Boogaloo And Graham
Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak)
The Phone Call
Directors: Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun (Aya), Michael Lennox (Boogaloo And Graham), Hu Wei (Butter Lamp), Talkhon Hamzavi (Parvaneh), Mat Kirkby (The Phone Call).
Rating: Unrated (overall content equivalent to a PG-13 rating for thematic material, no objectionable content.)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Date: January 30, 2015
Shorts HD and Shorts International.
Oscar season is upon us and when the nominations were announced on January 17, 2015, all eyes naturally turned to the high profile categories. As we continue to sit in slack-jawed fascination at the juggernaut American Sniper has become, whether Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne are winning Best Actor, and continue to debate the outright snubbing of Ava DuVernay’s Selma in several major categories, I am rooting for Birdman, Boyhood, anything related to Whiplash and a whole lot more.
Every year, the best discoveries are found deep down the ballot card, in the Documentary Feature and Short Subject categories, and the nominees for Live Action and Animated Short Film. Since 2005, the Oscar nominated short films have been made available, post-nomination, via iTunes and in 2009, Magnolia Pictures and Shorts International paired together to distribute the nominated short films in theaters. Now, the short films play theaters with same day release on a number of VOD platforms, making the reach and scope of these films bigger than ever before. Without a doubt, these compendium programs become one of the more enthralling trips a person can make to a movie theater in any given year.
This year, the five Live Action Short Film nominees are less bleak and ditancing than in year’s past. The overwhelming constant among all five nominees is the sense of internal struggle these films explore. And while essaying the human condition can appear in a lighter tone (Butter Lamp) or at the precipice of something tragic (The Phone Call), we can all relate to those moments where our mettle is tested and we have to make a life-changing decision. For the young woman in Aya, it becomes whether or not to keep up a facade. For the family in Boogaloo And Graham, the choices parents make in the hopes of giving their children a better life lies at the heart of their story. And in the case of Parvaneh, a young Afghani woman, displaced from her culture and country, wanders into the life of a rebellious teenage girl left to her own devices.
And the nominees are…
The longest film in the bunch is also one of the more precocious and intriguing stories we have to consider. Aya tells the story of a woman who is waiting for someone at the airport, when a driver asks her to hold the sign temporarily for his client, “Mr. Overby”, a man traveling to Jerusalem to judge a music competition. When the driver never returns and Mr. Overby arrives, Aya makes the decision to drive the man from Israel to Jerusalem, but the film is not a politically charged film whatsoever. Rather, it pivots into a two-person story, almost completely composed of conversations within the car where a flirtatious chess match ensues between the two, with neither person really having a clue why this is all happening. Sarah Adler and Ulrich Thomsen are veteran actors who inhabit these characters well and for what this ultimately turns out to become, Aya could shear off a few minutes and have the final scenes really resonate stronger. Well acted, cleverly conceived, Aya is a thoughtful and proper film. ★★★1/2.
The light-hearted BAFTA nominated Boogaloo And Graham gives us a slice-of-life story of an Irish family of four in the late 1970s, whose dad gives his two sons a couple of baby chicks to have as pets. This drives the mother nuts, as she cannot stand having them in the house and the brothers try to domesticate the chicks as best they can. The film is set against the backdrop of escalating conflicts in Northern Ireland, and honestly, I’m not quite sure why because in 14 minutes, this backdrop for the story being told seems to not make a whole lot of sense. The kids are likable and their attempts to placate Mom and Dad are appealing. A plot development in the end offers a chance for some visual puns and slight-of-hand by the director, but I would be curious if other comedic films that missed the cut where better than this. Still, a solid little film. ★★★.
I struggle to articulate why I love Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak) so much, but I could not get enough of this unique and fascinatingly strange little movie. A traveling photographer arrives in Tibet and takes a series of photographs of various elements of Tibetan culture. The set up is so inherently simple and yet the reactions and the interactions he gets with his subjects is compelling. Scripted, this is not inherently a documentary, but director Hu Wei captures a great deal of honesty when framing his subjects in front of various, random backdrops. The scene where an elderly woman sees the palace of the Dalai Lama behind her and begins bowing in respect is simply one of the greatest moments from the year in film. ★★★★1/2.
I truly cannot decide if the drama Parvaneh is too short or just long enough, but I feel like director Talkhon Hamzavi is on to something with his story of an Afghani teenager named Parvenah, about 16 or 17 years old, who is relocating to a boarding house in the Swiss Alps temporarily while she seeks asylum. She has saved up a little money and vows to send it back home when she gets settled, but runs into a snag – she is underage, her ID is deemed invalid and she cannot complete the transaction. On her way back to the center she meets Emily, an older girl with a punk rock style and attitude who agrees to help Parvaneh for a small fee. When they fail to make it back to the exchange on time, Parvaneh and Emily fall into a night out on the town, as Emily is essentially left to come and go as she pleases. The connection made is what binds Parvaneh‘s best moments together and the film pulls off a nice bait and switch on what we think the film will be about and what it ultimately becomes from a thematic sense. ★★★★.
Gripping, compelling, sad, and a little one-note in its structure, The Phone Call may be the film to beat since the Academy will likely gravitate towards the recognizable faces and voices of Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins and Oscar winner Jim Broadbent. Hawkins plays Heather, a crisis line counselor whose first call of the day comes from Stan (the voice of Broadbent), who is deeply depressed over the recent loss of his wife. Mat Kirkby’s film, he also co-wrote the screenplay, simply lives in the conversation between Heather and Stan for nearly the entire time and while emotional and riveting, the repetitive nature of their dialogue starts to become frustrating. It’s a testimony to the talents of Hawkins, often tightly compacted into Kirkby’s camera, that she takes this story and conveys so much. Her face is in different shades of red, her eyes fill and recede, and it is a truly dynamic performance. With Broadbent’s wavering voice and deliberate intonations, we feel everything. A subtle twist at the end resonates for a good long while after Kirkby’s film concludes and there is just a little something missing which makes this something truly unforgettable. ★★★★.
My favorite is the least likely to win the Oscar on February 22, but this is a solid lineup of films that offer little disappointment and some truly terrific moments and films. If Butter Lamp can’t make it across the finish line, the money has to be on The Phone Call. It’s emotional, speaks to a significant number of voters in the Academy, and has recognizable Oscar-friendly faces and voices involved. I would love Parvaneh to sneak in as well, and am intrigued by what Talkhon Hamzavi does next. All in all, there is much to applaud with these five nominees.
The overall rating for this year’s nominees?
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Always a great presentation, you have to look fast because the Short films are only in theaters for a brief time.
- Oscar pools and Oscar party contests can be won and lost with the Short Film categories. Experiencing these nominees achieves both a better chance at victory and the opportunity to see some terrific and original films.
- Casual movie watchers tend to watch high profile, big name star movies and convincing people to watch short films is a challenge. No matter how good these films are, a large number of people are not going to care much.
- You are not a fan of a wide range of genres and themes. You never know what you are going to get with these short film presentations and that mix of styles can throw people off.