a theatre, film & pop culture review
Let’s take a moment to recognize, and be thankful, that none of these nominees is offensive (morally, aesthetically), unlike, say, last year’s Aquel No Era or the year before’s winner (I cringe just typing that) The Curfew. But though we avoided insufferable hipster crap and white savior bullshit, we, alas, didn’t get anything near as stunning as last year’s Avant Que de Tout Perdre. So… there’s that. But there’s also the fact that three out of the five nominees here showcase (mostly) complex female leads that aren’t wives or mothers. Praise be.
We do, however, have the starry emotional manipulator The Phone Call in which a help-line operator (Sally Hawkins) attempts to keep a man on the other end of the line (Jim Broadbent) from killing himself. The film has a totally unnecessary button (basically: “Life is short! Embrace it!”) and the writing is cliché (he can’t go on without his dear departed wife), but hot damn, Hawkins and Broadbent can sell anything. Her professional control even as the tears well and the clock’s second hand ticks loudly on (yep, subtle) and his oral, wrenching breakdown (we never see him) make this otherwise unremarkable film totally passable. Surprisingly, voters aren’t the star-fuckers you imagine them to be, but they are unabashed sentimentalists, and so this one is winning, no question.
Parvaneh follows a young Afghani refugee through a trying 24 hours in Zurich as she attempts to wire some money home to her family. This film isn’t totally condescending, but it comes close. Our titular heroine is predictably distracted by consumerism and body ideals of the Western world as she culture clashes all over the place, including experiencing a near sexual assault at a party. What saves the film are the two young women at its center; as a tale of unexpected friendship and women bonding rather than competing, it works quite well.
Set in 1968 Belfast, Boogoloo and Graham are two baby chicks gifted to two little boys by their kind-hearted father. As the boys, and the chicks, grow and become more mischievous, their ill-tempered mum aims to slaughter them. Warm and funny (though the humor verges on effortful), the short makes little use of its turbulent backdrop – did we need to darken the tone with two soldiers chasing someone down? what’s the purpose? – and ultimately is too slight to win in a category that awards those high on emotion.
Butter Lamp is an odd little film that blurs the line between narrative and documentary storytelling. Composed entirely of frontal shots, the naturalistic short with bursts of absurd humor shows a photographer’s interactions with real Tibetan villagers as they pose in front of a series of jarring backdrops (Disney World, the Great Wall). A puzzling, yet compelling depiction of globalization and the loss of Tibetan culture, it’s a (pleasant) wonder that Hu Wei’s short was nominated; it has absolutely no chance of winning.
The longest entry, clocking in at 39 minutes, the smoothly shot two-hander Aya follows the titular character as she’s mistaken for a chauffeur while waiting at an airport. She’s unhappy, and a bit of a mess, so she decides to go along with it and take the man, a music researcher in town to judge a pianist competition, to his hotel in Jerusalem. As she drives, she reveals the truth, and their polite chit-chat evolves into the kind of quick intimacy possible only between two such lonely people. As they travel the seemingly endless road, will they also pursue this newfound possibility? The acting by Sarah Adler and Ulrich Thomsen is superb (and the chemistry tangible), and the direction by Binnun and Brezis is nuanced and profound. Alas, it’s just too subtle for a category that goes for the emotionally salacious.