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Screening Room

Tuning Into a Short Wave

Oscar-nominated animated and live-action films reveal surprising range of humor and pathos.

July 05, 2001|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's easy to see why Florian Gallenberger's "Quiero Ser" (I Want to Be) won the Oscar for live-action short this year. Gallenberger is a wonderful storyteller who wisely does not try to stretch his material beyond its appropriate length. The film unspools Wednesday as part of the American Cinematheque and Apollo Cinema's Oscar Shorts, Winners and Nominees for 2000, one of the few chances to see a program of the films in the live-action and animation categories.

"Quiero Ser" concerns two brothers who struggle to survive in Mexico City's dingiest streets, striving to save the pesos they earn any way they can to become balloon-sellers. That the difference in the two boys' ages places them on different sides of puberty, however, creates an unexpected challenge. Beautifully acted, beautifully shot, the very well-shaped film has a prologue that is a stunner and leaves one eager to see Gallenberger, adept at blending humor and pathos, graduate to features.

Paulo Machline's "A Soccer Story," apparently autobiographical, is a sentimental reminiscence by the unseen narrator about a time in 1950 when he was 10 and caught up in playing soccer in his picturesque and idyllic small town. One of the boys on our little hero's team increasingly stands out from the other players, leading to a surprise touch at this nicely wrought film's finish.

Colin Campbell and Gail Lerner's "Seraglio" is a deliciously sly and amusing vignette in which a pretty but plump housewife (a delightful Debra Christofferson) receives an exceptionally torrid and original love letter that she just knows has to have been sent by the young husband across the street from her pleasant, if austerely furnished, 1920s cottage.

Actor Peter Riegert has adapted to the 1930s and directed "By Courier" from an Edgar Allan Poe story. A young man (Garret Dillahunt), suitcase in hand, spots a boy about 13 (Joey Temperini) and asks him to verbally deliver a message to a young woman (Claire Lautier) as she emerges from a lovely old home in what looks to be a New England small town. Through the boy, the two communicate in exceedingly flowery language, which the boy boils down to tough, no-nonsense Dead End Kid-style slang. The effect is amusing but arch; it's hard to imagine anyone talking like any of these people in real life under any circumstances.

"One Day Crossing," set in Budapest in 1944, was unavailable for preview.

The animation category presented Oscar voters with a tough choice, so similar in inspired artistry are Michael Dudok de Wit's "Father and Daughter," which won, and Steffen Schaffler's "The Periwig-Maker."

In minimalist sepia imagery, De Wit sketches a poignant vignette about a little girl who bids her father farewell as he departs in a rowboat from the end of a very long breakwater, upon which the girl bicycles frequently to see if there is any sign of his return.

Coincidentally, "The Periwig-Maker" begins with a shot of a rowboat just as "Father and Daughter" ends with one. Each film deals with a man and a young girl, but there the resemblance ends. Schaffler has evoked a corner of London at the height of the bubonic plague in 1665 as a periwig-maker stays safely inside his shop and residence, determined to survive the pestilence at all costs, while across the way a little red-haired girl repeatedly tries to escape the clutches of a baleful-looking man.

Both films are splendid works of animation; "Rejected," the third film in this category, was unavailable for preview. Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-FILM.

*

The Goethe Institute's Blockbuster series concludes its third edition at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the institute, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, with Doris Drrie's poignant and ambitious "Am I Beautiful?" It evokes the eternal themes of love's vicissitudes and life's fleetingness in a series of interlocking vignettes.

The presence of some 20 key characters, played by renowned German actors, deepens rather than dissipates Drrie's concerns, enabling her to play her celebrated mastery of comedy against darker aspects of life even more than she customarily does. The overarching event, which deftly becomes apparent only in the film's unfolding, is the impending Munich marriage of a young woman (Anica Dobra), who fled Spain, leaving a heartbroken lover (Steffen Wink), who calls her constantly to beg her not to go through with her wedding.

The film is set in motion, however, by a beautiful drifter (Franka Potente) hitchhiking along a desert highway near Seville. She's given a lift by Gustav Peter Whler, playing the same character as in Drrie's current "Enlightenment Guaranteed."

Uwe Ochsenknecht, that film's star, also repeats his role here. Also among the film's major figures are the eternally glamorous Senta Berger and Gottfried John as the bride's parents, locked in a long but atrophied marriage.

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