Most people probably know Taika Waititi as the director of Thor: Ragnarok, or maybe as the co-creator of Flight of the Conchords or What We Do In The Shadows. If they're well-informed, they'll be familiar with Hunt For The Wilderpeople or Boy. But few probably know that Taika is, in fact, an Academy Award nominee. That's somewhat understandable, given that his nomination came for Two Cars, One Night, a 2004 black-and-white short film about three Kiwi children finding friendship in a pub parking lot while their parents drink inside. Not many outside New Zealand and/or the festival circuit have seen that one.
Until recently, the film has been difficult to track down without resorting to bootlegs, but now Two Cars, One Night is now finally available for us to legally view in its entirety:
The film is certainly subdued by the standards Taika has set for himself in pop culture, centred as it is around some bored kids. There's not much plot to speak of; only character development and faint hints of nascent relationships, the sort Waititi often depicts (accurately, for New Zealanders) through body language and minimal, colloquial dialogue. Still, the short bears Waititi's trademark low-key humour and his uncanny ability to extract engaging, unforced performances from child actors. You can't necessarily draw a direct link from Two Cars to Thor (or upcoming projects like The Mandalorian or Time Bandits), but if you go via Boy and Wilderpeople, the progression feels natural. It also just feels right that Waititi famously pretended to be asleep when the camera settled on him at the Oscars. (He didn't win, and neither did fellow nominee Nacho Vigalondo; the Oscar went to the also-great Andrea Arnold.)
(Incidentally, if you want to see proto-Taika in a more unhinged form, check out Heinous Crime, made for New Zealand's 48HOURS filmmaking competition in the same year as Two Cars, One Night. It's rough as hell and borderline unwatchable nowadays - which I say as a veteran and former organiser of that competition - but it represents Taika having an immense amount of fun, playing every character himself using a range of costumes, wigs, and false teeth. It's available to view on the 48HOURS website.)
What do you think? If this is new to you, especially, how does it alter your sense of who Taika Waititi is as a filmmaker? If it's not new to you, how does it play for you in the wake of his blockbuster breakout? We don't talk enough about short films. So let's talk about this one.