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"Death of a Shadow" - (Belgium/France - Directed by Tom Van Avermaet).
First up is Tom Van Avermaet's "Death of a Shadow," a twenty minute short concerning a photograph who has died and left with the job of photographing the shadows of those who have been met with untimely faith. That's about all I can say for this short. While shot with impeccable style and disciplined, precise framing, there is little exposition for how this science-fiction afterlife works. I'm unsure of how to stomach this short based on the limited explanation it give. Yet, I still have a strange admiration for its bewildering but equally fascinating nature. Its lead character, played by Matthias Schoenaert, is intriguing, and there is a powerhouse scene involving a shadow being released back to its beholder. This is a strange one to begin with - it's very ambiguous and open for some drastic interpretation - but it's also one to see. Three stars.
"Henry" (Canada - Directed by Yan England).
Next on deck is Van England's "Henry," one of the most depressing things on film I've seen in a long time. The title character, played by Louise Laprade, we discover, is an aging musician who performs with his wife named Maria on stage. Knowing he has a special performance tonight with his lady, he decides to begin his morning on the right foot with a trip out to breakfast by himself. When there, he encounters ominous men who take him and trap him in an unknown place where he begins to see his entire life flash before his eyes in a profoundly exhilarating, yet haunting way. This short fantastically portrays dementia in a way I've never seen it before. It's used not as a gimmick or a way to employ emotions, but as a genuine exercise in human sympathy and sorrow. It's a perplexing ride, one that entirely hits home on being bleak and full of emotion. It's a roller-coaster of a short that might have also worked as a black and white one to further emphasize its true nature. Three and a half stars.
"Curfew" (America - Directed by Shawn Christensen).
Shawn Christensen's "Curfew" is a wonderful exercise in style, emotion, human interaction, and existential purpose. Shot through a sensitive lens, capturing the seamy atmosphere of its world, this short is entirely baffling in why it works so well. It concerns a man named Ritchie (Christensen, himself), who is about to end his life in a bathtub, when a phone call from his sister saves his life. His sister, whom he has scarcely spoken to after an accident, pleas that he come and watch his niece Sophia (Fatima Ptacek) while she gets something situated promptly. Ritchie is met with Sophia, a bossy little tyke, who he begins to connect with on their small little outing, which is met with lasting effect from both parties. I recently watched a film called For Ellen, about a man currently filing divorce papers with his wife, who desperately wants to spend time with his daughter before he may never see her again. It was a fine film for the most part, but it was too concerned with intimacy and slow-moving conversation rather than development and character progression. "Curfew" is exactly what I wanted from For Ellen; welcoming style, confident performances, dark enigma, a drop of quirkiness, and an entirely consuming narrative, not plagued by awkward silences and dead-end instances. "Curfew" won the Best Live Action Short award for good reason, as it is a deeply affecting and extremely confident debut from a director, I hope, is just getting started. Four stars.
"Buzkashi Boys" (Afghanistan/America - Directed by Sam French).
"Buzkashi Boys" has intimacy and cultural relativism to a tune, but suffers from a narrative that, while we may not be able to recall where we've seen it before, we are almost completely aware of its outcome. It follows two young Afghanistan boys, one named Rafi (Fawad Mohammadi), the son of a blacksmith, and the other, Ahmad (Jawanmard Paiz), a local panhandler. Rafi and Ahmad have found solace in each other due to their oppressively bleak lives. Because Rafi's father implores him to lead the life of a noble blacksmith, the film does a delicate job of contrasting personal ambition from parental persuasion, which seems to be a big problem in not just American countries, as we see. The title of the short stems from a popular game which involves transporting a goat carcass to the end of the field on horseback. It's an interesting little feature, considering Rafi sees himself as playing this sport rather than doing what is father wants of him. Unfortunately, when tragedy strikes, the end pieces begin to fall in places we don't when them to fit in. Beautifully bleak cinematography and a direct approach to a subtle issue buoy this film to something resembling success. Three stars.
"Asad" (South Africa/America - Directed by Bryan Buckley).
Thankfully, we come end our journey with Bryan Buckley's "Asad," one of the more unfitting shorts of the bunch. It follows the title character (Harun Mohammed), a young Somalian boy coping with his war-torn coastal region by remaining optimistic and possessing the ever-so-testing trait of mental loyalty to a goal. This is another film that predominately centers on cultural relativism, and conveys the message of finding hope and reassurance in a place almost inherently vapid in it is subtle and done in a way that doesn't manipulate the viewer. Wonderfully acted and captured under the tight direction of Buckley, "Asad" ranks as a strong note to conclude this special on. Three and a half stars.
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