I’ve finally seen all the Oscar-nominated live shorts (which are opening, by the way, on some 70 screens nationwide starting today), and my absolute favorite, hands down, is Andrea Judlin‘s The Substitute, a 15-minute Italian high-school comedy with a slight touch of Bunuelian surrealism.
Somehow a throughly unhinged businessman just waltzes into a high school classroom and pretends to be a substitute teacher. He’s a kind of Jerry Lewis– styled madman, a taunter, a mind-fucker and, oddly, a kind of divine interventionist.
He puts the students int their place, goofing on their atttitudes, making fun of them like a circus clown on drugs. He humiliates the class apple-polisher. He steals a valuable small ball from a fat kid (i.e., one that’s been signed by a soccer star) and won’t give it back. He’s a big-eyed nutter but not what I’d call harmful. Why he’s doing this is a mystery, and it doesn’t matter.
Then he asks a bespectacled bohemian-type girl to read a piece of private poetry she’s written to the class…and she refuses. The beauty of The Substitute is that this refusal, which happens around the ten-minute mark, kicks in at the very end in an identical but different context. It doesn’t precisely make sense, but at the same time it’s perfect. I’ve said it over and over — a great ending is worth its weight in gold.
The other nominated shorts are listed on this page. My second favorite short is At Night, a Danish-produced drama about a friendship between three young women who are marking time in a cancer ward. The other three — The Mozart of Pickpockets, Tanghi Argentina and The Tonto Woman — have their charms and intrigues, but none blew me away like The Substitute.