Short subjects have all but disappeared from regular movie theaters, yet there remains a substantial audience for these concise and sometimes overwhelming films.
This year’s Oscar-nominated animated and live-action shorts are less about conventional storytelling than about establishing a mood that sticks with us after the lights come on.
This year’s offerings mostly ignore the funny and frivolous in favor of brooding, insightful tales. That’s especially true of the animated program, where laughs are in short supply while very real human emotions dominate.
But if there is little Bugs Bunny zaniness here, the display of serious themes and visual beauty is capable of moving us in unexpected ways.
“Me and My Moulton” My rating: B+ (Canada; 14 minutes)
A grown woman recalls her childhood in Norway with two sisters and parents whose artsy eccentricities (for example, unstable three-legged dining room chairs) are a never-ending source of humiliation to their daughters.
The girls envy the utterly unremarkable family living below their apartment, especially the bicycles ridden by that family’s children. Mama and Papa finally agree to buy a bicycle, but not just any bike. It’s an English-made Moulton, a high-end contraption that guarantees the girls will never quite fit in.
Torill Kove’s film is filled with such specific detail you just know it’s based on fact, and the overall feel — childhood grievances viewed from the perspective of adulthood, seasoned with wry humor — makes it seem very real, despite deliberately crude animation that is just a few steps up from stick figures.
“Feast” My rating: A- (U.S.; 6 minutes)
Disney does it again. Patrick Osborne’s “Feast” is the story of a dog’s life.
He begins as a dumpster-diving puppy (think a younger version of “Lady and the Tramp’s” Tramp), and is rescued by a young man (whom we see mostly from the knees down) who shares with the doggie the man’s favorite foods — pizza, popcorn, meatballs, waffles … whatever.
But when the man falls for a woman, the dog’s eating habits change. The delicious junk food is replaced by … Brussels sprouts?
Initially our doggy hero is thrilled when the lady friend stomps out and his master empties the fridge for a massive binge. But it doesn’t take the canny canine long to realize just how miserable his owner is. It’s up to him to get these humans back together.
Remember the celebrated photo album sequence early in Disney’s “Up”? This short does pretty much the same thing, condensing an entire life into potent, emotion-filled images. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself reaching for a hankie.
“The Bigger Picture” My rating: B+ (U.K.; 7 minutes)
Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees’ film employs an unusual visual style — flat, hand-painted characters interacting with real 3-D environments — to tell a sobering yarn about parenthood, responsibility, and death.
Nick is a middle-aged man who serves as caregiver to his senile mother. While he gets the dirty job of spoon-feeding Mama and changing soiled bedclothes, his more outgoing brother Richard shows up only infrequently, preferring to concentrate on his gallivanting lifestyle.
Orchestrated to a twangy ’50s rock ’n’ roll guitar, “The Bigger Picture” paints (literally) a moving portrait of a situation most of us will inevitably experience. It could easily have been done as a live-action piece, but animation somehow allows the filmmakers to telescope the depicted events into a concise seven minutes.
“A Single Life” My rating: B (The Netherlands; 2 minutes)
A whole life crammed into a two-minute movie? Well, yes, in a way.
In “A Single Life” a young woman receives in the mail a 45-rpm record called “A Single Life.” Once it’s on the turntable and playing, she realizes that it has the power to alter time.
If she puts the stylus down at the beginning of the record, she finds herself a little girl. At other stages she’s a young pregnant woman, a mother, or an old lady in a wheelchair.
Dutch filmmakers Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins and Job Roggeveen offer a playful story (the computer animation mimics Claymation) with a “Twilight Zone” twist. Whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy is up to the individual viewer.
“The Dam Keeper” My rating: B (U.S.; 18 minutes)
Upon the death of his father, a child (a pig, actually) inherits the family duty of maintaining a huge dam that protects a town from being inundated by … water? smoke? black clouds?
Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi’s film follows our young dam keeper as he attends school, where because he’s a “dirty” pig he is ridiculed by the other children (who are sheep, bunnies, alligators, etc.)
At long last he strikes up a friendship with a new girl, a fox, and together they find escape drawing pictures that make fun of the other kids.
“The Dam Keeper” is sad and filled with unhappiness. But it is elevated by some spectacular visual effects — it looks like pastel drawings come to life, and contains some sublimely beautiful passages marked with astonishing lighting effects.
“Parvaneh” My rating B+ (Switzerland; 25 minutes)
Parvaneh (Nissa Kashani) is a young refugee living in a group home in Switzerland. Stymied in her attempts to wire money to her parents in Afghanistan (she lacks the proper government-approved ID), she asks for help from a teenage girl she encounters in the street.
With her deliberately torn hose, leather jacket and punky makeup, this Swiss miss (Cheryl Graf) is in full teen rebellion. At first she attempts to take advantage of the naive newcomer, then thinks the better of it and invites Parvaneh to spend the night at her family’s home. In the morning they’ll wire the money.
But first they have a party to go to. The sweet, clueless Parvaneh drinks from the spiked punch bowl and loses the money. The girls spring into action to recover the lost funds.
Despite a few tense moments, Talkhon Hamzavi’s film is sweet and hopeful in its depiction of the friendship growing between two radically different young women. And it has just the right dash of leavening irony to make all the disparate elements go down easier. Continue Reading »