Oscars 2020: A Sister [Une Soeur].

Delphine Girard’s live-action short exemplifies the emotional impact possible from the short form.

Short films have a potency due to their distilled nature. Like poetry, they need to get their themes and imagery out economically. A Sister, by Delphine Girard, deftly uses that compression for maximum impact. Trapped in a car with an unstable man alongside our protagonist, each minute vibrates with urgency and tension.

A Sister [Une Soeur] (2019).

A man and woman drive through the night. The woman seems chastened; the man seems agitated. The woman talks him into letting her call her sister, to check on her daughter. Instead, she calls for help.

Up Close and Personal.

The majority of the film takes place in extreme close ups. We’re inches away from our protagonist, the camera mimicking the menace of her assailant by seeming to press her against the very window of her passenger seat.

When the narrative shifts to the perspective of the police dispatcher on the other end of the phone, we’re only slightly less close. When she is forced to pretend to be the sister as the man takes the phone, the camera again pulls up tight; now the menace is bearing down on her.

Two Leads.

The first act of the short is all from the woman’s point of view. Girard adroitly conveys the emotional tension, but we don’t have the specifics. This could be a married couple in a fight, perhaps. When the phone call breaks the silence of the drive, the woman mostly speaks in abstract pleasantries – coding her plea for help. We’re outside the code, so we don’t know she’s called the police.

As the call continues with trivialities, we suddenly swap into the perspective of the dispatcher. As she begins to suspect our caller is in grave danger, the code begins to fall into place, and we rehear bits of the call from both perspectives. The danger crystallizes, and then is made explicit as we get a flashback (again in extremely close perspective) of the man attacking and kidnapping our protagonist.

Lightly Hidden, Deeper Understood.

A Sister packs an emotional wallop in a tiny package. There are so many smart choices made behind the camera to make each element of the drama spark. Perspective, match cuts, flashbacks, subtle expressions from the actors, all come together to create a gripping experience. A Sister is one hell of a short film, amply deserving of its Oscar nomination.

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