Film : Oscar nominated shorts offer international medley
A double bill of the 2009 Oscar-nominated short films, one animated and one live action, will play Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven. The two programs are part of the Martha's Vineyard Film Society's (MVFS) winter series.
The animated shorts will screen at 5:30 pm and the live-action shorts at 7:30 pm. Separate tickets are required.
The highlight of the animated shorts is "A Matter of Loaf and Death," a new Wallace and Gromit adventure directed by Nick Park. The lovable but goofy British gent and his faithful dog won an Oscar in 2006 for "The Curse of the Were Rabbit."
In this new episode, Wallace has opened a bakery specializing in bread. He becomes enamored of former beauty queen Piella Bakewell, but he's also targeted by a serial killer who bumps off bakers.
In "A Matter of Loaf and Death," director Park pokes fun at modern technology with a host of hare-brained contraptions that operate the bakery, and through his comical use of bread and baking clichés. Best of all, though, is the relationship between Wallace and Gromit, whose personalities balance each other with often hilarious results.
Wallace is dimwitted but good humored, while his four-footed companion is the earnest, hardworking worrywart always ready to rescue his master.
One of the challenges in judging the quality short films comes with their considerable differences in length. "A Matter of Loaf and Death" has a full half hour to develop its storyline and characters, while two of the other five entries, "Granny O'Grim's Sleeping Beauty" and "The Lady and the Reaper," last, respectively, six and eight minutes.
Nicky Phelan and Darragh O'Connell's "Granny O'Grim's Sleeping Beauty" is one fifth as long as "A Matter of Loaf and Death," but it still does a bang-up job of developing its storyline about a grandmother who tells her granddaughter a scarifying version of the famous fairy tale.
Javier Recio Gracia's "The Lady and the Reaper" is equally effective at convincing narration with the added benefit of social commentary about modern health care systems and end-of-life issues. This time an elderly lady longs to rejoin her deceased husband with hilarious results.
Despite its rather virulent anti-Americanism, "Logorama," written and directed by Argentinians Francois Alaux, Hervé de Crécy, and Ludovic Houplain, comes up with the most ingenious concept of the five animated short entries. Its world consists entirely of logos for well-known products ranging from U-Haul to Stop & Shop, and its characters include the Michelin man and the Pillsbury doughboy. Foul language and violence coarsen an otherwise brilliantly executed satire. This R-rated short comes at the end of the program so that children in the audience can leave. Three additional, "highly commended" shorts, "Partly Cloudy," "Runaway" and "The Kinematograph" complete the animated shorts presented, along with "French Roast."
The emphasis turns serious in the five live-action shorts. My favorite is "Kavi," written and directed by American Gregg Helvey but shot in India. Kavi is a young Indian boy who works with his parents in a brick factory rather than going to school.
Kavi's father is working off a debt to the factory owner, who has turned the family into virtual slaves. Kavi watches longingly as other boys, dressed in their school uniforms, play cricket. He is the factory's fastest worker, but that doesn't stop him from getting beaten and mistreated in other ways.
"Kavi," which has already won a 2009 Student Academy Award gold medal, fictionalizes a form of labor abuse that occurs not just in India but many parts of the world.
An eight-year-old boy named Joe celebrates his birthday with strange results in "Miracle Fish," the Australian Oscar nomination. Mistreated by his classmates, Joe sneaks into the nurse's office for a nap, and when he wakes up, he finds the school empty. The reason why turns out to be a shocker.
In another grim entry, "The New Tenants," nosy neighbors, a drug vendetta and multiple murders keep two men hopping after they move into a new apartment. Included in the cast of this Danish short is American actor Vincent D'Onofrio.
Although writer/director Juanita Wilson is Irish, her film "The Door" is inspired by a real story about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Russia. The parents and daughter in the film are relocated, but the father returns to their old apartment to retrieve its door.
"Instead of Abracadabra," the Swedish nomination by Patrik Eklund, is more light-hearted. It tells the story of Tomas, a 20-something still living at home and trying to become a magician. Tomas's tricks backfire as often as they succeed.
These two programs of Oscar-nominated shorts make for an entertaining evening, and the audiences will have the chance to vote for their Oscar-winner choices.
Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010, Sat., Feb. 27, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. Animated Shorts Program at 5:30 pm. Live-action Shorts Program at 7:30 pm. Separate admission charge for each program. Tickets $8; $5 for MVFS members. Doors open 30 minutes before each program.
Brooks Robards writes on art, film, books, and theater for The Times.