A Short Perspective on Life and Love
By Michael LeaserA sharp, single-minded focus on its subject characterizes many short films. This year’s crop of Oscar-nominated animated and live action short films are no exception, with several bringing their acute attention to bear on the often unwieldy topics of the value of life and love.The Bigger Picture reveals the emotional and existential issues two brothers are grappling with as they care for their elderly, dying mother. One brother laments that before 40, he only thought about sex, but now that he is past 40, all he thinks about is death. Through watching their mother deal with the end of her own life, though, they learn not to dread the end of theirs.A Single Life posits what would happen if one could jump backward and forward in life simply by moving the needle on a record. As can be imagined, the results are often humorous but also illustrate a cautionary warning that we should enjoy life’s moments when we actually receive them, not when we want to receive them, lest we lose our lives completely.The Phone Call poignantly details the phone conversation between an elderly man (Jim Broadbent) who has just overdosed on antidepressants on the anniversary of his wife’s death and a crisis center worker (Sally Hawkins). Hawkins is agonizingly difficult to watch as she patiently tries to determine the man’s location in time to save his life and becomes visibly frustrated and distraught while maintaining a calm voice. The man’s powerful love for his wife is made abundantly clear and informs the burgeoning relationship between the crisis center worker and her colleague that bookends the conversation, lending emphasis to the need to make the most of every moment and opportunity we receive in life.Feast humorously, and with the Disney touch, depicts the value of love through the eyes of a dog, who realizes that simply being well-fed is not nearly enough for his quality of life if his master is not reunited with the love of his life.Perhaps the most beautiful and moving depiction of life and love among this year’s short films is Duet, the first post-Disney production by famed animator Glen Keane (The Little Mermaid, the Beast). Though it was short-listed for an animated Oscar, it did not receive a nomination but instead was one of four “highly commended” films that filled out the theatrical program of Oscar-nominated animated shorts. Keane uses simple, fluid, kinetic white lines against a rich blue background to illustrate the criss-crossed experiences of a man and woman from embryo to maturity, eventually beautifully intertwining the two in their lives’ duet in a sequence akin to, but more organic than, Belle’s contemplation and embrace of the Beast post prince transformation.