Oscars 2021 nominated animation shorts: A chronicle of enslavement and rebellion stands out in this eclectic collection

Anna MM Vetticad
·6 min read

The animation shorts category at the Oscars is usually a space where imaginations run wild. This year's nominees are no different. ShortsTV, a short films channel that has been bringing the Oscar nominees from all the shorts categories to Indian theatres in recent years, has collaborated this year with BookMyShow Stream on which 2021's nominated animation shorts are now streaming as a combined package.

Here are my reviews of each of the nominated films:

Genius Loci

Director: Adrien Merigeau

Cast: Nadia Moussa, Georgia Cusack, Jina Djemba

Language: French

At one point in Genius Loci, the protagonist Reine (voiced by Nadia Moussa) hears a piece of music she cannot decipher though it has a profound impact on her. "That was beautiful. It was like a tornado playing music," she says. Those words pretty much sum up French filmmaker Adrien Merigeau's short that is in contention for an Oscar this year: it is like a tornado making an animation film.

Reine is a loner with a vibrant inner life, who shares a small flat with an infant and his mother Mouna (Jina Djemba). Home is a refuge, but it also gives Reine limited space. It is a place she finds unsettling and calming by turns. One day when she wanders away into the city, in the hustle and bustle of the vast urban landscape she finds chaos and colour that she can, inexplicably, connect to.

Merigeau, who was the production designer on the Oscar-nominated feature Song of the Sea, uses an unpredictable parade of images in this fantasy flick to re-examine conventional definitions of solitude and loneliness. In the city as seen through Reine's eyes, colour gives way to black and white and back to colour, and a Picasso-like deconstruction of thugs in a pedestrian subway is followed by ordinary pieces of paper metamorphosing into live shapes that would do any Origami artist proud.

Genius Loci is visually intriguing and oddly poetic.

Rating: 3.25 (out of 5 stars)

genius loci 640
genius loci 640

***

If Anything Happens I Love You

Director: Michael Govier, Will McCormack

Cast: None

Language: English

Loss is the theme of actor-writer-director duo Michael Govier and Will McCormack's If Anything Happens I Love You, a silent drama about the chasm that develops between two people when their 10-year-old daughter dies. Instead of sustaining them through their sorrow, memories of their beloved child cast a giant shadow on the couple's relationship.

The differing ways in which individuals grieve is exemplified by a telling scene featuring the family's playful pet cat playing around while the parents struggle to converse with each other.

Govier and McCormack (who is credited as one of the story writers of Toy Story 4) have opted for a sparing use of colour in minimalist sketches backed by Lindsay Marcus' thoughtful music, a blend that serves to underline the emptiness of the lives playing out on screen. When the cause of the child's death is revealed, it might seem to some like too fleeting a mention for such a serious issue, but If Anything Happens I Love You is not about the politics of violence €" it is about the people left behind.

Hollywood heavyweight Laura Dern is one of the executive producers on this project, which has enough emotional heft to make it worthy of its spot among its fellow nominees.

Rating: 2.75 (out of 5 stars)

if anything
if anything

***

Opera

Director: Erik Oh

Cast: None

Language: No dialogues

Erik Oh's short is the busiest of the nominees in this category, although it is dialogueless, does not even opt for a background song as If Anything Happens I Love You does and does not shift locations either. Opera focuses throughout its eight minutes and 50 seconds running time on the inner workings of a colossal pyramid that resembles a modern-day video game or a contemporary corporate structure as much as it harks back to Biblical imagery of slave labour or anything and everything that you might wish it to be.

Opera is about the cycle of enslavement and rebellion that homo sapiens seem to be stuck in, the elevation of false gods that will inevitably be pulled down, blind faith, questioning minds, human civilisation and time itself.

If you think about it, the implications of this fascinating short are quite depressing, bringing to mind the human refusal to learn from historical blunders recorded for posterity in texts and archaeological remains, despite which our species insists on reprising the same mistakes, the same idol worship, the same foolishness over and over and over again.

The detailing in this film's animation is stunning. The richness of the goings-on on screen means it is impossible to take it all in at one go, making Opera a prime candidate for repeat viewing.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5 stars)

opera 640
opera 640

***

Yes People

Director: Gísli Darri Halldórsson

Cast: Helga Braga Jónsdóttir, Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir, Jón Gnarr, Kristján Franklín Magnús, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson

Language: Icelandic

A day in the life of residents of a comfortable middle-class urban apartment complex like any other anywhere in the world €" this is what writer-director Gísli Darri Halldórsson explores in the cheeky, funny, lively short, Yes People. An elderly couple who epitomise the "opposites attract" cliché live contiguous to another who spend their time in silence, a mischievous young cannot escape a watchful eye, and ways must be found to drown out amorous neighbours.

Barring their racial markings and foreign tongue, the characters in Yes People could well be the inhabitants of any among the zillion condominiums dotting Gurgaon or Mumbai's landscape. This film then is about the universality of the human experience, despite our surface differences. Yes People is sweet and fun.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5 stars)

yes people
yes people

***

Burrow

Director: Madeline Sharafian

Cast: None

Language: No dialogues

A charming rabbit tries to build a home as per a well-laid-out blueprint, but realises that construction is not her area of expertise. Burrow bustles with activity and characters despite being barely over 6 minutes, and is the cutest way imaginable to make the points that it is okay to ask for help, it is okay to fail, neighbours can be nice, reaching out to the community is cool and when a plan does not work out, it is okay to make a new one.

Burrow is part of the SparkShorts series through which the American animation major Pixar has been discovering new talents in the field. The film is sprightly and energetic, its visuals bright and boldly coloured, and its storytelling as precise as can be. Notwithstanding the obvious lesson being doled out here, it does not feel like one, mostly because of the speed with which everything moves and the aww-worthiness of the fluffy protagonist.

Writer-director Madeline Sharafian appears to have had a ball with this adventure. Her enjoyment radiates off screen in this endearing short.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5 stars)

burrow 640
burrow 640

***

2021's Oscar-nominated animation shorts are available in India on BookMyShow Stream. Burrow will be added to the package shortly.

Oscars 2021 will air in India on 26 April.

(Also read €" Oscars 2021 nominated live action shorts: A close call between a dad who goes shopping and a man who finds his stolen bike)

Also See: Oscars 2021: As Best Short Film nominees release on BookMyShow Stream, a brief history of the cutting-edge category

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