This compilation features seven shorts nominated for Academy Awards in the past year: "Inja" by Steve Pasvolsky, "The Cathedral" by Tomek Baginski, "I’ll Wait for the Next One …" by Philippe Orreindy, "Fait d'Hiver" by Dirk Beliën, "Das Rad" by Chris Stenner, "This Charming Man" by Martin Strange-Hansen, and "Mt. Head" by Koji Yamamura. The films comprise an admirably broad mix of styles, from the dusty realism of the live-action "Inja," which is set in South Africa, to the idiosyncratic, bizarre cartoon "Mt. Head," narrated in the melodramatic style of Noh theatre by director Yamamura. The likeliest standout is the sole Oscar-winner of the bunch, Strange-Hansen’s "This Charming Man," which follows Danish working stiff Lars (Martin Buch) on his quest to land a job and a girlfriend (Camilla Bendix). After a paperwork snafu at the employment office, Lars is officially transformed into El Hassan, a Pakistani immigrant signed up for language classes with Lars’ inamorata. While Lars masquerades as El Hassan, he learns firsthand about racism and falls in love. The film’s message about tolerance is laid on a bit thick at times (for a short film, too much dialogue is spent establishing the Danes’ racism), but it’s fun to watch and pleasing to the eye, using jazzy split screens and sleek production design – Kafka by way of IKEA. The only drawback is that the film’s placement in the lineup makes it seem overlong; it should be last. Another charmer is "I’ll Wait for the Next One …," featuring Sophie Forte (who has an offbeat, lovely sensitivity about her, like a bucktoothed Emily Watson) as a subway commuter intrigued by a fellow passenger’s romantic approach. It’s not giving too much away to say that the twist ending is a real grabber. Economical and effective, the film is everything a short should be but rarely is. "Inja" is also a stunner, using bright exteriors (of the dusty African landscape) and naturalistic sound design to tell the deceptively understated tale of a boy and a dog – first friends, then enemies. The lesser films tend to execute their concepts a little more unevenly. "Fait d’Hiver" is the clunker of the bunch; it can’t pull off its black comic tone with such a spare story. The first animated selection, "The Cathedral," is a technical marvel, with gorgeous use of light and shadow and beautiful photorealistic textures, but is marred by an Enigma-esque soundtrack. "Das Rad" has an appealing concept – what appears to be about five minutes in the lives of rocks is eons in the lives of the human beings around them – but seems a bit slack. Finally, "Mt. Head" resonates with Plymptonesque surrealism, but the fanboy crowd may find the stylized narration off-putting. It’s absolutely the right choice for the film, which is more whimsical than satirical, but it may be too peculiar for the American palate. Even in its weakest moments, Academy Awards-Nominated Shorts 2003
is a worthy challenge for audiences looking for an alternative to bloated summer blockbusters, giving an underappreciated format its theatrical due.