Every year, the Academy Awards nominations come out, and people celebrate or jeer at what is and isn’t nominated. And then there are the short films categories that no one pays attention to: live action, animated and documentary.
The general public doesn’t always get a chance to see them, making them the wild cards for everyone’s ballot predictions by the time the Oscars roll around. But in the Binghamton area, The ART Mission and Theater screens some of the short films from the distribution company Shorts HD. Last weekend, the theater started screening the live-action short nominees. For those who want to make intelligent bets for Oscar Sunday, or for those who need the extra boost to go watch some short films, here’s the breakdown of the live action ones.
“Parveneh” (directed by Talkhon Hamzavi)
The first film in the program runs 25 minutes long and is probably my favorite of the five nominees. The title refers to the name of the lead character, an Afghani refugee living in Switzerland. Needing someone with a valid ID to send money to her sick father through Western Union, she meets a young Swiss woman. This is a beautiful story about the breaking down of culture barriers. Both central characters represent outsiders in society; one being a conservative Muslim and the other a rebellious teen. This shared connection is enhanced by the filmmakers’ ode to New Wave style. “Parveneh” is a wonderful slice of humanity.
“Butter Lamp” (directed by Hu Wei)
“Butter Lamp” is a French and Chinese co-production about a photographer who comes to a Tibetan village. The film, ostensibly shot through the lens of the camera used by the photographer, is a portrait of the intimate moments people have before the camera begins. With each family that comes through to get their picture taken, a different backdrop — ranging from the streets of Hong Kong to the Great Wall of China — is lowered behind the subjects. The advent of technology is juxtaposed with this old traditionalist village, where sacred cows are reported stolen. “Butter Lamp” is interesting in that way, but it would have worn out its welcome if it was any longer.
“The Phone Call” (directed by Mat Kirkby)
“The Phone Call” is the only feature with recognizable stars in America: British actors and Academy Award nominees (from previous years) Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent. This short is deceptively simple, and about a suicide hotline operator (Hawkins) dealing with a man (Broadbent) contemplating suicide after the death of his wife of many years. Its simplistic views on suicide and obvious pandering sullied my view on this film. It’s a portrait of sympathy rather than empathy. That said, both Hawkins and Broadbent do a marvelous job, especially Broadbent, who essentially has to act with only his voice.
“Aya” (directed by Oded Binnum and Mihal Brezis)
The longest feature, at 35 minutes, is “Aya,” an Israeli and French co-production. The film is about a woman who, from random happenstance, decides to pick up a random man at the airport, a judge of a classical music competition. For the next 25 minutes, the film is captivating. The film takes place mostly in the car ride from the airport to Jerusalem and has an Iranian New Wave quality to it, especially in the style of Abbas Kiarastomi’s films. The two leads just talk, and soon the slightest of hand touches becomes the most sensual thing I have seen in the past year. The film not only plays on the “Will They–Won’t They” dynamic, but it’s also about the potential consequences of “If They.” Although not my favorite, this is my pick to winning the award.
“Boogaloo and Graham” (directed by Michael Lennox)
The final film is also the shortest one. “Boogaloo and Graham” is set during the turbulent times of Ireland in the 1960s. It’s evident that Michael Lennox is a big Martin Scorsese fan, with his cinematic allusions to “Goodfellas” through the film’s tracking shots, narration and montages. The film is sweet and light, but disposable. The film makes allusions to the IRA and the turmoil happening at the time but it does not amount to much. It’s fitting that it’s the last short of the program, because it goes down like dessert.