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Short films are perhaps the most overlooked part of the awards season, and unfairly so, as they frequently offer a new perspective on the world, showcase a rising talent, or innovatively overcome the limitations of their running time in a way that captures the distilled brilliance of cinema.
If you’re awaiting Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs with a wagging tale, this delightful animation will give you a rewarding bone to savour in the meantime. It follows a polar bear who finds her life disrupted when a grizzly bear shows up on the ice caps. Her reaction is immediate: food. But as they spend time together, the Canadian cousin’s chirpiness wearing away at the hungry polar bear’s loneliness, she begins to wonder whether her food might actually be her friend. Paloma Baeza directs the animation with a charmingly tangible style that gives the frost a believable bite and the heart an added warmth.
GIFs are great, aren’t they? The way they loop over and over again for all eternity for our amusement. Will Anderson’s latest animation is a witty, wonderful take on the bite-sized visual stories that now dominate our online conversations, as we get to know Duck, who spends his days flying and crash-landing repeatedly – then goes home. Facing a world of monetisation, a need for fresh content, and a time when people are turning screens sideways and pinch-zooming in and out, his cyclical existence soon descends into a full-on breakdown. Anderson makes inspired use of the frame to convey that spiralling collapse of his looped routine, and the result is as blissfully inventive as it is simply downright cute. The Purple Rose of Cairo for the Twitter age, you’ll never think of GIFs in the same way again.
Just as your eyeballs recover from Have Heart, along comes Ben Steer with something equally unique. Using real sets and projecting figures onto them, this enchantingly angular, physical animation follows a mother and child, as they flee a city when it (and the moon above it) are enveloped by strange shadows. Its title translates into “without fear” in Arabic, and there’s a resonance with the modern refugee crisis that gives weight to the minimal lines; there’s elegance in its simplicity, mystery in its moody lighting and magic in its geometry.
British Short Film Nominees
The standout of this year’s BAFTA nominees is Aniel Karia’s powerful dose of reality, as we follow a teenage dancer through the tough graft of the everyday. Work is the word you’d think would be associated most of all with her dance routines, as her instructor bullies and embarrasses her in front of her class, but it’s everything else that emerges as the effort. On the bus, she’s abused – a glimpse of something that happens on a sickeningly regular basis – and she struggles to find a way to focus and get through her shift as a waitress. The day goes worse from there. Jasmine Breinburg is remarkable as the put-upon young woman, battling through 12 tough minutes with resilience – and the moment when her anger beneath the surface erupts through her dance is a moving display of focus, expression and catharsis; work, but the work of someone creating something good from a relentless monotony of bad.
A Drowning Man
The refugee crisis is brought to hard-hitting life in this short about a young man in Athens who is trying to find a way to survive. Making one compromise after enough in an effort to scrounge cigarettes or food, the corrupting force of the predators around him in an alien environment is eye-openingly gruelling, thanks to the film’s compelling central performance.
A drifter, a war party and a hustler collide in Manchester in Colin O’Toole’s tough, gruff thriller. There’s a hint of retro 80s about the smoke-filled interiors of the terraced house in which this Western unfolds, but its timeline is less straightforward, as Sam Spruell’s laidback Dave finds himself confronted by Kenny, played by Steve Evets on tingingly menacing form. But there are more threatening players waiting in the wing, and a tension that builds to a suspenseful incident, while still leaving time for things to unspool afterwards. A confident, superbly performed domestic Western.
On the day after Christmas, a Catholic priest from Cork drives his nephew to prison. It sounds like it could almost be the start of bad joke, but there’s little to laugh at in Harry Lighton’s depiction of hatred and ritual. Lalor Roddy’s Conor is all too convincing as the world-weary man of the cloth, who warns his congregation of the cruelty of tradition, while his bond with his nephew leads us to places we don’t expect.
The most devastating of this year’s BAFTA-nominated short films, Aamir follows the titular teen, who is separated from his family in Europe’s largest unofficial refugee camp. Katlyn, a volunteer, becomes a friend and a final hope – a relationship that’s performed with realism, heart and never too much sentiment. Shooting on 16mm with an immediacy that lingers, director Vika Evdokimenko marks herself as a talent to watch, not only for her challenging, important choice of subject, but the way in way she conveys it to a universal audience.
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