Sunday, February 8, 2015

2015 Oscar Shorts:Live Action (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The 2015 Oscar Shorts: Live Action

With the Oscar Live Action Shorts, one can usually count on rich characters from around the world. This year's entries are no exception. Once again, the entries lean towards existentialism and haunt, but there is also no lack of comedy.

In Hu Wei's "Butter Lamp" from China, families from a Tibetan village are photographed with various backdrops. Sometimes they are in Disneyland, or an electronic market. At other times, the family members are under a banner of chairman Mao. During one scene, a grandfather is photographed in a sparkling leisure suit as a young boy almost strangles a yak. The film teases our perceptions, do we respond to the inhabitants differently when posed with alternate backdrops?

Next, from Northern Ireland, "Boogaloo and Graham" tell the story of two boys raising spunky baby chicks amid the harshness of the IRA. The violence of 1970s Belfast is touched upon with most of the momentum and energy going to these wisecracking brothers as they raise two ordinary chickens. With its cute and quirky repartee between father and son, it is a bit of The Little Rascals mixed with the natural realism of "In the Name of the Father." Although the most frivolous of the selection, it provides solid chuckles.

For some tense viewing from the UK, there is "The Phone Call" detailing a sad call at a crisis center. Sally Hawkins stars as a counselor who takes the call and actor Jim Broadbent is the presence on the other end. The receiver gets more and more absorbed by the strangely breaking yet energetic voice. The flavor of this film owes a debt to Michael Haneke of "Amour."

"Parvaneh" is an immigration themed drama about an Afghan teen (Nissa Kashani) who wants to send money to her sick grandfather by any means. The sheltered girl is tantalized by the neon glamour of cosmetics and western fashion, in addition to being befriended by a goth girl (Cheryl Graf) who takes her to a Switzerland rave party, but danger still lurks everywhere. Mascara only temporarily cloaks the uncertainty.  

Apprehension is alive and well in a most successful offering by Israel entitled "Aya" about a young woman (Sarah Adler) who decides to give a reserved music critic  (Ulrich Thompsen) a chauffeur ride, entirely by chance. While things start easily enough, Aya is keen to play an odd cat and mouse power play with her random passenger. The film's director Oded Binnun keeps us guessing, is she a sociopath or a fragile soul tired of routine. In its happenstance, playful quirkiness and mystery, this short clearly  outshines the others.

However, regardless of taste and preference, this year's shorts, true to form, offer something for every eye.

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