Murder, sex, war, love and prayer.
The subject matters of five short films you’ll catch glimpses of if you’re tuning in to the Oscars this year, likely awarded around the two-hour mark of the broadcast, sandwiched in there someplace between the sound mixing and visual effects categories. Every year of the last five, my friend and I have ventured out to our local independent film theater, Oscar fever peaking, committing ourselves to three or four hours of watching the nominated short films attempting to give these often overlooked gems the attention they deserve.
This year, I found the live action shorts teeming with spiritual themes, ranging from moral concerns of faith and forgiveness to more earthly dilemmas like lust versus love. Two of them featured priests, three of them involved prayer, and each of them left me asking some fairly transcendental questions as the credits rolled.
[WARNING: SPOILER ALERT]
The Confession (UK, 26 mins), about two young boys a week away from making their first confession, begins somewhat lightly and quickly turns dark. Guilty of no sins he can recall during his short life, the sincere and innocent Sam enlists his friend to figure out what he can possibly confess. The boys pull a prank, in hopes he’ll have something to tell, which ends up a more horrific transgression than they could have foreseen. Sam’s conscience weighs heavily upon him as he tearfully begins his first act of reconciliation. But will he profess everything he’s guilty of? It leaves one to wonder, will our sins be forgiven if we never confess them, especially the more abhorrent ones we wish not to admit even to ourselves?
In Wish 143 (UK, 24 mins), David, a 15-year-old cancer patient deep into chemotherapy treatment, has only months to live. He is visited by one of the “make a wish” organizations and we learn his only wish, or rather obsession, is to have sex with a woman before he dies. His closest friend, a priest, attempts to persuade him from this path, telling him that he’s too young to understand that sex is about love. “And what if you’ve not got time to fall in love?” David replies. As he begins to experience the painful emotional mess of his search, David confronts a question: What is he really pursuing? Is it just physical pleasure he seeks or that profound and intimate connection with another we all long for?
It is 1994 in Na Wewe (Belgium, 19mins), during the civil war in Burundi, a small African country bordering Rwanda. Hutu rebels attack a minibus shouting, “Hutus to the left, Tutsis to the right!” The selection process begins as the soldiers determine who is to be killed on sight and who will be spared. Confusion ensues as the passengers plead for their lives, everyone appearing to be of just enough mixed descent and nationality to make a case for salvation, save for an 11-year-old child. The story exposes the absurdity of ethnic and racial strife and asks, in a world of skin color and physical differences, are we not all brothers and sisters?
All’s fair in love and war in The Crush (Ireland, 18mins), when 8-year-old Ardal falls in love with his second grade teacher and challenges her fiancé to a duel. With real pistols. Despite his age, Ardal has a heart of gold, a brave demeanor and, set beside his crass nemesis, it’s tough to tell who would be the better suitor for Miss Purdy. We can’t help whom we fall in love with, but can’t we at least know them, and ourselves, for who they really are without the truth concealed?
Trailer for God of Love
God of Love (USA, 18 mins) introduces us to odd looking jazz singer/dart player Raymond Goodfellow, who prays within the first five seconds, “Dear God, whose name I do not know, I pray to you in a time of personal crisis…” What is his very direct and urgent prayer to the Almighty? That he win over the affections of Kelly, his female drummer. His prayer is seemingly answered when he receives a box full of “love darts,” whose effect, if struck, makes one fall in love with whomever they see first for at least six hours. Raymond uses these heavenly arrows for personal gain, but is that the reason they were bestowed upon him in the first place? Should we pray to God for the specific things we crave, and if we do, will we receive what we desire, or just be given the right tools with which we can choose to follow the Divine Will?
Not only did these shorts pique many a spiritual question for me, they are all thoroughly entertaining. Plus watching them can really give one a leg up if involved in any Oscar pools. Care to know which of these I think will take home an Oscar? Not a chance. I’m deeply involved in my own office pool and not interested in losing my edge after having watched these five wonderful little films.
The Academy Awards are broadcast this year on February 27th. In addition to the live action shorts, there are also categories for animated short films and short subject documentaries.