This collection of foreign shorts is an intense experience. The primary characters in each, respectively . A dying child wants to know his fate in the afterlife, and a hospital janitor risks his job to save his soul with a fable. A man in a straightjacket proves to a skeptical psychiatrist that he is God. A woman and her children are frightened for their lives as they attempt to flee from an abusive father. A husband and wife are doctors in a war-ravaged country and become subject to terrible violence and assault, ultimately choosing the path of compassion. Lastly, a much-appreciated comedy about a wife’s struggles to manage her family’s preparation and arrival for a friend’s birthday party.
Perhaps the theme of this year’s foreign Oscar shorts is domestic issues and death — that was my impression, at least, on a more shallow level. But on a deeper level, perhaps this year’s foreign shorts are inspired by questions of empathy for the “Other.” In most of these stories, a failure to act with empathy toward an adversary or companion resulted in a regrettable situation. In multiple stories, a protagonist risks everything in the attempt to avoid such a regret. The subject matters of these stories — sexual and physical violence, domestic struggles, family, sickness, death, war, hierarchal and institutionally-driven repression — these are some of the most prominent themes I gathered from the films. The overarching expression through these short films, however, is a striding yearning toward compassion and peace.
These films are unapologetic in their rawness, vividness, and depth. I cried once, and grimaced a good amount, and held my date’s hand a little too hard through some tense passages. The general level of intensity remained consistent, excepting brief moments. These films were made by risk-takers with large moral and expressive aspirations, and so it makes sense they are critically celebrated.