The United States was shut out of the Live Action Short Film race this year. However, there is no lack of diversity, drama or humor in this year’s nominees. Here’s the bullet for those of you who are still agonizing over you Oscar picks for the office pool.
On The Line (Germany / Switzerland)
Rolf, a less than average security guard in a department store. He spends much of his days, catching petty thieves and watching the store’s video monitors which survey the entire corner of the store. But Rolf is less interested in catching crooks and more interested in watching Sarah, the petit, friendly book clerk. He crafts his day about taking a break to buy a book when she is at the register, and leaving just early enough so that he can coincidentally catch the same subway train as her each night. His love for her is intense but unspoken, and therefore unrequited.
One day she boards the train with a man, laughing, completely unaware that he is there, in his usual seat. It only takes two stops for Rolf to become insanely jealous, and for a fight to erupt between the couple, ending in Sarah exiting the train exasperated. It does not take long for a trio of hooligans to descend on the singular despondent prey. Deciding the boyfriend probably does need to be taught a lesson, Rolf does nothing to help him. When the harassment escalates to a physical beating, Rolf simply gets off the train, allowing the brutality to play out to whatever conclusion fate preordained. However, the consequences of his inaction prove devastation, and potentially destructive to any chance he may have at a relationship with Sarah, and to his conscience. (27 minutes.)
New Boy (Ireland)
Joseph is the new boy in class. Although he is not he only brown child in the elementary school class, he will have to go through the rights of passage, which happens to be in the form of one class upstart Christian Kelly and his wingman Seth Quinn. His one unwitting ally is class tattle tale Hazel; it is help that Joseph is slow to decide if he wants.
Throughout this first day, Joseph reflects on how different this classroom is from the classes and teacher from his native country. Accented with music that is at times whimsical, and at times eerie, the flashback are a happier time and place where Joseph loved learning so much that he stayed after and chatted with his instructor; a practice that most likely landed him in this more modern, more illustrious school.
As the new teacher wailing, determined to have complete control over her class, and the specter of his impending showdown with Christian looms ominously, it slowly becomes apparent to Joseph that this new school is not so different from his last, nor any other school. It’s getting past the first day that’s a killer. (11 minutes)
The setting is Nazi Germany. Six-year-old Heinrich, a little German boy, is determined to go with his Jewish friend and piano partner David. He has been told there is a train and people are going to Toyland. And he had decided he will make it onto that train to Toyland where the teddy bears stand as tall as he himself does.
Meanwhile a mother is searching frantically through the ghettos looking for her son, Heinrich. She is mistaken several time for Jewish and cursed verbally by German officials, who immediately turn around and help her in her search as soon as she produces papers to prove that she is indeed German. Will Heinrich make it to toyland? Will his mother find him before he makes his way onto one of the trains filled with Jews?
Toyland is not what you are expecting. The short is chocked full with images and a very subtle manipulation of time that don’t quite register in just one viewing. It is an impressively intense drama for a film of its length. (14 minutes)
The Pig (Denmark)
Mild mannered, upper-aged Asbjorn is checking into the hospital due to problems with his butt. His doctor had planned to remove an abscess in his rectum. But of course, as they always do once they get you in the hospital, the test results found another problem. His hospital stay will be longer than expected and the prospect of Cancer rears it’s ugly head. But Asbjorn is surprisingly calm about this series of events because he has found a guardian angel. His hospital room is large and bare, save for a single painting of a pig in mid-leap hanging on the wall. The sight of pig makes him happy, comforted, even hopeful.
So when Asbjorn wakes from his surgery, imagine his horror to find the pig has disappeared. His nurse explained that his new roommate, the patient that has arrived during his sleep did not want to see it and requested it be taken away. From that point on, no one seems to care about how much Asbjorn cared about that pig painting. When he exhausts all reasonable measures from his bed, he is left with no choice but to call his Mona: his doting daughter and quite capable lawyer.
Manon on the Asphalt (France)
The beautiful French short begins with a brief peak into the lives of half a dozen people, at work, cooking, living. We settle in Manon, a dark-haired beauty as she mounts her bike and makes her way through the city. Content, carefree, ordinary. Flying as she turned the corner, into a flash of bright light.
When the world cones back, Manon is sprawled in the middle of a city street, immobile after being hit by a car. And her mind gives voice to her thoughts: about the strangers that gather around her, about her awareness of what has happened and what will happen. She anticipates, and we watch, as the news of her accident spreads to the people in her life.
If you know that Manon is a French name, then the title will mostly be a dead giveaway (please pardon the pun). This film is a bittersweet allegoric reflection of a young woman’s life for the last time. It’s bittersweet because it is almost optimistic and joyful. There are no tears in this film. The remembrance is completely devoid of pain or fear, only regret; and even those moments amount to a few.
Manon on the Asphalt is the only entry this year that I would call a traditional art film. The language of the film is quite musical, from the text to the living camera work to the intelligent yet emotional editing. This film is not concerned with dangling the “what will happen next” hook in front of the audience. This film is concerned only with provoking a visceral experience of journeying with Manon as she revisits how she left the world and envisions how the world will go on without her.
I retract that. Perhaps the goal of the filmmakers is the challenge: When you see your whole life flash before your eyes, will you mourn or will you celebrate? (15 minutes)
Prediction: And my favorite and best bet: The Pig. The protagonist is the same age as the voting majority of the Academy. The humor is random and genuine. It is a very simple, human story, yet brilliantly understated in its timely and poignant message. It makes a huge statement about getting along with your “neighbors” and being respectful with people who are different from ourselves.
The complete program of Shorts both Animated and Live Action are playing in select theaters. For more information about theaters and showtimes, please visit the websites below.