Life, death and difficult decisions around the world, on the screen
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, February 1, 2013
The shadow of death darkens -- and in some cases deepens -- all five Academy Award nominees in the live-action short category. That’s especially true for “Death of a Shadow,” a ghoulishly brilliant Belgian fantasia about a ghost (Matthias Schoenaerts) who photographs the shadows of people in the act of dying for a mysterious art collector (Peter Van Den Eede). Part sci-fi, part steampunk, part love story, it’s easily the best -- or at least the most original -- of the five nominees.
At the other end is “Curfew,” a pretentious and stiffly acted trifle about a suicidal slacker (writer-director Shawn Christensen) who pulls himself together -- and temporarily out of the bathtub, where he has just slit his wrists -- in order to babysit, and bond with, his 9-year-old niece (Fatima Ptacek) for few hours.
In between these bookends are some fascinating and diverse offerings.
“Henry” is a touching and beautifully acted look at geriatric dementia from the perspective of someone suffering from it. Inspired by Quebec writer-director Yan England’s grandfather, it tells the story of an elderly concert pianist (Gerard Poirier) whose beloved wife (Louise Laprade) suddenly disappears.
The other short films look at two of the world’s most troubled countries: Somalia and Afghanistan. But rather than focusing on piracy or war, they each tell stories about ordinary people -- in each case a young boy -- trying to get on with their lives.
In “Asad,” the title character (Harun Mohammed) is torn between the glamour of the pirate’s lifestyle and his friendship with an elderly fisherman (Ibrahim Moallim Hussein) who’s trying to keep Asad on the straight and narrow path.
Set in Kabul, “Buzkashi Boys” follows Rafi (Fawad Mohammadi), a blacksmith’s son who is wrestling with his own tough choices. On one side is Rafi’s streetwise friend Ahmad (Jawanmard Paiz), an orphan who dreams of becoming a rider in the national sport of buzkashi, a brutal form of polo. On the other side is Rafi’s stern father (Wali Talash), who wants his son to learn the family trade.
These are all brief, bleak -- but in a few cases very beautiful -- films. Pick your poison.
Contains disturbing thematic material, violence and some blood. In English, French, Dutch, Somali and Dari with English subtitles.