freshly-killed goat. Ahmad, a born risk taker, swears he’ll find a way to get his own horse so that he, too, can be a Buzkashi player.
Shot on the streets of Kabul (the footage of a real Buzkashi contest, played out in a snowstorm, is spectacular), “Buzkashi Boys” feels absolutely authentic. And the performances of the two boys are remarkable, with Paiz perfectly capturing a sort of Artful Dodger eagerness and Mohammadi employing his soulful, haunted eyes to suggest Rafi’s desperation at being caught between romantic dreams of escape and his far more sobering reality.
“ASAD” (Brian Buckley / South Africa / 18 minutes)
Asad (Harun Mohammed) lives in a coastal Somali village and dreams of being a pirate.
Literally. His older friends go out to sea each day with rifles and rocket launchers, stopping passing ships and holding the crews for ransom.
Though he protests that he’s ready for action, Asad is too small and too young for these adventures. Instead he is apprenticed to an aged fisherman (Ibrahim Moallim) who predicts that someday Asad will return with a catch unlike anything anyone in the village has ever before seen.
Meanwhile our young hero must try to negotiate his way around the armed and triggerhappy rebels that frequent the village.
“Asad” finds tragedy and absurdity in a loose riff on “The Old Man and the Sea.” The players are nonprofessionals, and it sometimes shows.
But technically “Asad” is a small wonder, with cinematography and editing that captures an off-the-cuff, captured-on-the-fly feel reeking of authenticity. And the musical score by Lebanese oud virtuoso Marcel Khalife (the oud is a sort of Middle Eastern guitar) is nothing short of spectacular.
| Robert W. Butler