Everything Will Be Okay (Alles wird gut)
Directors: Basil Khalil (Ave Maria); Henry Hughes (Day One); Patrick Vollrath (Everything Will Be Okay); Jamie Donoughue (Shok); Benjamin Cleary (Stutterer).
Rating: Unrated (overall content equivalent to an R for language, violence, and brief nudity.)
Running Time: approximately 105 Minutes
Release Date: January 29, 2016
Shorts HD and Shorts International.
Oscar season is upon us and when the nominations were announced on January 14, 2016, all eyes naturally turned to the high profile categories.
Every year, some of the best discoveries are found deep down the ballot card, in the Documentary Feature and Short Subject categories, and with 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, with the box office increasing every year since the films opened in theaters, the short films play theaters each week until the Oscar ceremony arrives, with a release on a number of VOD platforms the week before the Oscars are handed out. The reach for these films has never been bigger. 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 represent struggles of profoundly different mechanisms. Whether manifesting in the form of a family of displaced Albanians caught in the throes of the 1998 Albanian/Serbian conflict in Kosovo (Shok) or a group of Arab nuns straining to not break a vow of silence to help Israeli settlers as the Shabbat begins (Ave Maria), the moments are intense. Furthermore, we have an Afghani-American woman undergoing one of the most trying and emotionally draining first days ever in her work as an Army interpreter (Day One) in Afghanistan, a man attempts to cover up a stuttering malady he is embarrassed about (Stutterer), and a father is willing to sacrifice everything to spend more time with his daughter (Everything Will Be Okay).
The laughs are few, the themes are intense, and the films offer cinematic prowess worth the time and investment in spending with them.
Let’s dive in…And the nominees are…
The only film with any light-hearted elements about it whatsoever, Ave Maria offers a tale about a trio of Israeli settlers who lose control of their car and crash into a nunnery; so off the path of anything around it, the collision seems equally as random and guided by fate. The trio consists of Moshe, his wife, and his mother, who cannot stand Moshe’s wife and constantly bickers and badgers the both of them in constant frustration. Inside the nunnery are five Arab Catholics who are undergoing a vow of silence and cannot speak. When the family asks for help, a tap dance around cultural sensitivity (or insensitivity in the case of Mom) becomes the language with which these two entities must speak. However, hampering matters further in the start of Shabbat, which places even more religious constriction on the ability for the nuns to assist the stranded family.
Director Basil Khalil has a great sense of timing for all of this, but the movie, a little less than 15 minutes, really has one premise spread pretty thin. The nuns surprise the family with their ingenuity, but as we chuckle at the way the story resolves, we are left wondering if this could have been a slot given to a film with a wider expanse of humor and message. As it stands, a light diversion from the rest of what’s to come.
And thought your day was bad. Day One tells the story of Feda (Layla Alizada), an Afghani-American interpreter who joins the military effort in Afghanistan and is assigned to a mission to arrest potential terrorists for smuggling bombs and weaponry in a rural Afghan village. In the round up of one man in particular, Jalal (Alain Washnevsky), Feda looks over and sees his wife, Naheed (Alexia Pearl), faint after her water has broken. Cultural sensitivity returns in this film as well, with Feda the only one allowed in the home of the married couple and tasked with the frightening notion that the couple’s baby is breach with an arm exposed through the birth canal.
What transpires next is intense and harrowing, but while writer and director Henry Hughes has an impassioned story to tell, the effect comes off a little bit heavy-handed and overwrought. Inspired by true events, the acting is stellar and the film is captivating in the moment, but ultimately, the film just never makes that profound impact its looking for.
This is a searing drama, tough to watch, but emotionally draining at just under 30 minutes in length. Simon Schwarz stars as Michael, a divorced father ready to spend his residential weekend with 8-year-old daughter Lea (Julia Pointner). The pick up and exchange goes fine and for a few moments, we have a slice-of-life story of a single dad catching up with his daughter. He promises the fair, takes her toy shopping, and poses in the portrait booth for silly pictures. Except, for one picture, Michael asks Lea to make a serious face, which strikes his daughter as a strange request.
Over the course of their day together, things start to not add up and Lea begins to start asking questions. Michael becomes very guarded and without spoiling where this ends up, Michael’s plans get delayed and must wait until the morning. Writer/director Patrick Vollrath builds palpable tension effectively, even if it becomes apparent perhaps too soon where this is all headed. The ending is a powerful one, a nerve rattling mix of anger, tears, and desperation, which paints the title, spoken to Lea, late in the movie by both of her parents, in different contexts, as a confusing juxtaposition of compassion and empty promises.
Set in 1998 Kosovo, Shok, which translates to “Friend”, tells the story of two teenage boys, Petrit (NAME) and Oki (NAME), who hang out together and spend as much as they can with one another. Petrit’s family is Albanian and living in land occupied by the Serbian government. Oki, quiet and a mostly unassuming child soon learns that Petrit is selling rolling papers to Serbian military leaders, as a means with which to keep his family safe in their home and purchase a bike like Oki’s so they can go riding together. Unfortunately, Petrit has misjudged the loyalties he perceives to be in place and things begin to unravel when he gets roughed up by someone he has trusted.
Shok grows into a nail biter, with the two boys realizing that things are spiraling out of control, not just in their interactions with the soldiers but with their friendship as well. As emotions fray and conflict intensifies, writer and director Jamie Donoughue never relaxes until a final sequence takes your breath away. All in all, the film is riveting but a lot – like a lot for a scant 21 minutes. Viscerally affecting, there isn’t enough air in the room to process everything Donoughue gives us, which means he probably needs a feature film to put his obvious talents best at work.
Oh how I loved this small, sensible, simple story of a man named Greenwood (Matthew Needham) who struggles with a debilitating stutter. When we meet him, Greenwood has started teaching himself sign language to avoid having to speak in public and has been in an online relationship with Ellie, conversing through Facebook for the last six months. Living in London with his father, he is struggling in life, often unsure of what to do with his life, how to make it better, how it make more satisfying.
Writer and director Benjamin Cleary gives us a complete arc in 12 minutes and while the final scenes may be predictable in nature, we are so swept up in the story, with Needham building an impressive three-dimensional character, we could truly care less if Cleary gives us something obvious to wrap up his story. Cleary does a masterful job of making us care about someone we can connect with. And while we certainly may not have a stuttering problem personally, we all can understand masking over deficiencies we see within ourselves and trying to overcome deep-rooted anxiety and a fear that we may try our best in life and still not quite measure up. Leaving us with a smile, Stutterer is simply one fantastic film.
Really going to stand behind Stutterer, because not only do I feel it is far and away the best of the lot, but also because I think a large number of Academy voters will galvanize behind the complexity and simplicity it offers. There is not a bad film in the bunch, just varying degrees of struggle. As always, these nominees are not always an easy watch, but offer great insight and perspective of different stories shared from around the globe.
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.