Here’s the problem with talking about short films: They come in such small packages that to say too much is to spoil the surprise. Even a one-line logline can be too revealing; in fact, I’d wager the very title of one of the short films nominated for this year’s Academy Award for a Short Film (Live Action) tips its hand too far. What can safely be said: I have seen all five nominated shorts, and they are good. Some of them are better than others. One of them I fully fell in love with and promptly watched three more times in a row. (Ah, but I’m a sucker for Frenchies and a well-placed Dylan cover.) Only one of the shorts is in English – “New Boy” by Steph Green, based on a Roddy Doyle short story. (Remarking on the lineage, I make a note: “surprisingly free of foul-mouthery and intravenous injection.” And then I realize I’m thinking of Irvine Welsh. He wrote Trainspotting
. Roddy Doyle did not. Doyle, in fact, wrote scrappy Irish feel-gooders such as The Commitments
and The Snapper
, which tonally makes more sense.) The other shorts hail from the likes of France, Germany, and Denmark, but don’t worry: They’re all subtitled. “Toyland” is both the title of Jochen Alexander Freydank’s film and an unfortunate euphemism for concentration camps. The short also includes a reference to Ionesco’s Rhinoceros
, which is distracting, since the Holocaust predates the play by 15 years. (I’ve said too much, haven’t I? Now you’re gonna be waiting around for the rhinoceros bit and missing out on the interesting ethical dilemmas posed by “Toyland” – although, it must be said, this was not one of my favorites.) The title of Dorthe Warnø Høgh's “The Pig” refers to a cheap painting of a swine with a Mona Lisa
smile, which is amusing in and of itself, and on the whole, the piece is amusing (it’s cute, really); its charm lies in its unassumingness, which can crumble under too much scrutiny, so we’ll stop there. Speaking of stops, Reto Caffi's Swiss/German co-production, “On the Line,” refers to its subway setting (and also, I assume, the moment at which our protagonist must decide if he’ll accept a call to action, although I couldn’t say for sure if the expression translates the same in Deutsch). Life-or-death decisions aside, the lead, Roeland Wiesnekker, has a face that vascillates between that of a saint and a thug. He’s terrific. Also terrific: Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont's “Manon on the Asphalt.” This one’s unique in that it doesn’t quite aim to have the same kind of three-act narrative arc of the other films: It isn’t a big picture stuffed into miniature but rather – forgive the affectation – a tone poem (although its arc, I’d venture, is the most rewarding of the lot). No bells and whistles here, just a beautifully shot rumination on the fleetingness of our time earthbound. It’s one of the shorter films nominated, and – to crib from the Dylan song it puts to such good use – I was a little bit lonesome when it was gone. And then I watched it three more times in a row.