Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Oscar Live-Action Shorts 2013

Buzkashi Boys
After viewing the Oscar nominated Animated Shorts at IFC, I went back and took in the Live-Action nominees. As I stated in the earlier post, the surest way to win your Oscar pool is to master the obscure categories like the short films (Animated, Live-Action, Documentary). This year's selection of live-action shorts share some common themes--the end of life and growing up in harsh third-world countries. Death of a Shadow from Belgium and France is an afterlife fantasy while Henry from Canada deals with senility. Buzkashi Boys from Afghanistan and Asad from South Africa depicts young boys attempting to be grown-ups in chaotic environments. The sole American entry Curfew is a witty comedy depicting a reformed drug-addict uncle connecting with his clever niece.

Death of a Shadow opens with a mysterious photographer snapping shots of the shades of people as they are killed. His weird camera captures their shadows and he turns them over to a evil-looking collector. Very imaginative.

Like Best Picture nominee Amour, Henry is a touching portrait of an elderly musician coping with the loss of his wife.

Curfew is the most conventional of the nominees, with director-writer Shawn Christensen as a recovering drug addict who attempts suicide just as he receives a call from his estranged sister to emergency-babysit his niece. Lots of clever touches and interesting direction. One beautiful scene involves the little girl suddenly becoming the star of an impromptu music video in a bowling alley.

Buzkashi Boys focuses of two young boys in Kabul searching for meaning in their impoverished circumstances. One is the son of a blacksmith, reluctantly learning his father's trade while his best friend is an orphaned street beggar. The two escape to watch a local buzkashi match--the sport is sort of like polo with the riders dragging a goat's carcass across the goal line (at least I hope the goat was dead before they started using it). The orphan steals a horse in order to become like his idolized sportsmen and dies when the animal throws him off. The blacksmith's son runs away from his dad but returns and resigns himself to the difficult path of playing the trade of his forebears.

Asad is remarkably similar, centering on the titular boy attempting to make a living as a fisherman in Somalia. Invading troops make life impossible for his village. Death and starvation surround him, yet the film has a wicked sense of humor. An added layer of irony is revealed during the closing credits which state the entire cast of this South African project are refugees from Somalia.  

If I were an Oscar voter, I'd pick Buzkashi Boys. It was the most direct and moving. But I have a feeling, the choice may be for Curfew because of its more showy direction. Christensen is a major talent and this could be his ticket to becoming a major name.

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