Oscar-nominated animated shorts: Head Over Heels, the story of an unlikely marriage

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Ill meet you halfway...
  • I'll meet you halfway...
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 Monday for the next installment.

This puppet animation from the UK reminded me of one of my favorite books from childhood, Round Trip by Ann Jonas, whose illustrations revealed different images when you turned them upside down. One read the book to the end, flipped it over, then continued the story back to the first page. Jonas captured perfectly (to my young eyes, anyway) the feeling that places you saw on the first leg of a trip have subtly changed when you see them on your way home. Writer-director Timothy Reckart employs similar images here to illustrate a more grown-up phenomenon—that of a marriage that succeeds in spite of fundamental differences between the two partners.

Head Over Heels depicts long-married spouses divided by gravity. The husband must live in the sky in a house that floats upside-down; the wife, a more earthbound human being, must use the ceiling as the floor. When the house flips over and falls to the ground, they switch roles, with the husband home- and ceiling-bound and the wife free to roam outside. This ten-minute short observes the two arguing and reconciling in their own peculiar manner and ends with a lovely image of mutual understanding: the wife, again in her element, taking her husband for a walk in the desert, holding his upside-down armchair from a string like a balloon.

Like the animators at Pixar, Reckart and company (who made this as a graduation project at the National Film & Television School) are clearly influenced by silent comedy in their gags and characterization. But the absence of dialogue here feels less like an aesthetic choice than a plausible illustration of a settled-in marriage. These spouses who have lived together for so long they can communicate without speaking, especially when they argue. The texture of the puppets—which looks like a cross between hardened clay and burlap—also exhibit a lived-in quality that enhances the fantastic premise. These are fitting touches, as Head Over Heels is all about romance giving way to respect and pragmatic compromise. Incidentally, this makes for ideal post-Valentine's Day viewing.

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