The short live-action Oscar nominees are an international bunch. The five films nominated are from Palestine, Kosovo, Germany, and the U.K., with one token film from America (but set in Afghanistan).
Three of the films deal with cross-cultural boundaries (not surprisingly, since two of the countries of origin — Palestine and Kosovo — are not universally recognized as countries).
Shok, the Kosovan (Serbian) film, flashes back to a time when ethnic Albanians were being kicked out of the country. The story follows two boys, good friends, who made a little money by selling things to the soldiers in town. But when the soldiers take notice that one of the boys is ethnically Albanian, they threaten to send him and his family away.
Ave Maria, the Palestinian (Israeli) film is a comic drama about a Jewish family who crash their car into a Catholic convent on the border between Jewish and Palestinian territories in Israel. Everyone wants the Jewish family back on the road, but religious proscriptions keep getting in the way.
Finally, Day One, the American film set in Afghanistan, tells of a middle-eastern woman in her first day on the job as an interpreter in the U.S. Army. She accompanies soldiers on a raid and has to negotiate some life and death situations.
There is emotional power in all three of these films. But as a judge for a film festival, I admit I had some nagging doubts about each of them. Shok suffers from inconsistent child actors. Ave Maria let a few jokes through that aren’t really justified by the characters. And Day One, even apparently based on real events, includes too many dramatic developments for a twenty-minute short film.
The other two films feature Western Europeans. Stutterer features a charming young man who opts for online dating so that he doesn’t have to speak. And Everything Will Be OK starts in Germany with a father picking up his daughter for his turn at custody one weekend.
My festival-judge critique of Stutterer is that the ending is contrived (but at least the film is very short). I liked the German film the best, but I would have to concede that its ending is more of a “conclusion” than an “ending.”
In the whole program, the strongest performances come from Everything Will Be OK and Day One. The most charisma exudes from Stutterer. The most humor comes from Ave Maria, while Shok offers a sober reminder about the ethnic cleansing that happened in our lifetimes on the edge of Europe.
On the whole, I do think that this year’s live-action shorts program is pretty good. I’ve seen some shorts elsewhere that I liked better, but not many. So congratulations and best wishes to these five filmmakers.