Such timely subjects as immigration, racism and oppression are tackled in the live action category of this year’s Oscar Nominated Short Films, which open along with the Animated Shorts Friday in the Triangle. Luckily there’s some love, charm – and even some dancing – to lighten the load of the two hour and ten minute live action program. The animated nominees, shown separately, also have their fair share of darkness and light, but at 86 minutes they are a much brisker batch.
Sélim Azzazi’s “Ennemis intérieurs” (English title: “Enemies Within”) presents a tense interrogation scene between a French police officer (Najib Oudghiri) and a French-Algerian man (Hassam Ghancy) set during Algeria’s brutal civil war in the 1990s. The interrogator is looking for ties to terrorism, but his subject refrains from naming names. The half hour French short hits home in this current climate of fear.
Timo von Gunten’s Swiss-French production “La femme et le TGV” (English: “The Railroad Lady”) feels like a breath of fresh air in contrast to the previous short. It concerns a lonely old lady (veteran actress/singer Jane Burkin) who has an odd relationship with a TGV train conductor. It’s odd because they never meet in person; she waves at his train as it passes through her village every day. The film may be a bit overly sentimental, but it has a feel-good charm.
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Aske Bang’s “Silent Nights” is another seasonable selection, as it depicts an illegal immigrant from Ghana (Prince Yaw Appiah) having an affair with a volunteer at a housing shelter (Malene Beltoft) with the backdrop of Christmas in Copenhagen. With its honest portrayal of poverty and prejudice, Bang’s American-made short may be the most affecting of the live action offerings, and it just may have enough grit to get Oscar gold.
Kristóf Deák’s “Mindenki” (English title: “Sing”) has its emotional merits as well. Set in Budapest, the Hungarian production stars the 10-year-old Dorka Gáspárfalvi as Zsófi, a dutiful student who joins her school’s award-winning choir, but is told by her manipulative instructor (Zsófia Szamosi) not to sing, but to mime along to the other girls’ vocalizing.
Juanjo Giménez’s “Timecode” caps the live-action program. This 15-minute vignette about two parking lot security guards (Lali Ayguadé and Nicolas Ricchini) who, while working their shifts, watch and try to match security camera footage of each other’s dance routines. It’s a likable piece of flirty fluff.
“Borrowed Time” is a 7-minute Western made by Pixar animators Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj – but it’s not a Pixar production. It crafts striking imagery of an endless golden desert, as it tells the tale of a grizzled sheriff haunted by childhood memories of a wagon wreck that killed his father. It sounds like dark stuff and it is, so don’t expect a crowd-pleaser.
Theodore Ushev’s “Vaysha l’aveugle” (English: “Blind Vaysha”) is even darker, using Medieval drawing-inspired aesthetics that can get pretty creepy. The 8-minunte Canadian production is about a girl born with a left eye that only sees the past and a right eye that only sees the future, and is therefore blind to what’s happening now. How this plays out is depressing.
Patrick Osborne’s “Pearl” could be considered an extended music video because it features a song that carries the narrative through the passage of time. Told from the perspective of the passenger seat in a hatchback, the short is about the lives of a hippy father (Kelley Stoltz) and his daughter’s (Nicki Bluhm) from her childhood to her teens. The animation style is that of a hazy dream, and the catchy tune delights.
Robert Valley’s “Pear Cider and Cigarettes,” at 35 minutes, is the longest of the bunch – and the least animated. It resembles the panels of a sordid graphic novel only slightly brought to life by cuts and overlays. Nonetheless it’s a swiftly vivid ride through some hip Hunter S. Thompson-type self destruction.
Alan Barillaro’s “Piper,” Pixar’s entry, has been seen more than the others because it was shown before “Finding Dory.” This may be Pixar’s year, as “Piper” is a thoroughly delightful addition to their extraordinary canon. Its breathtakingly sharp focus on a baby sanderling learning how to find oysters is a joy, and it makes the magical most of its brief (6 minute) running time.
Note: The Carolina Theatre will also show Oscar-nominated documentary shorts.