Movie Review: 2017 Oscar Nominated Short Films- Live Action.
This year five short films vie for the prize, and they’re all pretty great.
For a second year, we cover the films nominated for an Academy Award in the Live Action Short Films category. This year, picking a favorite is quite intimidating, since all five contenders were strong. While you may suspect that many films in this category are intense dramas and tear-jerkers, this year we had a nice assortment of styles. There’s even a comedy in the running!
The Live Action shorts are currently showing live (I caught the collection at at Frontier Cafe in Brunswick, Maine) and they will be available to stream on Vimeo and Amazon Prime on February 21st. It’s going to be a busy Tuesday this week, since that is also the date that many of the Best Feature Film nominees make their way to streaming. Get ready for a lot of Oscar talk!
1. Sing (Mindenki), Hungary.
Director: Kristof Deak.
A young girl named Zsofi transfers to a new school, and dreams of singing in their award-winning choir. She discovers that despite an “all welcomed” approach by the principal, the choir teacher has been manipulating the system to make sure that the team wins every year. Along with her new best friend, Liza, they concoct a scheme to even the odds.
This film is charming and well acted, especially considering the very young cast. The visuals are minimal but very clean, and the cinematography is not afraid to use some excellent wide angles and long panning shots to introduce us to the setting. It is strong film that has enough mischief to make you laugh, while dealing with a serious topic. People around me were really angry when they found out how the music teacher was treating the kids!
It may not be the most serious of the contenders, but it is a very nice short film good for all ages.
2. Silent Nights, Denmark.
Director: Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson.
A young Danish woman named Inger, who splits her time caring for an alcoholic mother and volunteering at a refugee shelter, falls in love with Kwame, a man from Ghana trying to make enough money to help his family back home. Trouble with the law and connections to Kwame’s old life threaten their brief romance.
Silent Nights is well shot and paced, but seems to barely scratch the surface of its subject. In the opening sequences, we get a strong representation of the dangers Kwame faced on his illegal journey to Europe, and the dangers he faces constantly on the streets. We also get strong characterization of Inger’s home life and how she has channeled an abusive parental relationship into positive social action. Unfortunately, the story becomes pretty black and white: Inger is the generous giver, and Kwame the reluctant taker. The white savior motif may make some people feel good about not being one of those “deplorables,” but in the end its still pretty self serving. A strong start, good performances, but just couldn’t stick the landing.
3. Timecode, Spain.
Director: Juanjo Gimenez.
A quiet woman working a boring security detail discovers that the night watchman has a secret passion for dance. The two create a game about the secret to keep them sane in their tedious job.
Oh, this movie speaks to my heart! I love the reserved tone and light touch of the director. There is almost no dialogue or music, and the two main characters show very little emotion during their scenes. The real voltage of the scenes comes from the hilarious secret they share, and how absurd it is that they have to hide it…and how spot-on it is that such a trivial matter brings joy to their lives. This is the shortest of the films, and it accomplishes much in just 15 minutes. There are a lot of solid laughs, and a deft observation of modern working life.
4. Enemies Within (Ennemis Interieurs,) France.
Director: Selim Azzazi.
An immigrant from Algeria interviews to receive full citizenship in France, but becomes increasingly alarmed as the agent interrogating him questions every aspect of his life.
This gem is a tight noir scene extended into a forceful short film. With just three characters and two locations, it makes great use of its limitations. The dialogue is crisp and powerful, delivered excellently by the two main actors. The two men locked into an increasingly adversarial conversation give lines that would make a Broadway playwright weep.
The director shifts the narrative subtly several times, trading on the tension of the film’s title: who can we trust here? The film explores the morally ambiguous nature of national security in the wake of terrorism. When does vigilance turn into persecution? When does being a good citizen turn into being a pawn of the state? How much are we willing to compromise morally, as a person and as a nation, for safety? See the collection just for this short film.
5. The Woman and the TGV (La Femme et le TGV,) Switzerland.
Director: Timo Von Guten and Giacun Caduff.
Elise is a widow who lives alone besides the tracks of a high speed passenger train. Every day she wakes up early to wave at the passerby’s from her window. Besides this pleasure, life is not great. She is prickly to her neighbors, her bakery, once famous, is being strangled by a cheaper chain of stores, and she is in a feud with the dance studio across the street. One day, she discovers that the conductor of the TGV train has found comfort in her daily greetings, and the two start a pen pal relationship that changes their lives.
This film took some time to grow on me. The short has wonderful cinematography and a lively, whimsical score…but Elise is just such a pill. Even seeing her problems, you kind of want to avoid her. As she grows more carefree and emotionally available by reading the letters from the conductor, the film starts to shine. It richly evokes the setting of the story, and really creates a vivid look at life in a once thriving town. I can’t say it was my favorite short, but it does a good job of being fantastical and grounded at the same time.
I liked most of the stories immensely, and the two weaker shorts (Silent Nights, The Woman and the TGV) still had a ton of merit. Despite such a strong group, I knew as soon as the collection was over that Enemies Within was my favorite. The structure, the pacing, and the amazing delivery from the two leads was just peerless. I really hope Selim Azzazi and his crew get the nod come Oscar Sunday.