The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) announced that three of its co-productions have been shortlisted for the Best Animated Short Film in the upcoming 94th Academy Awards. The films in question — Affairs of the Art, Bad Seeds, and Flowing Home — are the latest additions to the NFB’s illustrious track record at the Oscars, with 75 nominations and 12 wins so far. Hence, I sat down to watch the three films, which ended up to be impressive in their own rights.
Affairs of the Art
Directed by Joanna Quinn and Les Mills, Affairs of the Art packs a quirky, feverish punch in its 16-minute runtime. The short delves into an eccentric family’s shared genes of hyper obsession, ranging from pet taxidermy to Vladimir Lenin. Beryl, a middle-aged aspiring artist, narrates the oddities of each of her family members: her sister Beverly, her son Colin, and her husband Ifor, while giving an insight into her own weirdness. The hand-drawn animation of overlapping pencil strokes adds to the chaotic nature of the characters as they move from one obsession to the next. I’m glad that this film is animated because I’d be scarred if some of the gory hyper-fixations were rendered with realistic special effects. That being said, the cartoonish family leaves a weird aftertaste.
This short, directed by Sandra Desmazières, will take you on an emotional rollercoaster for 15 minutes. Narrated in French, Flowing Home follows the journey of two sisters separated during the Vietnam War. One of them, Thao, leaves for Montreal, hoping for the rest of the family to follow soon. Unfortunately, her hope turns into two decades of longing. In the intervening years, Thao and her sister Sao Maï strive to preserve their connection through letters, bonding over their shared past and the minutiae of their lives in the aftermath of war. The earthy hues, with a predominance of blue, lend Flowing Home a poignant undertone. Yet, the film ends on a hopeful note as the sisters look forward to their long-awaited reunion.
The shortest short of the three, Bad Seeds is a witty satire verging on the absurd. Directed by Claude Cloutier, the film starts with a strange plant that sprouts a crow in a top hat. Soon, another strange plant grows with a frog’s head. As they fight over the flies buzzing around them, the two plants turn out to be much more than they seem, changing their forms like a chameleon on steroids. In the meantime, the prey also get bigger and wilder. Bad Seeds ends with an unexpected twist, implying that the crow and the frog had more in common than they thought. Their escalating fight over the six-minute runtime contains references to all the great rivals of our world, from the ones between animals to those between historical figures. The ink on paper animation reminds me of illustrations from old newspapers, thus giving the theme of rivalry a timeless feel.
Although I liked all three shorts, I’m rooting for Flowing Home and Bad Seeds to get nominated. In terms of actually bagging the Oscar, Bad Seeds is a clear winner. It left the strongest impression out of the three due to its clever handling of the theme of rivalry and how it encompasses living beings and inanimate objects alike. It is perhaps the most minimalist short in this list in terms of animation style, contained to only two characters who don’t speak. Perhaps it is because of this bare-bones approach that the message stuck with me. Bad Seeds demonstrates that even minimalist movies can have a large impact and I hope it gets the recognition it deserves at the Oscars.