Eugene Weekly : Movies : 3.20.08


Shorts Weather
Don’t miss these less-seen Oscar nominees

I‘d like to thank the Academy — and DIVA — for this wonderful opportunity. That is, I’d like to thank them for reminding me of the creativity and beauty of short films. It’s sadly just not often that I get to spend four hours watching shorts. But DIVA’s screenings of this year’s short film Oscar nominees are a fantastic reason to get into the short film habit.

Madame Tutli-Putli
I Met the Walrus

The animated shorts are full of whimsy and impressions, often depicting brief scenes, unusual scenarios, moments that wouldn’t work were they stretched to feature length. They feel, unsurprisingly, like short stories, slices of life and character that leave an impression, a feeling, an unforgettable image. In “Even Pigeons Go to Heaven” (France), a miserly old man, dishonest priest and the Grim Reaper play a brief game of mistaken identity and unreal possibility. Lively and detailed, the (computer-generated) animation is superb. In “My Love” (Russia), impressionistic images (painted on glass) swirl and wash into each other in the story of a boy’s first experiences with love — all deepened and expanded by the flights of fancy on which his imagination takes him.

From Canada comes “Madame Tutli-Putli,” a moody little thing about a worn-down woman on a strange train ride. With her pursed lips, perfectly calibrated gestures (the film uses a mix of animation styles to great effect) and tottering pile of possessions, Madame Tutli-Putli is a lonesome, singular figure, her strikingly realistic eyes transfixing and terrified as the night gets stranger. Also Canadian is “I Met the Walrus,” a brief and charming piece that depicts — sometimes amusingly literally — the conversation a young interviewer had with John Lennon in 1969.

The animated short that won the Oscar is the British/Polish “Peter and the Wolf,” a wordless vision of Prokofiev’s musical fable that’s at its best when its characters — in particular Peter’s sweet duck friend — are taking a clumsy spin around a frozen pond. In this version, Peter lives near a city and, in the end, has not a little dislike for the hunters, taxidermists and dancing-bear masters who have their eyes on the fierce wolf he’s captured.

The live-action shorts begin with the sleek, amusing “Tanghi Argentini” (Belgium), which concerns an office worker who begs a colleague to teach him to tango in order to impress a woman he met online. Its sweet, surprising ending is almost too much, but an undertone of sly playfulness carries it through. “At Night,” from Denmark, focuses on three young women on a cancer ward. Though its stars are delicate and endearing, something about the film seems a little off; it’s the sort of story in which bad things happen to certain characters in order for another character to make a decision, and despite the subdued, quiet feel (and beautiful colors) of the film, there’s a hint of primetime drama about the ending.

“The Substitute” (Italy) is a sprightly story about a man who’s having a hard time being — and dealing with — adults. It’s the funniest of all the shorts, bizarre yet understanding, sympathetic to the outsider who simply can’t compromise his or her principles, even for personal gain. More outsiders appear in “The Tonto Woman,” a British film based on a story by Elmore Leonard. Here, a cattle rustler encounters a woman living alone, left in a cabin by her husband after she was held captive by the Mojave for more than a decade. These two loners connect, but in this West, there’s no safe place for them alone or together. “The Tonto Woman” feels as if it would rather be a full-length film, as if the wide skies and quiet connections need more space and time to reach the audience.

As with the animated shorts, a straight-forward story that goes down easy won the Oscar in this category. “The Mozart of Pickpockets” is a slight French charmer about two thieves who find themselves caring for a little boy who attaches himself to them. The boy doesn’t speak or show much sign of understanding what the men tell him, but eventually he figures out what they do — and how he can do it better, at least for a little while.      

The 2007 Academy Award Nominated Short Films show over two weekends at DIVA. Live Action Shorts: 7 pm Friday, March 21; 5 pm and 9:45 pm Saturday, March 22; 2 pm Sunday, March 23; and 7 pm Saturday, April 5. Animated Shorts: 5 pm and 9:45 pm Friday, March 21; 8 pm Saturday, March 22; 5 pm Sunday, March 23; and 9:45 pm Saturday, April 5. $6 each screening