Here are reviews of all 5 nominees for Best Live Action Short.
The story begins on the coast of Somalia. Teenage boys are loading boats with weapons and ammo. They are pirates. The film treats this as an unremarkable fact of life. The title character, Asad, isn’t quite old enough to participate, but he is eager to help. Asad wants to be like them, if only to help feed his family, but he is no villain. We know this because he is the only one that’s nice to the stubborn-old fisherman. He’s tried to fish but has terrible luck. It seems the world holds no place for him.
The rest of the film goes out of the way to show us how good Asad really is, and how this goodness will see him through. The tone is a little flat which means some scenes feel off. There are some parts that could have been lighter, and others that needed a punch. However, this means they don’t oversell the tragedy of the circumstance, which is nice. Life may be hard, but these are playful, happy, and most importantly, hopeful people. It doesn’t arrive at this point smoothly, but it does get there. A solid piece.
I did not care for this short. It’s about Rafi and Ahmad, two boys living in Kabul Afghanistan. Rafi lives modestly with his stern father while Ahmad lives as a beggar on the streets. Of course Rafi’s Dad doesn’t want Rafi having anything to do with Ahmad. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, except for the setting. The location is unique and serves as a striking backdrop.
One day the two sneak off to watch the Buzkashi. It’s like Afghan-polo but a goat carcass replaces the ball. Both swear when they grow up they’ll be great Buzkashi. Then a dumb character does a dumb thing with a dumb “tragic” result. Rafi reexamines his dreams and decides to live a boring life at the end of a boring movie. This is well made, but I just didn’t care. And the final message seems to be Afghanistan sucks, so give up now. That can’t be what they were going for.
A drug addict named Richie is halfway through his suicide when the phone rings. His estranged sister is desperate for a sitter and needs his help. Sure, why not? Richie is then saddled all night with Sophia, an uptight 4th grader. They argue, they bond, and they eventually heal old wounds. It’s a pleasant enough arc, and the story is told with an abundance of trickery and flash. A lot of it works, and I’m sure the director could make a cool music video. But this is a plot that requires less style and more nuance.
It doesn’t feel very genuine. From the put upon performances to the aesthetics, it comes off like someone’s idea of an emotional journey. It’s mimicking honesty. It does it well enough to get by, but I’m more interested in the real deal.
Yes that is Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead, Rust and Bone) looking 10-years younger with no beard and thin glasses. And no that’s not why this is my favorite short of the bunch (but it helps). Matthias is a dead WWI soldier working for a Death-like figure as a shadow photographer. He’s collecting people’s shadows just as they die to buy back his own. It’s a little complicated but visually it works and makes sense. I’m still unsure if the deaths are going to happen anyways or if he’s somehow changing history, but that’s a minor complaint for such a weird and original film.
Even in this small dose it’s clear why Matthias has become a European star. He’s terrific here and the camera really loves him. Some of the shadow effects are spotty, but they’re used in service of some great concepts. It’s like a steam punk Bergman. Okay, not that great, but more interesting and inventive than most.
If Amour was a dull thriller it might look like this. Henry is an elderly pianist. He goes to a café for lunch and runs into a familiar face. Things don’t feel right and he discovers he’s being watched. He rushes home to find his wife missing and mysterious figures take him away. Under the influence of drugs, Henry mind-jumps through the major moments of his life. One minute he’s meeting his wife for the first time, the next he’s welcoming a new baby. It plays like a suspense film ever so briefly before turning into a sad photo album.
I’m not sure how much of a surprise the ending is supposed to be considering how predictable the whole film was. Every reveal is telegraphed, and this kind of concept was done much better on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Yes, I went there. What keeps the movie bearable is the strong lead actor and the sturdy work behind the scenes. Otherwise, I felt very little.