Don’t expect much by way of exuberance and joy from this year’s BAFTA shorts. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times? Released as a portmanteau feature this week, ahead of Sunday’s ceremony, the prospective live action and animated nominees are a strong grouping but even those that are not desperately sad come with a air of melancholia. There are eight in total and together they stretch to just over an hour and fifty minutes.
Among the best of the bunch are an Anglo-French animation from the winner of an earlier BAFTA, Jonathan Hodgson, and a technically outstanding docu-short about a tender cow man whose burgeoning moral coda led him to abandon the abattoir in favour of vegan farming. It is, however, Paul Taylor’s micro horror gem, The Blue Door, that stands apart.
Roughhouse tells the story of three Brummie students – devoted childhood friends – who find a cuckoo in their nest on moving north to Liverpool. Written by Hodgson and solemnly narrated by Steven Camden, it’s a trippy little drama, resembling the closest approximation of an animated Trainspotting cinema has yet produced. Stark visual imagery – coloured in restrained hues, bar one brief pastel explosion – entertains the eye, while plot twists genuinely shock. Dread pervades but hope wins out as Hodgson mines the best and worst of laddish culture.
In 73 Cows, director Alex Lockwood matches the heart-tugging tale of softly spoken farmer Jay Wilde with gorgeous visuals and an eye for sublime framing. Gliding bird’s eye perspectives and artful close ups interweave betwixt unobtrusive interviews with Jay and his wife Katja as they tell unveil their remarkable journey toward ‘a happy cowy life’. There’s quiet insight here and some lovely touches. It’s a story of sorrow and yet, once again, hope will out.
As for Taylor’s Blue Door, this is a masterful exercise in calculated horror. Game of Thrones’ star Gemma Whelan leads as the home-based nurse assigned to care for a decrepit female patient. Dialogue is all but exempt from Ben Clark and Megan Pugh’s tight script yet the film itself boasts a remarkable soundscape. By all accounts, the use of a dilapidated house and antediluvian wench as tropes have no right to be anything other than clichés but try believing that from the edge of your seat. Clark and Pugh are writers to watch.
Of the remainder, Elizabeth’s animated biopic about early twentieth-century artist Oskar Kokoschka does well to replicate the contemporary expressionist style, and a poetic ode to the Texan town of Marfa, from the Brothers McLeod, impresses with sketchbook animation and a tremendous sense of place. There’s a second gently heartbreaking documentary – originally produced for BBC Two – from Angela Clarke and a well-shot but not quite involving drama set during harvest in an Indian village by Sandhya Suri. The first of the films in the running order is Barnaby Blackburn’s affecting but unlikely London-set short, Wale, about a young offender trying to get back on the straight and narrow. Despair once more but hope glimmers still. It’s a theme.
All nominated films will be available from the 8th February exclusively via Curzon Home Cinema, followed by the tour on 12th February at Curzon Cinemas nationwide.
The winners, as voted for by BAFTA members, will be announced at the EE British Academy Film Awards on 10th February.