The 2008 Academy Awards will be doled out Feb. 24 -- with or without pre-scripted jokey patter or A-list attendees swanning about in designer garb. And just in time for your picks list, Pittsburgh Filmmakers will screen all 10 of the short films, both live-action and animated, that have been nominated for an Oscar.
This year's live-action set is dominated by the slyly humorous. In Guido Thys and Anja Daelemans' "Tango Argentine" (Belgium, 13 min.), a middle-aged office nobody entreats a more suave colleague to teach him the tango. He has met a woman on the Internet, and has only two weeks to impress her with his dance skills. The joke, in this sweet outing, is where you least expect it.
Outrageous bodily movements also factor in "The Substitute" (Italy, 17 min.). In Andrea Jublin's comedy, a clearly demented substitute teacher with a wonderfully rubbery comic face has his students act out like animals and -- shockingly -- steals a ball autographed by a soccer star.
Philippe Pollet-Villard's "The Mozart of Pickpockets" (France, 31 min.) deftly combines easy sentimentality -- a winsome, deaf-mute abandoned immigrant child -- with shaggy-dog Gallic humor. A pair of not-very-bright street hustlers, two sad-sack, shoulder-shrugging middle-aged men, become the unwitting caretakers of the little boy. The men have a wonderful chemistry -- they're in essence "married," and I bet their petty domestic squabbling is funnier in French than in the English subtitles.
It'll be tears rather than laughter elicited by Christian Christiansen and Louise Vesth's stark but gentle cancer-ward drama "At Night" (Denmark, 40 min.). Three young women forge a friendship rooted in their shared fear and mortality. ("We're on death row," quips one patient bitterly). Beautifully acted, this spare story easily earns its emotional gut-punches without resorting to histrionics or maudlin cheats.
Prolific writer Elmore Leonard penned the story in "The Tonto Woman" (U.K., 36 min.), a Western of sorts directed by Daniel Barber and Matthew Brown. In it, a cattle-rustler (Francesco Quinn) tells of a life-changing encounter with the ostracized wife of a rancher -- while pondering, as happens in so many revisionist Westerns, just exactly who is good and evil, and why.
The shortest of the animated films, "I Met the Walrus" (Canada, 5 min.), nonetheless has a grand backstory. In 1969, 14-year-old Jerry Levitan snuck into a hotel room and snagged an interview with John Lennon. As the musician ruminates on tape about his soon-to-be-former group, war and peace, and what anybody can do about it, director Josh Raskin illustrates his comments with collage and hand-drawn animation.
The computer-animated "Even Pigeons Go to Heaven" (France, 9 min.), directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, offers a wry commentary on faith, man's dubious nature and the final comeuppance delivered by Death. In it, an elderly man is convinced that a machine will guarantee him entry into the celestial kingdom.
It's not quite clear where the rickety old train is heading in "Madame Tutli-Putli" (Canada, 17 min.), but this outing is full of threatening characters and bizarre happenings. Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski's dialogue-free tale, rendered in claymation and CGI, proves unsettling, and not easily reconciled.
A pair of longer films with Russian roots round out the animated-shorts selection. Alexander Petrov's "My Love" (Russia, 27 min.) relates the heady emotions of a 19th-century Russian adolescent boy who is pining for both an illiterate servant girl and a sophisticated older neighbor. Petrov's painterly style enhances the material's short-literary-work feel, as well as lending the film a dreamy, fuzzed-out quality, as if it were tapped from a long-ago memory.
Sergei Prokofiev's popular classical music piece receives a new adaptation in Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman's "Peter and the Wolf" (U.K., 27 min.). This dialogue-free film presents the familiar story of an adventurous boy, his dangerous foray into the woods with his pets, and their encounter with a hungry wolf. The filmmakers add some twists -- the boy is also hunted, and a traveling carnival puts in an appearance -- but the story easily unfolds through pantomime and, of course, Prokofiev's thematic music.
This is a strong crop of shorts, and a rare chance to see nearly a dozen films, representing seven countries and a variety of styles, in one sitting. At Oscar time, it's the full-length features that grab most of the headlines. But these worthy entries -- which have a much harder time just reaching an audience -- deserve your attention, too. Films are in English, and various languages, with subtitles.
The live-action and animated films screen separately; a $10 double-feature ticket is available, and programs need not be seen the same day. The Wed., Feb. 20, screening will be followed by free drinks-and-desserts reception as part of a sneak peak at the upcoming Cleveland International Film Festival. Screening of animation program starts at 7:45 p.m.; reception at Legume (1113 S. Braddock Ave.) at 9: 30 p.m.
Starts Fri., Feb. 15. Regent Square