2015 Oscars – Live Action Shorts

Here are reviews of all 5 nominees for Best Live Action Short.

Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak)

Butter Lamp feels like it barely qualifies as fiction. It’s comprised of a series of single takes. In each take, a photographer sets up various group portraits in some remote part of Tibet. I doubt the people posing for the photos are actors. Without the final shot pushing in to stamp the film’s thesis, there would be little else to indicate this wasn’t a documentary. But within this unique formal structure the film forces you to consider what the filmmakers are trying to say about these photos, about these people. It’s about technological progress and what we lose when the future arrives. We see it with such an out of reach culture and how they act in front of the lens. It’s not revelatory or anything, but a nice change-up to the usual pitfalls of short filmmaking.

The Phone Call

The Phone Call has star power and established talent in the form of Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent (in voice only). But all this film does is remind you how great those two are, even when the material is awful. Hawkins is a woman working at a crisis call center when a suicidal widower, Broadbent, rings looking for help. Remember those pitfalls I spoke of? Well this one falls into many of them. It’s 10 minutes too long, it forces a too cute button along with trite music, and the whole thing is cloying without knowing why it exists or what it wants to say. It’s baffling and boring.

Parvaneh

Parvaneh is my favorite of the nominees. It starts out a little slow because it feels like it’s going to be a different kind of film at first. But it soon switches gears and gets more interesting. Parvaneh is the name of a young Afghan refugee working in Switzerland. When she tries to send money home for her sick father she’s denied because of her status. When a local girl her age agrees to help, it kicks of a night of misadventures. It’s full of the usual lessons learned, how we’re different but really all the same etc. But it’s well realized with fine performances and a deft touch. It also ends exactly where it should. It says what it has to say and avoids indulging in any tragedy or demeaning itself for cheap sentiment.

Boogaloo and Graham

Boogaloo and Graham is a confusing mess of tones. Using ’70s Belfast as its backdrop, the filmmakers share a story about a gentle father giving his two sons baby chicks to raise. It’s presented as one of those throwback stories of better days with long hair and funny clothes but days that made us the way we are today. Being a short, they only opted for one pop song. But there’s also a bit of melancholy under the surface and considering the setting you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. When it does, it only sort of does, so why use this moment in history to tell this story? It’s fine overall but that choice feels arbitrary to the point of distraction.

Aya

I really just want to type “Ugh!” and be done with this one. Aya is 40 minutes of interminable nothingness. It thinks it’s doing some kind of Linklater or Kiarostami riff but this is drawn out and boring filmmaking. It begins with a slightly interesting conceit. Aya is waiting at the airport when she ends up picking up a total stranger after being mistaken for a professional driver. Cut to 40 minutes of driving with preposterous conversations, awkward silences, and even more awkward sexual chemistry. What the extra time adds to the atmosphere it loses in narrative drive (and whatever remained of my attention span). Why does Aya do this? Is there something lacking in her everyday life? And what about this guy she’s picked up? Does anyone care? Not at this tempo. Every 5 minutes I found myself uttering, “Who cares?” over and over. It’s not good.

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