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The five entries in this year’s theatrical program of Oscar-nominated live-action short films could induce emotional whiplash. Ranging from tragedies set in war-torn Kosovo and Afghanistan to a gripping family drama to comedies both absurdist and romantic, they offer something for everybody.
Patrick Vollrath’s Everything Will Be Okay tells the story of a divorced German father spending the day with his 8-year-old daughter. At first the visit seems routine, with a stop at a toy store where he allows her to make some selections. But it soon becomes apparent that he has a more serious agenda in mind when he procures an “emergency passport,” leaves his car at a local dealer and heads for the airport. Although the material feels familiar, the director expertly racks up the tension and the performances by the two leads are emotionally devastating.
Release date: Jan 29, 2016
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Equally strong in its effect is Henry Hughes’ Day One, about an Afghan-American woman serving as an interpreter for the U.S. military. Accompanying some soldiers on their quest to capture a bomb-maker, she’s called upon to deliver the terrorist’s wife’s baby despite having no medical training, aided only by the verbal instructions of a male doctor who the observant Muslim husband won’t allow into the room. Serious complications ensue in a harrowing series of events that will leave you shaken.
Jamie Donoughue’s Shok is another wartime drama, based on real events and set in Kosovo in 1998. Two adolescent boys find their friendship and loyalty tested when they run afoul of brutal Serbian soldiers. Featuring superb performances by the young performers, it well captures the chaos of war as seen through the eyes of not-so-innocent children.
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Amidst all this sturm und drang, the two comedic films come as a relief. Basil Khalil’s Ave Maria is set on the West Bank, where a car containing an Orthodox Jewish family breaks down in front of a Catholic convent inhabited by five nuns. Since it’s the start of the Sabbath, the father can’t use the phone, and the nuns are observing a strict vow of silence. The resulting unorthodox (pardon the pun) solution to the problem is rendered with deadpan humor.
But the most charming of the bunch is Benjamin Cleary’s Stutterer, in which a young British man suffering from the titular condition becomes panicked when the attractive woman with whom he’s been conducting a lengthy Internet flirtation informs him that she’s coming to London and wants to finally meet. The O Henry-style twist at the end will melt even the coldest hearts.
Production: Shorts HD
Not rated, 107 minutes.
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