THE BLOG
12/29/2010 11:20 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Eight Heavenly Minutes of Going Through Hell


Over the years, a friend of mine in the Motion Picture Academy has periodically invited me to the screenings of nominated short films. Almost 20 years ago, we saw this little movie from France that was dwarfed by the bigger nominees which were maybe 20-30 minutes long, all beautifully made. One of its competitors had a young Brad Pitt in the cast. Another starred Sean Penn. A third was made by Kenneth Branagh. Quite a line-up of competition.

This little French film, however, was only a mere eight minutes long and, while well-made, it was just mediocre technically. A little fuzzy in parts. Herky-jerky camera work, as the story bounced along inside a moving train. But - and this is a massive "but" - it was tremendous. Angst-ridden and utterly hilarious. A great, rich, roller-coaster of a story told in just eight minutes.

And the thing is, we knew -- not just from our own personal reaction, but also the response of the audience around us -- that it would win the Oscar. Even among its more impressive competition. We even told friends that, for their Oscar pool (where the shorts are often the "tie-breakers") that they should put their money on it. We were that sure.

Sometimes, of course, the Motion Picture Academy fools you. We had plenty of friends well aware of this, thoroughly skeptical of our judgment.

It won the Oscar.

It turns out our taste was even better than we thought. Because it also won the Best Short Film Palme d'Or at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.

Alas, like most shorts, especially back then, it was pretty much lost to the world. Short films have almost no shelf life. Even the best have almost no life, period, except perhaps as stepping stones, as examples of work. I've never forgotten this one, though, and have regularly mentioned it over the ensuing years, occasionally to people who might have access to getting it seen, but nothing.

Though I always remembered the film, I never couldn't remember the name. Finally, I tracked it down -- Omnibus. I searched the Internet for it, and eventually found the short, in several versions, in fact -- but they all were either in French, or with Spanish subtitles or even what appears to be Greek subtitles. Bizarrely, there was nothing in English. For an Oscar-winning short.

Nothing. And the more that time went on, it was seeming to be more a lost cause.

Finally, not long ago, I tried another tack, and actually, remarkably found one place for it with English subtitles!! Perseverance pays off. Our long national nightmare is over!

The image is smallish -- and gets even smaller to make room for the subtitles. But the subtitles are extremely clear, and the image is clear, too. (And you can, of course, enlarge the frame to full screen, though the picture will be grainy.) Mainly, though, whatever the image, it's great to finally find it.

It's nothing grandiose. Nothing splashy. Just a piddly eight-minutes of occasionally-bumpy film. But it's a joy. Exuberant. The best way to describe it is an O'Henry short story on film, about a little guy who simply gets on the train in the morning to go to work, and then has to face the world. Let's just say that the plot builds, and then twists and turns.

It's only eight minutes long. So, do yourself a favor, whenever you can take a little break, and check it out.

Directed by Sam Karmann, written by Karmann and Christian Rauth, here -- starring the wonderfully beleaguered Daniel Rialet -- after 18 years, is Omnibus.

As the French folk say, en fin. At last!