Martha’s Vineyard Film Society: Oscar shorts, Norweigan comedy

On deck this weekend for Vineyard filmgoers are the Oscar-nominated animated shorts, presented Saturday, Feb. 19 by the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society (MVFS). MVFS will screen a Norwegian comedy, “A Somewhat Gentle Man,” on the following Saturday, Feb. 26.

The Animated Shorts program follows this year’s 83rd annual Oscars ceremony on Monday, Feb. 28, giving viewers time to vote online in MVFS’s Oscar poll. Including films from the U.S., Australia, and France, the five nominations will play with two short-listed ones.

While cartoons, as Americans think of them, used to be a strictly-for-kids category, the increasing sophistication of animated short filmmaking has changed the game. The pleasure for adults comes in how animators find new ways to explore the medium.

Like the TV sitcom, the animated short form tends toward comedy. “Let’s Pollute” turns the notion of a 50s-style instructional film upside down, using it to make satirical commentary. Director Geefwe Boedoe shows how even the Pilgrims trashed the environment. The jingle-inspired music track in “Let’s Pollute” sounds like a loopy, extended TV commercial.

Last year’s Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival (MVIFF) viewers will be happy to revisit “Madagascar: Carnet de Voyage.” It borrows its visual style from travel diaries to make a beautiful and compelling portrait of a remote part of the world.

“Day & Night” humanizes the concepts of light and dark, turning them into a competition for dominance, although without quite the visual beauty or originality of “Let’s Pollute” or “Madagascar.”

“The Gruffalo” and “The Lost Thing” both draw their storylines from children’s books in successful transformations to film.

The British/German-made “Gruffalo” takes the viewer on a journey with a mouse through a lushly drawn wilderness. Fable-style, the mouse meets a fox, an owl, and a snake, each eager to make a meal out of him. In each case, the mouse escapes by describing the gnarly beast of the title and explaining he already has a date with it.

Even more visually intriguing is “The Lost Thing,” a whimsical adaptation where a little boy befriends a modern version of a Minotaur — half beast and half machine. The boy searches until he finds the right home for this strange but friendly creature.

Bill Plympton’s “The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger,” which also played at the MVIFF last fall, and another British/German entry, “Urs,” round out the program.

With support from his animation workshop, Mr. Plympton produces another kid-friendly concoction of storytelling and cute animal creatures. The most somber film of the group, “Urs,” uses exceptionally vivid animation and drawing to create a primeval effect in its wordless tale of a farmer who carries his mother over the mountains to a better life.

“A Somewhat Gentle Man”

Scheduled for the following weekend, “A Somewhat Gentle Man” offers viewers a tart taste of Scandinavian black humor. Viewers may recognize Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard from “Mamma Mia!” or the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. As Norwegian ex-con Ulrik, he rebuilds his life with a poker face and lots of codfish. His ex-boss Jensen meets him at a roadside restaurant with instructions to waste the snitch responsible for Ulrik’s 12-year jail term. Will he or won’t he?

The snow-bound Norwegian landscape looks bleak, and the quarters Jensen finds for Ulrik to stay in, even bleaker. But neither can match the hatchet-faced mien of Karen, his landlady, who serves him fish dinners and expects stud service in payment.

One sight or sound gag follows another, as Patsy Kline and other American singers warble in the background, and Jensen’s Three-Stooges henchman Rolf offers a pot of “old lady” daisies as a housewarming gift. One grim-visaged woman after another drops her pants for Ulrik with no apparent provocation, as he solemnly smokes, plods along as an auto mechanic, and looks up his long-neglected son.

Director Hans Petter Moland’s touch struck me as ham-handed, but his droll Norwegian sense of humor may tickle plenty of other funny bones.

Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts, Saturday, Feb. 19, 7:30 pm., Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 members. Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.

“A Somewhat Gentle Man,” Saturday, Feb. 26, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 members. Doors open at 7 pm.

Brooks Robards, a frequent contributor to The Times, divides her time between Oak Bluffs and Northampton.