Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review: Oscar-nominated short films: Live Action

La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak (Butter Lamp) -- The entirety of "Butter Lamp" takes place in front of a photographer's backdrop as he and his assistant take portraits of the people of the remotest reaches of Tibet. Occasionally they change the background to taste -- a famous palace, the Great Wall of China, and other schmaltzy scenes. Meanwhile the people in the foreground tell us much about themselves simply through their smiles and a little dialogue. The big news delivered by the mayor is of a missing yak. A sullen young man refuses to wear modern clothes and leaves in a huff. Eventually, business is conducted and something is revealed that is revelatory. A short, smart piece by Hu Wei.

Parvaneh -- A traditional Afghani girl living in Switzerland must travel to Zurich to wire money to her family for a relative's surgery. Despite barely speaking the language and feeling ostracized in a society suspicious of people from the Mideast, Parvaneh (Nissa Kashani) negotiates a foreign culture that seems bizarre and dangerous to her. Since her ID is invalid, she enlists the help of a local teen (Cheryl Graf), who at first seems tempted to take advantage of the situation. But they end up forming an unlikely bond. Talkhon Hamzavi's film is sensitive and observant.


The Phone Call -- Sally Hawkins gives a tender performance as Heather, a woman working a British crisis hotline who gets a call from "Stanley" (Jim Broadbent), an older man who has just taken a lot of pills and is overcome with despair. Lamenting the death of his wife, Stan and Heather form a bond in a matter of minutes, connecting over lost love and jazz music. Directed by Mat Kirkby, who also co-wrote the script with James Lucas, this is a film that doesn't offer a lot of surprises but does what it does with great craftsmanship and care.

Boogaloo and Graham -- Director Michael Lennox is a filmmaker born, who instinctively knows the rhythms and reveals of cinematic storytelling. Set in 1978 Belfast, this short concerns two Irish brothers whose dad gives them a pair of chicks, whom they dub Boogaloo and Graham, who soon turn into noisy, scratching chickens -- much to the consternation of their mum. It would seem things will come to a head, and they do, though in unexpected ways. Sun-dappled, bright and witty.

Aya -- An exercise in mood and character, "Aya" is about a chance encounter that somehow becomes deeper. A young Israeli woman (Sarah Adler) is waiting at the airport to pick someone up, when by happenstance she is mistaken for a driver there to transport a stranger. For some reason she agrees to take the fellow, a bookish Danish music researcher (Ulrich Thomsen), to his hotel. They begin a languid conversation that is at times profoundly uncomfortable and comfortably profound. She confesses that she feels closer to strangers than her loved ones, and he tells her never to follow her heart in life, because it will inevitably lead to regret. From directors Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis, a smart movie that eschews answers for provocative questions.

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