Every year, the short film categories at the Academy Awards offer a vast and unique selection of worthwhile films from around the globe. A couple of weekends ago, I viewed the nominees from this year’s animated short film category, and it was a whole lot of fun. Today, I drove down once again to Salem Cinema, this time to view the nominees from the live action short film category. It was a diverse group of films from a talented group of filmmakers, and not a bad movie in the bunch.
Parvaneh. Dir. Talkhon Hamzavi. Switzerland.
The first nominee in the collection is Parvaneh, from Switzerland. The film follows young Afghan immigrant Parvaneh, as she travels to Zurich to send some money home. The film does a good job conveying the isolation and loneliness Parvaneh must feel, in this cold and big city. The two lead performances, by Nissa Kashani as Parvaneh and Cheryl Graf as the young street punk Emely, make the film. A charming, ultimately feel-good entry.
Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak). Dir. Hu Wei. China/France.
My favorite of the five nominated films is Hu Wei’s singular and enchanting Butter Lamp. The film tells its story, a photographer and his assistant take pictures of Tibetan villagers, in an inspired style: the entire film is one shot, like a picture inside of a frame. As the film progresses, different families and groups pose before the camera, are constantly ordered around by the photographer, and move in and out of the frame. The photographer and his assistant sometime move into the picture to adjust props or change the background (I couldn’t help but think the photographer in this film is like the director a film set). It doesn’t feel like a fiction film, it has the spontaneity of real life. I like the way Hu Wei subtly suggests the central theme: how technology works its way into every culture. Some of the villagers have never had their picture taken before (the highlight of the film is when a very elderly woman gets her photograph, and doesn’t know where to look). A great and unique short.
The Phone Call. Dir. Mat Kirby. United Kingdom.
Another brilliant short is the devastating The Phone Call starring the great Sally Hawkins as a shy volunteer at a crisis center. Most of the film centers on her phone conversation with a grieving man (terrifically portrayed by Jim Broadbent). The Phone Call is a showcase for these two acting powerhouses; in fact, Hawkins is so good it’s a shame there isn’t a category for best acting in a short film. A fantastic short.
Aya. Dir. Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun. Israel/France.
At forty minutes, the longest of the five nominees, Aya has a depth and richness that makes it feel like a feature film. Sarah Adler stars as Aya, a young woman at an airport who is mistaken for an assigned driver by Mr. Overby, played by Ulrich Thomsen. Amused by the confusion, she decides on a whim to go along with it. Humorous at first, the film becomes more dramatic as it goes along, as we begin to learn more about Mr. Overby and, finally, more about Aya. The chemistry between the two leads is palpable, and it creates more than one kind of tension in the film.
Boogaloo and Graham. Dir. Michael Lennox. United Kingdom.
Here’s your winner. This delightful and engrossing film, which takes place in Belfast in 1978, tells the story of two young boys who are given baby chicks by their father. The boys raise their pets, become vegans and aspire to become chicken farmers. All of this is set against the very real political backdrop of Northern Ireland during the Troubles. A sweet and memorable film.