Oscar-nominated live-action shorts: The story is old—and it goes on and on in Henry

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Henry
  • Henry
All this month we'll be reviewing the Oscar nominees for the best animated, live-action, and documentary short films, alternating daily between categories. Check back tomorrow for the next installment.

The major flaw that plagues most short narrative is a filmmaker's tendency to squeeze too much plot into a brief running time. Obviously, short films lend themselves to stylistic concision. The best are the ones that express things more succinctly but no less effectively than a feature; the worst the ones that attempt to cram in a feature's worth of ideas. Such is the case with Henry, a French-Canadian drama from director Yan England. It tells the story of an elderly pianist who finds himself lost in a mysterious hospital after he's abducted from his home. Eventually, we learn that his surroundings might not be as tangible as they appear, as he begins to witness and occasionally reenact key moments from his past.

Pitched somewhere between Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Inception, Henry uses science fiction as a jumping-off point to explore the immediacy of memory and the pathos of old age. It's a solemn work that expresses genuine sympathy for its subject, but the numerous missteps in England's pacing, structure, and narrative strategies result in a film that gets in its own way.

Considering that he has a mere 20 minutes to work with, England far too often forces unnecessary information on the audience, overwhelming a film that might have worked just fine as a character study anchored in genre elements. As mysterious and moody as Henry is, there's not a lot of ambiguity here—themes of redemption, forgiveness, and companionship sound bluntly and unimaginatively. There's little to like aesthetically, either—the film's nearly black-and-white color scheme succeeds in giving it a forlorn look, but there's a cheapness in cinematography so drab and saturated. It's as if England didn't give a damn about how his film looked so long as he got his convoluted story across, which amounts to another big problem for such a little work.

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