| This is a rare opportunity to see in advance of the Feb. 22 ceremony all five nominees in the separate categories of live action and animated short films. Your chance to decide which one would be your pick if you were an Oscar voter.
These film gems represent the cream of the crop from around the world. They cannot exceed 40 minutes in length. Each category is represented by a full-length program with separate admissions.
They all have in common the amazing way that a complete story arc comes to fruition in a brief amount of time. The more impressive collection resides on the live action side, where all the entrants are from overseas. The entrants from Denmark, Germany and France are subtitled.
“Manon on the Asphalt” from France is my favorite live action short. A young woman gains a better appreciation of life when on death’s door as a result of a bad accident while riding a bicycle. It speculates on how we would have done things differently if we had advance knowledge of our life span. The well-written script is poignantly told via voice-over narrative.
My second choice is “Toyland” from Germany that bears similarities to the excellent Holocaust film “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” Set in 1942, Heinrich, a naïve 6-year-old boy, believes that his Jewish neighbors are going to an amusement park rather than being deported to a concentration camp. He wants to go with them and even packs a bag for the journey. His frantic mother pursues him to the train station and performs a heroic act. Having already won 10 film festival awards, this entry must be considered the frontrunner to win the Oscar.
“On the Line” is the longest film in the series with a 30-minute running time. Rolf, a Swiss department store security guard, is responsible for apprehending shoplifters. He also uses the closed-circuit cameras to observe employees. He becomes infatuated with Sarah, an attractive clerk in the bookshop. She coincidentally lives in the same neighborhood of Zurich as Rolf and rides the same subway train to and from work.
One evening he sees her sitting on the train with a potential rival for her affection. They have a spat and she exits the train before her stop. A scuffle breaks out between a gang of juvenile delinquents and this supposed boyfriend. Rolf exits the train and doesn’t lend a helping hand.
The identity of this stranger is revealed when a tragedy is reported in the newspaper the next day. Rolf develops a guilty conscience and tries to console Sarah. This emotional and authentic gem has won audience awards at a dozen film festivals.
“The Pig” from Denmark weighs freedom of speech against religious tolerance. Mr. Jensen, an old man, checks into a hospital for a surgical procedure requiring an overnight stay. His bare white hospital room has two windows and a rolling bed. It also contains a whimsical painting on the wall of a pig leaping off the dock of a pier. This proud retired tailor develops a fondness for the painting, which he considers a good luck charm. He considers the confident pig his guardian angel after the doctor fears that he might have cancer.
After he wakes up following surgery, he notices that the painting has been taken down. He learns that the family of the Muslim patient in the next bed found the painting distasteful and contrary to their religious beliefs. They requested its removal from the room.
He summons his daughter, who is a lawyer, to bring a lawsuit to have the picture put back up. The film contains a soothing violin-driven musical score. There is a twist ending that makes you savor and reflect on the ingenious story.
“New Boy” is about the first day of school in Ireland for Joseph, a 9-year-old African boy. The teacher tries to restore order and discipline in the classroom. The kids are cruel with racial taunts trying to make Joseph feel uncomfortable. There are flashbacks to his old school in Africa, where his father was the teacher. The movie shows how Joseph eventually fits in to his new surroundings and even shares a laugh with his peer group.
The separate animated program is devoid of any conversational dialogue. The emphasis is placed on the visuals with sound effects and music in the background.
My favorite animated short is “Presto” from Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios. It is about a mischievous bunny rabbit named Alec (a pun on the magic word “alakazam”), who is deprived of a mouth-watering carrot. He gets revenge by ruining a magician’s turn-of-the-century stage act. As the high jinks escalate, the belly laughs follow from the audience. It is cleverly conceived and very funny.
It reminds me of the cartoons that played before the main feature when I was growing up in the 1950s. This short played before “Wall*E” last summer. The title is the abbreviated name of the magician and is derived from the term “prestidigitation,” which means sleight of hand.
My second choice is “This Way Up” from BBC Films. This morbid slapstick comedy revolves around a pair of undertakers who encounter a series of mishaps while taking a casket to the cemetery.
In “Oktapodi” from France, an octopus fights to keep his beloved out of the cooking pot. A stubborn restaurant chef pursues the great escape through the streets of a small Greek village. The amazing feat here is how the animators are able to tell their story in only three minutes.
“Lavatory-Lovestory” from Russia is about a lonely female airport restroom attendant who dreams of romance. Someone leaves a bouquet of flowers in her tip jar. This puts a smile on her face as she seeks out her gentleman admirer. The only colors in this clever black-and-white cartoon are those of the pink, blue, yellow and red floral arrangements.
“House of Small Cubes” uses paper drawings and 2D computer graphics to tell the story of a grandfather’s fond memories as he adds new layers of bricks to his home in an effort to stay a level above the flooding waters.
This impressive showcase of cinematic treasures awaits you this weekend exclusively at the Tivoli in Westport.
Keith Cohen, "The Movie Guy"