Short films are tough. Twenty minutes to shine or be outshined. Like in poetry, every word and every frame counts — evoking extreme emotional temperature. This year, nothing disappointed. Disparate like mismatched socks, each film gently shakes hands with its audience and then builds real rapport. They’re about death, erasers, acceptance, conformity and ambition, respectively. With specificity, they cover the afterlife, memory decay, saving grace, paternal discipline and cheerful buoyancy.

“Death of a Shadow” (Belgium)

As its contenders all tell great stories, “Death” creates one. The core of its creative plotline finds itself in a sort of museum of photographed death shadows. Think: silhouettes of shadows. Confused? That’s what I’m here for. Our unassuming mustached protagonist plays the photographer, a dead man repaying his “debt” by photographing the shadows of people as they die.

Our photographer’s problem bifurcates: hate for his afterlife profession and love for his abandoned wife. His dilemma worsens.

Director Tom Van Avermaet works in sync with his production designer to illustrate a purgatory where fun comes to die. Upon reaching one thousand captured shadows (fastened to a wall space by large daggers), his “master” will allow him reentry to the world. With this added existentialistic layer, a tragic love story emerges.

“Henry” (Canada)

There’s always at least one tearjerker in the short film category. “Henry” is it. All too often do “sophisticated” moviegoers reject this emotion of salty discharges — they call it “cheap” and “mawkish.” Viewer tears are almost always legitimate.

Henry, an aged pianist, plans for his final recital duet with his wife, Maria, an adroit violinist. His lovely daughter will attend and a culminating moment will unfold. Then he wakes up. Told his Maria passed away last year, Henry is beside himself.

Filmmaker Yan England sets two of music’s most beautiful instruments in perfect harmony with the respective owners — lovers. It uplifts despite all the dementia and senility associated with old age because it dives into highlighting the good memories by using the bad ones as crutches. “Have I been a good man?” Henry begs to his daughter, barely recalling her own name. Intrepid questions like these make “Henry” exactly that: intrepid.

“Curfew” (USA)

USA! USA! USA! The rawest of them all, “Curfew” tackles themes head-on and without remorse. Not unlike the guy who shows up to a wedding rocking a tuxedo t-shirt, it’s funny yet socially suggestive.

The opening aerial shot of our hero bathing in a tub of murky blood-water unlocks the door to an unconventional narrative. Seconds from deleting himself with a blade, a corded telephone rings. It’s his hateful sister. She’s in desperate need of his help, reiterating how much of a “last, last resort” he is. He somehow agrees, “OK.”

Sis needs him to watch over her adorable, sassy daughter. Meeting her uncle for the first time, the girl is not having it. She insists on following “the list” of permitted places and inquires about his pathetic life.

Seasoned short-story writer Shawn Christensen, who also plays our hero, tells the tale of the family outcast we all could tell but dance around. Deeper, he explicates how easy relationships can be severed (or never even spark) yet also can be rekindled. Never abandon loved ones, all things considered, because they need you more than they know. That’s what “Curfew” teaches.

“Buzkashi Boys” (Afghanistan)

We’ve seen it a million times: stringently fathered boy befriends free-spirited bastard. Why do filmmakers continue to spin this tired tale? Because audiences find common ground, no matter their “cool” or “lame” parental backgrounds. “Buzkashi” delivers two Afghani boys, a blacksmith’s son and a street urchin, who learn from each other’s stark differences.

One day, the urchin takes his conservative friend to a match of Buzkashi (a rough polo-like game played with a dead goat instead of a ball). Both boys inspired by the guts and kinesis of the game, the urchin declares his newly minted pursuit to join the ranks of Buzkashi riders. The less ambitious boy concedes to working under his blacksmith father forever.

Creator Sam French leverages current-day Afghan landscape (and the apparent approval of the Afghanistan Ministry of Information and Culture) to color a crude drawing of how many lives are spent entirely under a parent’s tutelage. There seems to be little range of movement for innovation or recreation. But sometimes, someone just needs solid teaching to locate his talents.

Asad (South Africa)

A good drama infused with timely laughs creates first-rate motion pictures. A brief banana in linear lips can do wonders: a smile. “Asad” is not bereft of laughs, even with its solemn setting in war-ridden Somalia.

As his older friends set sail as pirates to overtake yachts and other ships, Asad is stuck — too young for combat. He claims some of the older soldiers are “novices” while he knows the topography and currents better than his seniors.

He finally gets his chance to chase his “magnificent catch” using an elder’s boat. His course randomly leads him to a yacht where he finds something he can only title “a white lion.”

Commercial director Bryan Buckley creates tangible value in the form of laughs and smiles with “Asad.” He enlightens audiences that although the Somali people “have lost their country,” they hold onto “their sense of hope.” Places like Somalia need Asads. They need hope because there is still so much to be thankful for. Defogging your pessimism goggles is the hard part.

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