Unlike last year, this year's set of live action shorts nominees are on the serious side with the notable exception of one and a half comedies, which, as usual, I prefer.
Asad (South Africa/USA)
A young boy living in a coastal village in Somalia, Asad wants to go out with the big kids and capture ships for ransom, while at the same time avoiding the predatory rebels who have come down from the capitol to prey on the locals. He also befriends the elderly Erasto, who is the only remaining villager who believes fishing a better way to make a living than piracy. When Erasto is injured by the rebels, Asad goes fishing alone for the first time...and captures a remarkable being, a lionfish, never before seen in the village. Asad is the standout among this year's nominees, compressing the plight and the hope of Somalis into 18 minutes. Filmed abroad, all of the leading cast and crew are Somali refugees who have fled the warfare in their native country.
Buzkashi Boys (Afghanistan/USA)
Two boys, a blacksmith's son and an orphaned street kid, attend a buzkashi competition and dream of becoming champions of the sport. Buzkashi, the national sport of Afghanistan, is like polo except that instead of a ball the players use the headless carcass of a goat. It was banned by the Taliban during their 5-year reign of power. I once witnessed a buzkashi competition in China's Xinjiang province and I must say that this is probably the only good thing the Taliban ever did. Buzkashi Boys was filmed on location in Kabul and is most notable for its fascinating portrayal of daily life in Afghanistan's capital.
It seems like every year the live action shorts nominees include one film that it is a comedy. Curfew is as close as it comes for this year's entries, although the ending of Asad does qualify. Richie gets a call from his sister, who, despite their estrangement, desperately needs him to take care of her nine-year-old daughter, Sophia, for the evening. Richie is a bit occupied at the moment, lying in a pool of blood in his bathtub, having just slashed his wrists in a suicide attempt. However, he does agree to help out, patches himself up and picks up Sophia, his know-it-all but charming niece. Over the course of the next few hours, this odd couple bond, leading to a happy ending.
Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw) (Belgium/France)
It takes a while to catch on to what is going on in Death of a Shadow because it is strange. Nathan is a soldier who died in World War I, but a bizarre collector gives him a chance to live again if he can capture, with a special camera, 10,000 shadows of people taken as they die. The protagonist is played by Matthias Schoenaerts, the star of the Academy Award-nominated Bullhead and the current French hit Rust & Bone.
Like Amour, this year's favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Henry deals with losing a lifelong partner, the painful process of aging, and the frustration of age-related mental deterioration.