In my attempt to see all the Oscar-nominated films before stars begin walking those red carpets, I saw the five nominees for best live action short film. (Thank you, Shattuck Theatre, for screening these every year.) I feel so lucky to live in Berkeley, where I am able to see them.
The five films up for the award came from Tibet, Ireland, Switzerland, Israel, and the UK.
“The Phone Call,” from Great Britain had two big names in its cast. Sally Hawkins plays Heather, who works at a suicide hotline and talks to a distraught widower, voiced by Jim Broadbent. Heartbreaking and realistic, this film packs an emotional wallop. We listen to a man who feels there is nothing to live for and watch Heather, who is helplessly watching the clock, hoping to get the information she needs to send an ambulance to the suicidal man. As bleak as the subject matter is, the film does end with a life-affirming message.
Dave’s fave was the entry from China and France called “Butter Lamp,” directed by Hu Wei. This charming glimpse of a small Tibetan town is all shot from one camera angle as people move in and out of the frame. A traveling photographer shoots family portraits with a variety of cheesy fake backgrounds. Once all the photos are taken, the backdrops are rolled up, revealing the actual scenery—a breathtaking view of the Himalayas behind a road under construction that is sure to change life forever in this quaint hamlet.
“Boogaloo and Graham,” directed by Michael Lennox, features an Irish family in which the impulsive father brings home two baby chicks for his rather wild young sons. Full of good-natured (if somewhat immature) humor, this short was the most lighthearted of the nominees, although the threat that at any moment the chickens might become dinner gave it a slightly darker edge.
Set in Israel, “Aya,” directed by Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis, was quite engaging, mostly due to the actress who played the main character and the suspense that builds during the long car ride to Jerusalem. But there were too many unanswered questions for my taste, and the disappointing ending left me feeling as if the writer had run out of steam rather than bringing it to a satisfying conclusion.
Although we don’t know why the teenaged title character in “Parvaneh” is alone seeking asylum in the rural Swiss Alps and is responsible for sending money to her family in Afghanistan, it’s clear that she is in over her head and has very limited options. Directed by Talkhon Hamzavi, this film takes a few surprising turns as we watch Parvaneh take a train to Zurich and navigate unknown territory in her attempt to wire money via Western Union. But an unlikely friendship gives the film a hopeful twist that views humankind as more good than evil.
I enjoyed all five films—each deserves praise. But I think I was most taken with “Parvaneh,” if only because, as a mother, I worried about a young girl on her own in a strange city and I wanted to protect her.
Go see these wonderful short live action films if you get the chance!