Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 8 / 23 February 2017

Short but not slight

Out There

Jane Birkin in Swiss director Timo von Gunten's La Femme et la TGV. Photo: Courtesy the filmmaker
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Out There goes to the screenings of Academy Award-nominated short films that show at Landmark Theatres during Oscar season every year. These shorts are always at least interesting, and a helpful reminder that there's nothing inherent in the medium of film that dictates it be feature-length. Also that there are far more stories to tell besides comic-book superheroes and romantic comedies.

The 2017 slate of Oscar-nominated live action short films offers many delights. In Sing (dir. Kristof Deak, Hungary), a children's choir summon passive resistance when some of their members are unfairly silenced. This reminder of the importance of collective action could not be more timely for present-day Americans living during the regime of the stub-fingered vulgarian.

Silent Nights (dir. Aske Bang, Denmark) and Ennemis Interieurs (dir. Selim Aazzazi, France) are up-to-the-moment examinations of how Westerners deal with political refugees and immigrants applying for citizenship. The Danish example of acceptance is contrasted with the French framework of suspicion.

Timecode (dir. Juanjo Gimenez Pena, Spain) is a succinct reminder of the powerful remedy of artistic endeavor – in this case, expressive dance – in combating a soul-deadening job. But by a fair length our favorite of the five contenders for the Oscar, La Femme et la TGV (dir. Timo von Gunten, Switzerland), is a fanciful tale that plays like a fable but is based on a true story. The talents of the great English actress Jane Birkin, as an eccentric Swiss matron, are not wasted.

The Oscar-nominated animated short films 2017 are more of a mixed bag. Borrowed Time (dirs. Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj, USA) and Pearl (dir. Patrick Osborne , USA) are both memory pieces, to more or less nostalgic effect, set in, respectively, the Old West and present-day America.

Scene from director Robert Valley's Pear Brandy and Cigarettes. Photo: Courtesy the filmmaker

Piper (dir. Alan Barillaro, USA) is a Pixar production, technically quite dazzling but sweetly sentimental, about a baby bird who overcomes his fear of the ocean. This one depends on your aesthetic. If you're the sort who cries, "Cu -ute!" over baby animals, it's for you.

Blind Vaysha (dir. Theodore Ushev, Canada) is a folkloric tale illustrated in the style of woodcut imagery, compelling and authentic-feeling.

The longest and most substantial animated nominee, Pear Brandy and Cigarettes (dir. Robert Valley, Canada and UK), is a first-person narration about a troubled friendship. The Landmark screening takes note of the short's violence, language, sex, and drug use, pointing out that it's not appropriate for children. But for adults who have seen the effects of drug abuse, alcoholism or other self-destructive behaviors in their own or their friends' lives, the tragic true story will ring some bells. It's our choice for the gleaming statuette.

The Head Vanishes, Asteriaand Happy End are additional short films that fill out the animated fare. Both shorts programs are worth a longer look.


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