As the fallout from The Oscars radiates, I decided this year to try a first for me: I actually watched the Oscar Shorts. If you’re like me and usually use this segment of the ceremony to order a pizza or channel flip, I’ll break down what I took away from them.
The fist genre I saw at The Flicks downtown was animated shorts. Except for one —more on that later—they’re largely family-friendly. By far the most interesting of the all-ages type shorts was the French film “Blind Vayshna”—a tragic tale of a young girl living in remote village who is born with the unusual affliction of one eye seeing the past and another seeing the future. It thoroughly achieves its live-here-in-the-now point, but what’s even more arresting is the art direction, which presents the narrative as a fable told through moving woodcuts.
I’m not going to get too much into “Pearl,” about an adolescent traveling with her father and her coming of age, except to say where other animated shorts seek to impress us with cutting edge CG, “Pearl” goes with the less is more approach, and progresses its narrative with feel-good mandolin and guitar music. As an aside, I’m considering starting a petition banning Independent film and Hollywood in general from saturating every frame with ear-splitting mandolin riffs, a trend for which I blame Eddie Vedder. It’s also important to note that Pearl is VR compatible—a first for the Oscars and totally irrelevant if you’re not equipped with a headset.
Now let’s get to poor “Piper.” Of course, in walks 800 lb. gorilla Disney/Pixar with their submission about a sandpiper hatchling learning to overcome its fear of the ocean to eat oysters. The audience melts at the adorable bird’s trial-and-error attempts taking place on a stunningly rendered (and very expensive-looking) beach. The short ends with a nice little wrapped up McLife-Lesson and every independent filmmaker is painfully aware that Disney/Pixar has more money and resources that they can ever fathom and can crank out shorts like this almost by accident at this point.
And finally, here we are—at “Pear Cider and Cigarettes.” This is definitely not a family-friendly animated short like the rest, and clocking in at nearly a half an hour, it also by far the longest. The premise is this: After a life time of chronic alcoholism and fast living, coupled with a prolonged diagnosis of Hepatitis C, the narrator’s eccentric, wealthy friend travels to China to a) kick boozing and b) undergo a sketchy liver transplant operation made possible by the greased palms of the Chinese government and medical personnel. Once he emerges from the operation with a brand new liver of a recently executed Chinese man (dissident, maybe?), he gets back to Vancouver and dies promptly. This isn’t a spoiler by the way, we learn this in the beginning. “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” is as interesting in its sketch style animation and matter-of-fact narrative as it is thoroughly depressing and guaranteed to make the viewer stare skeptically at their next beer—which was about 30 minutes after it ended, in the case of your reviewer.
Now, the live action shorts! As a whole, they were all far longer than the animated, each being roughly 30 minutes. Another interesting note is that they were much more political. Almost all of them were foreign language, and what’s particularly interesting is that two of them deal heavily with the issue of immigration. The French “Ennemis Intérieurs” is about an Algerian applying for French citizenship as the immigration officer grills him about his past connections with organized Islam with a sort of “1984” motif. Its message, as well as the frustration of the interogatee come off pretty clear.
The live -action short “Silent Nights,” filmed in Denmark, gives us the story of a Salvation Army worker who falls in love with a Ghanan refugee and begins an interracial relationship with him, much to the chagrin of her drunk bigot mother. Again, we see foreign filmmakers try to delicately treat the complex issue of immigration, I’m assuming in consideration of waves of isolationist populism spreading throughout western Europe. Both of these pace themselves and go by relatively quickly, which is more than I can say for “La Femme et le TGV,” from Switzerland. It’s about a woman who watches the Eurorail pass her house everyday as she waves a Swiss flag. She begins a correspondence with the conductor (explaining how they do this is literally not even worth it) that feels reminiscent of “You’ve Got Mail.” It drags on forever, and had the unfortunate position as the last short I watched after 4.5 hours of them, which could explain why I was a little “short” with the film’s progression. Oh!
Now my winner picks:
Animated: “Pear Cider and Cigarettes”
Live Action: “Ennemis Intérieurs”
The Academy’s picks:
Animated: Disney/Pixar’s “Piper” (Render unto Caesar you swine!)
Live Action: “Sing”