Seeing these films that hardly anyone ever sees either before or after the Oscars has become a yearly ritual with us, since we began seeing them at the Academy Theater in Beverly Hills. Here in Portland they are shown at the non-profit Hollywood Theater. We both agreed that this year’s crop was not quite up to the high standards we have come to expect.
Bear Story (Historia de un oso) (Chile) (2014) (11 minutes) This is a charming vignette of a bear who has lost his wife and child. He is a mechanical genius, and has made a little box that tells his sad story. You look inside as he turns the crank, and the story unfolds in astonishing and heart-breaking detail. You can’t really tell these days if something is stop-motion or computer animated, but I’m pretty sure it is CGI.
Prologue (UK) (2015) (6 minutes) Here is a case of a tremendous amount of artistic talent devoted to a subject I didn’t think was worthy of all that effort. It is the only short we have ever seen where children had to be taken from the theater. It contains realistic male nudity and really disgusting violence. The message, of course, is anti-war, but it’s no fun to look at.
Sanjay’s Super Team (2015) (7 minutes) Every year Pixar seems to have an entry in this category, and much as I love Pixar, it seems a little unfair to me. I’m sure the creators are just as devoted to their idea as anyone else, but the fact is that most of these films were created on a tight budget and some took many years to complete. This is about a Hindu boy who doesn’t care much about the religious lessons his father is giving him, until he drifts off and sees these gods as super-heroes. Great to look at, but I didn’t like it much.
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Me ne mozhem zhit bez kosmoza) (Russia) (2014) (16 minutes) Two cosmonauts are in training, and only one gets selected to go into space. They are great friends; the one left behind is okay with it. But something goes wrong in space … and the film gets pretty metaphysical. This one didn’t appeal to me, either.
World of Tomorrow (USA) (2015) (17 minutes) My least favorite of the lot. It employs stick-figure art to tell a long and pretty pointless story of some strange future society. Thumbs down from me.
Here comes the envelope … and the winner should be: Bear Story.
I will admit a strong bias for short films that use wit and humor to tell their stories. For some reason, three out of the five this year are pretty damn bleak. Even hopeless. This is a very hard sell for me.
Ave Maria (Palestine, France, Germany) (2015) (15 minutes) The only one here that will make you laugh, and I laughed pretty hard. An observant Jewish family is stranded at a convent out in the middle of nowhere. The Sabbath has just begun, so the father can’t operate a telephone. The nuns have taken a vow of silence. They have to say twenty Hail Marys or something like that for each word they utter. The father won’t even let his family sip some water because it might have been contaminated with pork. The culture clashes between the two sets of stupid (in my eyes) religious requirements are hilarious. It’s only too bad there couldn’t be a Muslim involved, too, to highlight some of their idiotic customs. All this is done without being mean-spirited at all, even though the father comes off as quite the asshole.
Day One (USA) (2015) (25 minutes) A translator in Afghanistan is confronted with having to deliver a baby. There is a doctor present, but because of ridiculous Muslim customs (see the review above) not only can he not touch her, he can’t even be in the same room to see her. Here is a case where a stupid religion is actually life-threatening. I pretty much hated everyone in this picture, except the translator. Will barbaric customs like this never end?
Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut) (Germany, Austria) (2015) (30 minutes) A father picks up eight-year-old daughter for his bi-weekly visitation. All seems okay until we begin to see what’s going on. He visits an office to get an emergency passport. He has tickets to Manila. The bastard intends to kidnap the girl. But she manages to call her mother, and the police arrive. What follows is one of the most horrific, excruciating scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The motherfucker won’t let the girl go. “She is my life!” he shouts. In my opinion, parents like this are second in horror only to those who actually beat their children. He doesn’t love the girl. He sees her as his possession, an extension of himself. My hope is that, in the real world, the man would lose even his visitation privileges, and be enjoined never to come within a mile of his daughter.
Shok (UK, Kosovo) (2015) (21 minutes) The horrors keep coming. Here we have the ethnic cleansing that happened in the former Yugoslavia, not all that many years ago. The casual brutality is on a level with Nazi Germany. I just wanted to grab a machine gun and kill pretty much every adult wearing a uniform in this movie.
Stutterer (UK) (2015) (12 minutes) This one strives to be warm-hearted and feel-good, a welcome relief after a night of really stark short films, but it is almost undone because the ending is so easy to see coming. A young man works as a typesetter, and has a life online writing to a young woman. His secret, obviously, is that he has a terrible stutter. When he finally meets her, he discovers that she is deaf. It all comes off like one of those online commercials for soap or an insurance company. Well-intentioned, naturally, but not really all that good.
Let’s have the envelope please … and the one that should win is: Ave Maria. No real contest here.
February 28, 2016