Oscar-nominated live-action short films mix comedy and pathos

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In English, French, Dutch, Dari, and Somali with English subtitles. Unrated. Opens Saturday, February 9, at the Vancity Theatre

Children face danger in three of the five live-action films nominated for the Oscars. The strongest of the trio is the 18-minute “Asad”, which follows a young boy (Harun Mohammed) in a seaside Somali village racked by poverty and war.

Asad is torn between the ancient ways of an honest fisherman and the excitement of joining teenagers who go to sea for other plunder. Although the short is not without its conflict, American director Bryan Buckley gives his Somali nonactors the freedom to be themselves, with a surprising amount of humour.

Things are more doggedly predictable in “Buzkashi Boys”, a near half-hour drama set in Afghanistan. The film follows the friendship between a risk-taking street kid (Fawad Mohammadi) who admires the nomadic polo players of the title, and the solid son (Jawanmard Paiz) of a blacksmith. The latter feels constrained by his choices, and the viewer can relate as writer-director Sam French hits obvious buttons. Still, many of the images are breathtaking.

Quebec vet Gérard Poirier stars in actor-turned-director Yan England’s 21-minute “Henry”, about a concert pianist finding his winter years clouded by confusion, conflicting memories, and a dull script. “Curfew” (19 minutes) finds a seemingly spoiled New York girl (the memorable Fatima Ptacek) stuck with her suicidal screwup of an uncle, (writer-director Shawn Christensen). The mix of comedy and pathos is too well judged to dismiss.

“Death of a Shadow” (20 minutes), feels a lot longer, although filmmaker Tom Van Avermaet’s depiction of a First World War veteran trapped in strange photographic service to the devil will likely find him work in Hollywood. An Oscar wouldn’t hurt, either.

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