Saturday, February 16, 2008

Academy Award Nominated Shorts - Live Action

The Academy Award Nominated Short Subjects (both animated and live action) are in limited distribution around the country this week, from Magnolia Pictures. Luckily, they are screening at the Landmark Midtown Arts, here in Atlanta! As you should know, there are five nominees in each category, so it is a combined program of ten shorts. The animated portion lasts approximately 90 minutes, which I recapped here. Forebodingly, the live action portions lasts two hours and 20 minutes. I have this pet peeve about the running time of short subjects. Technically, anything under an hour is a short subject. However, for my taste, and possibly due to a semester concentrating on the exceptionally pithy and surprising O'Henry stories, anything running over 25 minutes is either an under developed full length feature or a short subject in need of some editing. Most, if not all shorts, are presented as part of a program. So as that "revolving door" of pieces begins, one lasting a half hour typically stalls the program. There are exceptions to the rule, but I can't think of any off the top of my head. I bring this up because three out of the five nominees run more than thirty minutes. It made for a long afternoon. In presentation order:

TANGHI ARGENTINI (dir. Guido Thys, Belgium, 13 minutes, 2007, French w/ English subtitles) For my taste, this was the best of the bunch! Excellently written and paced as our hero enlists an office colleague to teach him the tango to prepare for a blind date. The film is filled with some truly gifted character actors who do not even need dialogue to fill their roles with a rich, emotional history. Director Guido Thys creates simple yet effective visual gags, while keeping the humanity of his characters intact, for an exceptionally rewarding finale. A lovely little piece that I'd love a copy of!

AT NIGHT (OM NATTEN) (dir. Christian E. Christiansen, Denmark, 40 minutes, 2007, Danish w/English subtitles) This would be the one exception to the rule in this group of exceptionally long short subjects. The story is bleak. Very bleak. Three women spend the holidays in a cancer ward. Christiansen creates a cold, sterile and nearly frozen atmosphere in which the women are cut off from the outside world. The three of them are impressionistically caught in their own bubble. They seem to have no one else with whom to share their difficulties and lives. It is an effective poetic reference to the isolation that trauma can create. The performances are all understated in that Denmark-acting-method way (think Dogme 95), but it only makes you want to delve into them even more. A special and unique little piece that flew by considering its forty minute length.

IL SUPPLENTE (THE SUBSTITUTE) (dir. Andrea Jublin, Italy, 17 minutes, 2007, Italian w/ English subtitles) A raucous and joyful seventeen minutes of a substitute teacher's startling and mesmerizing effect on a class of high school students. It's a subversive "Mary Poppins"-like story of transformation through the most outlandish means. At times sadistic but never without heart, the substitute takes the children's "roles" into a pressure cooker to break them open. Well, almost all of them. He learns as much from one of them as he hoped to teach them, in a fabulous and completely off the wall twist. LOVED it!

THE TONTO WOMAN (dir. Daniel Barber, United Kingdom, 36 minutes, 2007) This definitely falls into the category of a short that wants to be a feature. The pacing may be realistic to the period, but I found it nearly painful to get through. Though the performances by Francesco Quinn and Charlotte Asprey are quite commendable, there is a great deal of story before and after the events in this short that could have been included to create a feature length film. Apparently a SLOW feature length film, but perhaps with the inclusion of background to the physical abduction and then abandonment that our heroine experiences, it would have laid enough emotional foundation to bring us through her exceptionally slow self reclamation. It just made me antsy to leave, which had it been the last of the program, I probably would have done before it finished.

LE MOZART DES PICKPOCKETS (THE MOZART OF PICKPOCKETS) (dir. Philippe Pollet-Villard, France, 31 minutes, 2007, French w/ English subtitles) Currently the odds-on-favorite to win, it is an exceptionally pleasant half hour, which would easily make the transition to feature length. A pair of thieves, whose sexual ambiguity is something of a gag in itself, reluctantly "adopt" a homeless deaf boy. The performances are all endearing and sincere. The cinematography is perhaps the most exceptional of the group of nominees. The screenplay is particularly disciplined and never goes for easy gags, but takes its humor from the subtle conflict between characters. It is charming and ends so abruptly that one almost feels cheated.

Maxxxxx says
re TANGHI ARGENTINI: "Dooby dooby dooo-oooo!"
re AT NIGHT: "sickie poo"
re IL SUPPLENTE: WILD screaming
re THE TONTO WOMAN: "Is it bedtime?"

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