Beginning Friday, the Santikos Bijou will begin screening the Oscar-nominated short films — both animated and live action. Tickets are $9 at night, and the live-action and animated categories are screened separately. For the rest of the week, we'll be profiling the nominees, beginning with "Auf der Strecke (On the Line)."
The film-centered Oscar categories about which no one even pretends to give a shit — documentaries, shorts, and documentary shorts — are the exception that proves how lame and backwards the Oscars really are. These categories provide the rushed through, bathroom-break awards presentations, usually delivered by a pretty starlet who prefaces the nominee list with a stern speech about why these type of films are even made in the first place, but they're also the only film categories in which non-American works aren't confined to the booby-prize foreign language ghetto. The time when Best Picture meant "best decently budgeted, American-produced, main-stream box office contender starring high profile actors and actresses" is not only long past, it was never really here at all. Excellent case in point: Oscar-nominated Swiss short "(Auf der Strecke) On the Line."
This story of a lonely but good-hearted department store security guard who flirts awkwardly and unsuccessfully with a cashier until a shot a real heroism changes their relationship dynamic, sounds almost exactly like an American film I reviewed a few weeks back — Paul Blart: Mall Cop. But where the Swiss use the character as a launching pad for a quiet half hour meditation on coping with loss and society's guilt in human suffering, American filmmakers see a fat dude falling off a Segway for 90 minutes.
The protagonist of "On the Line" gets his chance to be a hero early in the film. After following his crush Sarah(who works in the book section of the store) onto the evening train, he discovers she's meeting another man. Sarah and the man begin fighting, and Sarah storms off, leaving the pissed off dude alone to be ridiculed by a couple of teenage deliquents. When it turns into a fight, the security guard opts to get off at his stop, and leave his beloved's apparent jerk boyfriend alone to deal with three hormonal bullies.
At work the next day, our man is horrified to discover that jerk boyfriend was: a) beat to death by those kids, and b) Sarah's brother. The film thankfully ends before this unwinnable situation comes to a head, but we still have to watch the security guard squirm for about 20 minutes as he painfully attempts to comfort Sarah (who has no idea he'd had the chance to stop the attack) and even woo her while visibly tortured by the guilt he feels for a non-act must of us at our lowest would be more than capable of committing.