Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Review: Oscar-nominated short films -- live action

Ave Maria

Five nuns in the West Bank are enjoying their evening meal in proscribed silence when trouble comes knocking -- literally. A family of Jews has crashed their car into their statue of the Virgin and need help. They're a stereotypical group of fast-talking folks who trade insults freely. The man blames his mother and her incontinence for the crash, which has come on the cusp of Shabbat, when Jews are not allowed to operate modern machinery. His wife hectors him mercilessly, and the elderly woman screams at them both. The nuns must break their vow of silence in order to offer help... reluctantly, at least at first. A funny and wry take on a volatile part of the world.


Just a stunning and powerful portrait of the Kosovo war from the perspective of two boys. Albanians living largely among Serbs, Oki (Andi Bajgora) and Petrit (Lum Veseli) must negotiate a difficult daily landscape of unclear loyalties. Their mountain landscape is gorgeous but often inhospitable. Petrit, big and bluff, takes to selling drugs to the Serbian soldiers. Oki, who has just bought a treasured bike after saving for a year, is doubtful of their trustworthiness. Things come to a head in a way filled with tragedy, and hopefulness. Writer/director Jamie Donoughue clearly has a future.


Matthew Needham is terrific as Greenwood, a young British man with a crippling stutter. He has long observant soliloquies inside his head -- narrated by Needham in a sonorous baritone -- but can barely communicate with the outside world. "Reclusive typography invisible to the naked eye, communication skills of an infant, excels in the art of self-pity." He's even learning sign language in order to avoid talking. Greenwood's been carrying on a six-month online relationship with a woman, Ellie (Chloe Pirrie), but when she comes to town and wants to speak face-to-face, he jumps down a rabbit hole of self-doubt. The ending's a little pat, but writer/director Benjamin Cleary understands character dynamics in tightly bookended spaces.

Alles Wird Gut (Everything Will Be OK)

In this disturbing drama from Germany, a divorced father picks up his 8-year-old daughter for a visitation trip. He seems normal and kind, but there are little signs of unease. Like the way the man fails to acknowledge the mother and stepfather. His dowdy little car contrasted to their sleek black BMW. The way he tells the girl to not speak around other adults as he goes about some errands – including obtaining an emergency passport for her. We know where this is heading, and are unsettled. This film can be very hard to watch, and deliberately so, but it’s well worth the time and emotional investment. The actors, Simon Schwarz and Julia Pointner, are just so heartbreaking and true.

Day One

An Arab woman, Feda (Layla Alizada), joins U.S. forces in Afghanistan as an interpreter in what will be the most momentous first day on the job imaginable. Her unit goes to arrest a suspected bomb-maker (Alain Washnevsky) but the man’s wife (Alexia Pearl) goes into labor. The baby is stuck in a breech birth, and since a man cannot touch her it is up to Feda to save the child and mother. Harrowing, intense and emotional, it’s a terrific single act of anguish. Director Henry Hughes, who co-wrote the story with Dawn DeVoe, carefully apportions the suspense and empathy.

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