Movie review

Oscar-Nominated Live Action Shorts

Another lovely pre-Oscar evening, this time a great dinner at At the Table, then a walk across the street to the Showroom here in Asbury. Five thought-provoking short movies, a nice feeling of community, and then home — all before 9:30 on a “school night.” (I told Steve that couldn’t happen in D.C.; we’d still be looking for a parking space after an overpriced dinner downtown.)

But to the movies. Of the five entries, our far and away favorite was Na Wewe, the only non-English film. (And what does explain the preponderance of English language shorts among the nominees?) We were also hugely fond of the gawky, geeky God of Love. Two of the remaining three felt manipulative (The Confession and Wish 143); the last, while clever, went off balance in my mind. More thoughts about each follow:

  • The Confession disturbed me. Its capsule summary — “Quiet and sincere 9-year-old Sam is worried about making his first confession. His conscience is clear, therefore he cannot hope for any relief from the experience. He and his friend Jacob decide to remedy that situation, but their initially innocent prank turns unexpectedly tragic.” — reveals the first of my problems with it: why does he have to do something bad to confess, and what “relief” can he be seeking? Surely no child is that perfect, and he and his friend get into a sufficient amount of nine-year-old mischief that I think he could have avoided the whole issue. The level of tragedy that ensues more befits an Oedipus, a Hamlet, than a normal kid, who cannot process it (nor does he). And to what end? I kept wondering what the filmmakers were trying to say: that confession is a crock? that shit happens? that even children are bad? It all felt a terribly stacked deck. The acting was fine, as was the cinematography, but I just couldn’t get past the story.
  • Wish 143 is about a quite charming fifteen-year-old boy dying of cancer whose wish, when pressed by a Make-a-Wish–type foundation, is for a naked woman and the opportunity to lose his virginity. It’s a cute premise, and its title suggests that the joke is on the foundation. But my guess is that the premise rather ran away from the filmmakers — or, more precisely, didn’t. The story doesn’t really have anywhere to go. And here too, the filmmakers have set up such stringent parameters that they strain credulity. Why is this boy in a hospital (he seems pretty ok in the first several scenes, quite mobile and lucid and not particularly near death)? Where are his parents or family members? Why aren’t the doctors and nurses more attuned to him? Why doesn’t he have any peers at the hospital? His only advocate is a very forward-thinking priest, who at first tries to discourage the boy in his quest, and then — inexplicably, and i thought rather repugnantly — fulfills it. This I thought was dirty play on the part of the filmmakers; the boy’s friend could just as easily have been a doctor or other type of authority figure who would not be going against his principles to aid and abet the boy. Anyway, he gets his wish, so does the priest (in that nothing happens), and they shoot skeet on a hill at the film’s close; I’m not sure why.
  • Na Wewe means “you too.” Set in Burundi in 1994, a vanful of Africans — male, female, young, middle-aged, children, all sizes and shapes — pick up two other passengers — a white man and a black man whose car has broken down — and are then stopped by gun-toting rebels intent on identifying — and presumably killing — enemy Tutsis. They order the group’s members, except for the white man, to position themselves to either the right or the left as Hutus or Tutsis. What follows would be comical were it not for the guns, the panicky seriousness of the rebels, and the tacit power struggles among the various participants in the scene. One by one, the van’s occupants declare their status as neither Hutu nor Tutsi, with quite complicated, but very logical, explanations why they aren’t. And a weird thing happens: humdrum reality triumphs over the heightened, unnatural drama of war, turning it into farce. Until it doesn’t. The last one questioned is a mere boy (see picture), and the rebels are not going to spare him on account of his youth. I don’t want to give away the ending, but know that it is beautiful, surprising — and human. A wonderful movie, with so much in it.
  • The Crush is about an eight-year-old boy in love with his teacher, who has just become engaged, officially breaking his heart until he rises to the challenge of fighting for her. The film’s big asset was its protagonist, an unforgettable little boy with a serious demeanor (huh: it suddenly occurs to me that a boy is at the heart of all five shorts: the only strong, significant female characters in any of the films are the two quite unafraid women in Na Wewe), adult sensibility, and pure motives. Except for a couple of points, this film was quite well realized. The major flaw was that the duel was too menacing to mesh well with the tone of what proceeds and follows.
  • God of Love is a delightful, funny film, with unexpected twists and turns — but unlike several of the other shorts, it stays entirely true to its premise and tone. Not a false note to be found. The story is clever and witty: Young lounge singer/dart thrower (!) Raymond desires fellow bandmate Kelly, but she loves the guitar player. Raymond — who rather resembles a young, but gawkier, Jeff Goldblum, and who is utterly self-absorbed — is given a mysterious present one night: darts that will make the person stabbed by them fall in love with the person they are with. Raymond tests it; it works (hilariously). So he proceeds to try it on Kelly. What happens next is charming, whimsical, and wholly satisfying — and unexpected.

That’s the lot. We very much enjoyed seeing them, and are so glad to have been able to. First time we’ll be rooting more for the shorts than the main pix (although it would have been difficult to get terribly worked up about these in any event).


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