Live-Action Short Films (2014 Academy Award Nominees)
I attended a special screening of the five live-action short films nominated for this year’s Oscars.
Allow me to tell you a little bit about them.
It doesn’t matter that you probably won’t ever see any of these movies. Which is a shame. You may not even be interested in the subject matter. You might think these “little” movies are good only for light entertainment and escapism rather than to gain awareness and insight into our world.
I used to believe that, too.
Short films differ from regular movies for a number of reasons. First, they’re usually a truer reflection of the storyteller’s vision, because budgets are small and “there aren’t as many cooks in the kitchen,” as one low-budget filmmaker put it. Furthermore, short movies have to jolt you quickly. There’s no time for many stories or character development. Conflict is almost immediate and pronounced. This often makes live-action shorts intensely powerful and moving. Third, most short films are created in places other than Hollywood, which gives audiences a much wider (some would say more authentic) portrayal of the subject matter.
The lasting impression this year’s Oscar-nominated five short films left upon me was compelling, albeit in different ways. I’d like to try and convey my emotional reactions to each film, as well as the audience’s general response (the screening I attended included about 100 viewers). My intent isn’t to rehash the stories as to make a case that these “different” kinds of films should be much more widely seen and celebrated rather than largely ignored, which is now too often the case.
Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)
This 30-minute film comes from Spain. It’s the story of two doctors (romantically-linked — we’re uncertain if they are girlfriend-boyfriend or husband-wife) who travel to an unidentified war-torn country in Africa on an international relief mission.
The couple has a higher calling to help humanity and bravely ignores the dangers around them until finally, the odds catch up with them, and they’re taken captive by a band of rebels.
The ragtag army of African revolutionaries is well-armed and dangerous. The band of rebels includes several children, some perhaps 10 or 11 years old. For the record, this portrayal of upheaval in some African countries is entirely authentic, making this especially tragic and powerful.
The warlord works his small army into a frenzy and demands that one of his boy soldiers shoot one of the doctors, who is innocent of any crimes. The boy is conflicted about what to do. However, the pressure of being prodded by peers and the incessant screaming of the evil warlord to “be a man” is too much to resist. The small boy murders the male doctor in cold blood.
This leaves a sobbing and hysterical female doctor alone to face the mob. She is raped by the warlord. However, in the midst of the chaos, the African army in power launches an attack on the village and kills most of the rebels. At the end of the carnage, the only two people remaining alive are the female doctor and the young boy who committed the murder.
Here’s where the movie is intensely emotional and even heroic. The sobbing woman brandishes a handgun and has captured the boy, who is now handcuffed as her prisoner. She’s pressed to exact her revenge and blow the young boy’s head off with a single gun blast. But somehow she shows extraordinary restraint and decides to allow the boy to accompany her back to the front lines, where they will eventually both end up in Spain, reflecting back upon these excruciating and trying times.
There’s a flash-forward to an African man in the current day speaking in front of a teary-eyed college class, talking about the awful things he did as a boy militant. He speaks about the horror of that first killing but relates how easy evil becomes once it’s practiced and perfected.
Back in Africa, we return to the moment when the woman and the young boy are together and the monumental decision she now faces — getting revenge versus allowing for the potential for redemption. And this becomes a supreme act of great courage. Not killing. But struggling to find the potential for good within evil. She resists the urge to kill the boy for a more noble purpose. She brings the boy to her native Spain where his life is entirely transformed, which leaves a lasting lesson for us all.
Mesmerizingly violent, yet also full of inspiration and hope. I predict this film will win the Oscar.
Avent Que DeTout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)
This film is from France and runs for about 27 minutes.
It’s about a woman with two teenage children who leaves her abusive husband. She goes to her workplace — a supermarket along with her children in order to escape the terror. However, the husband follows her in pursuit.
The film contains no violence, but there’s a prevailing fear throughout the story of what will happen if the abuser manages to catch up with the woman. In some ways, that fear is worse. She’s finally had enough of the pain he’s caused and decides she must leave her job and abandon the town in order to start a new life someplace else.
This film is purposefully watchable because it shows the drudgery of what it must be like for these innocent victims, not just the physical and emotional bruises inflicted from abuse, but going through all the petty obstacles of trying to leave those memories behind and start anew.
The film ends in a brilliant fashion. Absolutely stunning final scene.
The woman and her two children seem to have escaped the beast. They climb into a relative’s car in the parking lot, which has come to rescue and take them away to safety. Just when it seems the car is about to speed away and the mother and children are safe, the beast’s car comes into focus and lines up on the road behind them. The film ends.
This is a poignant reminder that abusive relationships often have infinite timelines. Innocent victims always have terror and painful memories in the rear-view mirror.
This is a 23-minute film from Denmark that left everyone in the theater in tears. It was wonderful.
A young boy, perhaps 8- or 9-years-old, lies dying in a hospital ward. His condition is terminal.
The boy loves balloons, the kind which takes people up towards the heavens. His hotel room is decorated with giant balloons and models of airships.
A new janitor is hired by the hospital. He meets and comes to know the boy as a friend. He learns of the boy’s hopeless condition and fabricates an extraordinary fantasy to help the boy deal with the inevitable. He tells the boy helium is a magical power that carries the departed up into the sky. With each visit, the janitor relays a new chapter of how helium works and as the boy weakens physically, somehow his inner spirit grows.
As his condition deteriorates, the boy gets moved to a restricted area in intensive care. The janitor isn’t permitted into this area. The boy cries that he needs to know the rest of the story and how helium works. The janitor risks his job to see the boy one final time, gets caught, and is fired. But before leaving the hospital, he sneaks into the ward once again to share the final chapter of his story with the boy and provides instructions on what awaits him at the end of life.
By the film’s end, the boy is no longer afraid.
Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
This is a 7-minute film from Finland.
It’s a madcap comedy with a remarkable number of laugh-out-loud moments, given its short run time.
This is a day of hell for a Helsinki family that’s supposed to attend a wedding. Everything goes wrong and then some. They’re running late. They forget things. They dress inappropriately. Their clothes get soiled. They miss the bus. Then, they show up at the wrong place and the wrong time.
Hysterically good. An amazing movie considering how much of a punch is delivered in just a few minutes. The entire audience was laughing from start to Finnish.
The Voorman Problem
This is a 13-minute film from England.
It’s about two characters — a visiting prison psychiatrist and an inmate, who is absolutely convinced he’s a god. Making matters worse, all the other prisoners believe the man confined in a straightjacket, named Voorman, is a deity. The psychiatrist gets called in to diagnose the man and possibly get him transferred to a mental asylum.
Much of the movie is a face-to-face dialogue between psychiatrist and prisoner. However, we gradually come to realize the inmate might actually be a god. While in captivity he performs a miracle, making the entire nation of Belgium disappear.
The prisoner explains, as a god, he gets “bored.” So, he spends most of his days going around the world getting into mischief to amuse himself. Mankind has become little more than a collection of pawns in god’s chess game.
There’s a great twist at the end, which I’ll leave hanging.
Funny and thought-provoking.