Ian Berke reviews movies in San Francisco, California.
A few theaters are screening the Oscar nominated short live action and animated films. A total of five in each category. Short films are defined as those less than 30 minutes, some much shorter. In the past few years, the live action films have been the strongest, but this year the documentaries are phenomenal. Still, the live action films are strong, but the animateds, while good, fall short of last years.
The first live action film, Helium (Denmark), tells the story of a janitor at a children's hospital who befriends a dying young boy. The boy is lonely, and the janitor, noticing the toy dirigibles hanging from his hospital room ceiling, tells him stories about a place called Helium. There people live in houses that are floating in the air and where sick kids go to get their strength back. The boy knows that he will die and is understandably frightened. But he is fascinated by dirigibles, which become an important symbol in this very sweet but not maudlin story. There is a quiet power to this film, and it was my favorite. Not sure it will win, but it will certainly earn a place in your heart.
The Voorman Problem (UK) is a wonderfully quirky story of a new prison psychiatrist who has been called in to deal with a prisoner who believes he is God, and is causing serious problems in the prison. The doctor arrives, talks to the warden, who is worried, and meets the prisoner. And begins a life changing conversation and a very strange story. Just Before Losing Everything (France) is a dark thriller with a mother of two young children, working in a large super store, trying to secretly leave her abusive husband. I have rarely seen a film with such tension, high to begin with, and continues. No one will forget this film.
That Was Not Me (Spain) is a very dark story of two doctors attempting to help in a dangerous area in Africa and the unexpected consequences, then and years later. The doctors are going to help treat people in an area caught in tribal and militia warfare, when events spin out of control. There are some violent scenes here but this is a very accomplished film with nearly unbearable tension and frightening images. Almost as an antidote to the two previous films, Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (Finland) is a humorous vignette of a family sleeping late and rushing to avoid missing a wedding. Very short but very funny, and impossible to imagine in an American setting.
The five animated shorts are imaginative but with very different techniques. Get a Horse (USA) is a Disney entry that mixes an early Mickey Mouse cartoon with the latest technique. Mr Hublot (France) is set in some future city that resembles fin de siecle Paris yet with steam punk trappings. It is populated by robots, one of which is Mr Hublot, who one day sees an abandoned robot puppy. This is very wry, cute take on loneliness and humanity. Feral (USA) is a much darker tale of an abandoned child who is rescued from wolves by a hunter. The hunter brings the boy home and begins to civilize him. The film really focuses on the conflict between "civilization" and the wild with an ghostly-animated technique that is stunning. Possessions (Japan) uses a very Japanesque animated technique and palette to show the story of an 18th Century traveler through a forest who takes shelter from a storm in a tiny inn. It has a distinctly psychedelic quality as he encounters old objects that have a life of their own. Room on the Broom (UK) is an immensely charming tale of a witch and her cat, who have a series of adventures, and begins to pick up hitchhikers. Beautifully adapted from a children's book. And finally two very short films, including the tale of an errant blue umbrella, both very imaginative.
Fortunately the live action and animated shorts are playing widely (unlike the documentaries), including at the Embarcadero, the Rafael, the Shattuck, and other screens. Running times: live action, 98 minutes; animated, 73 minutes. Note that Opera Plaza (San Francisco) will begin screening the documentary shorts tomorrow, for at least a week. Good alternative for those who don't want to drive to Marin or Berkeley. But all three of these series are worth a drive. You will see just how much greatness can be delivered in small, short packages. Ciao, Ian