by Jon RobertsAve Maria (Palestine, dir. Basil Khalil)
Funded by Palestine, this short film plays with differences in religious beliefs while maintaining a fun, humorous tone throughout. Ave Maria takes place at a nunnery in the West Bank after an Israeli family’s car breaks down outside. The film addresses the oddities in both religions, as the nuns are sworn to their vow of silence while the family happens to be stranded on the Sabbath, leaving them unable to use technology. This is where the comedy develops — the relationship between the wisecracking Jewish family and the silent nuns is a wonderful dynamic that you don’t see very often. The evocative visual elements throughout bring the single setting fully to life. Ave Maria is a joyful little film on a subject that very little joy usually gets derived from, and this is why it deserves its place as one of the best shorts of the year.
Day One (USA, dir. Henry Hughes)
Day One is the only American-funded film nominated for the Live Action Short category this year. The film follows a recently divorced Afghan-American woman’s first day as a translator for the American military. She finds herself crossing the culture gap when her unit comes upon a pregnant woman in labor. Henry Hughes’s strong direction makes the film feel grounded and realistic, which may be attributed to his own time in the service. Layla Alizada gives a wonderful and innocent performance as the interpreter and the film heavily relies on what she brings to the table. I believe this will be our winner at the 88th Academy Awards this Sunday — not only because of how well-executed it is, but also because of its political ties and themes. Day One will stay in your mind long after the credits roll due to its ability to put the viewer in the main character’s shoes.
Everything Will Be Okay (Germany, dir. Patrick Vollrath)
Out of all these great shorts, I would say that Everything Will Be Okay is the most original and unique of the bunch — a film that can’t be bound to one genre. It’s about a divorced man spending father’s day with his daughter, but the story slowly takes a turn that feels bold and fresh. I won’t spoil the film, but Patrick Vollrath is certainly a name to keep on your radar. The melodrama-cum-thriller slowly changes, and by the time you realize what has happened, you see that all the pieces were always right in front of you. The uniqueness of the film is supported by its cast; Julia Pointner, the young actress who plays the daughter, especially shines in her role. Everything Will Be Okay’s flaws exist in its pacing and ending. The film drags after the twist is revealed and its characters lack a satisfying arc. While it may not be the best film due to these issues, it stands as a film with a plot I’ve honestly never seen before.
Shok (Kosovo, dir. Jamie Donoughue)
This heart-wrenching short film takes place during the Kosovo War and follows two young boys whose families fight for freedom against Serbia. In the midst of a war, the boys must grow up quickly, and the complications of their relationship form the core of the film. The boys are forced to make life-threatening decisions in the hope of creating a brighter future for their families. Shok’s exceptional cinematography builds off the silence in the film, making every moment tense. Furthermore, the director uses a simple object like a bicycle to not only show the lack of movement in these boys’ lives, but also as a way for audience members to relate to the childlike wonder of one’s first bike. But the short stands out in the performances given by its two young co-stars. Their wholesome best friend dynamic fuels the film, and this along with the real life subject matter makes Shok a must-see.
Stutterer (UK, dir. Benjamin Cleary)
Benjamin Cleary’s short immediately stood out with it’s eye popping visuals. All about an online relationship and starring a protagonist with a speech impediment, the film sounds less enticing than it actually is. What could have been very clichéd and cringeworthy was in fact my favorite film of the nominees. Stutterer has a great lead performance by Matthew Needham — he only has a handful of lines and they’re all pronounced with a convincing stutter. The film uses voiceovers extremely well and by letting you inside the lonely protagonist’s head as he types, you get a sense of what his stutter has done to him psychologically. Unlike some of the other nominees, Stutterer never drags, and it maintains the story’s momentum while keeping you invested in the hero’s love life. The film doesn’t have any noticeable flaws, it’s endearing and it’s to the point.