Tropic Sprockets / The 2017 Oscar Shorts: Animation

By Ian Brockway

The animated shorts category this year may be in a mainstream conventional mode, but there still remains something for every taste. From lamenting sheriffs and free spirited daughters, to spunky birds and a young girl subjected to witchcraft, a medley of subjects are to be found here.

Tops among the shorts is “Blind Vaysha” by Theodor Usev. Vaysha, a young girl, is born with a left eye that pictures the past, and a right eye that represents the future. This condition is a torment to her and she is one in limbo. With beautiful animation, reminiscent of German Expressionism, this film is a small gem as quirky as it is striking.

From Pixar, we have  “Piper” featuring a young, cute and fluffy bird who struggles and frets to gobble up the small mollusks on the beach. Though this short is a crowd pleaser, one might expect a bit more than big eyes, open beaks and adorable chirping.

From Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou, “Borrowed Time” features a Western lawman dealing with the loss of his father. While at first seeming a madcap cowboy romp, this selection sneaks up with a surprising jab of poignance.

Patrick Osborne’s “Pearl”, about the Rock & Roll bonds between father and daughter is a slice of life depicted in the painting style of Hockney or Alex Katz. 

Special mentions go to “Once Upon a Line” a colorful abstract vignette and “Asteria” a loony Douglas Adams-like depiction of outer space conquest.

Short-listed but not nominated is “The Head Vanishes” a thoughtful and very eerie film about a woman with dementia who takes a vacation by the sea.

And  finally in probably the most peculiar, but also the most challenging offering, there is “Pear Cider and Cigarettes”. This is a singular documentary by Robert Valley which chronicles a volatile friendship between a reckless thrill seeker and an illustrator. The adventurer is also a small time crook and alcoholic who needs a new liver.  In the voice of a film noir detective, illustrator Robert retells the trials of his friend as he tries to steer him back to life without alcohol, from hospital to hospital, accident to accident. Though we know little of Robert’s shared bond with the overconfident and macho Techno, it is what we don’t know that makes the film compelling. There is pathos in Robert’s deadpan voice and within every recounting of Techno’s self-destruction, a desperate momentum develops. Visceral and striking with a style that recalls anime, “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” evolves into an unflinching memoir detailing an remote relationship between a free-wheeling addict and a caring but sometimes envious friend.

Take heart: this is not for kids but the risks taken puts it in a class by itself. Both “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” and “”Blind Vaysha” are reasons enough to see the 2017 shorts and you won’t be disappointed.

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