Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts (89th Academy Awards) review

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.

Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts 2017 green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

My favorite of the nominees is “Sing” [pictured], a movie for right-now with its pushback against a bullying authority figure and its gently effective defiance.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Moral dilemmas, standing up for friends old and new, navigating loneliness, and defying The Man and the systems that box us in: these are the motifs that wend their way through the five short live-action films nominated for the Oscar this year, to varying degrees of success.

My favorite of the bunch and the one I’d love to see win the Academy Award is the hugely engaging “Sing (Mindenki)”tweet [IMDb|official site], from Hungarian filmmaker Kristóf Deák. Zsófi (Dóra Gáspárvalvi), around 10 years old, thinks she has found a place to belong in her new Budapest primary school, in its choir that sings so beautifully… until the music teacher, Miss Erika (Zsófia Szamosi), is cruel to her in a way that utterly crushes the girl’s joy and made me gasp out loud in shock, that anyone charged with engaging children’s creativity would conceive of such a horror. Later I would cheer as Zsófi and her new friend Liza (Dorka Hais) concoct a plan to fight back. I love this short for its pushback against a bullying authority figure who absolutely deserves to be defied, and for the gentle effectiveness of the girls’ opposition. A movie for the right-now. #resist

Moral dilemmas, navigating loneliness, and defying The Man: these motifs that wend their way through these five short films.

I also really like the unexpectedly whimsical rebellion of “Timecode”tweet [IMDb|official site], from Spanish filmmaker Juanjo Giménez Peña. Luna (Lali Ayguadé) works the day shift as a security guard in a parking garage, and her dull routine is interrupted one day when a customer complaint about damage to his car leads her to search the facility’s CCTV footage, wherein she discovers how the night guard, Diego (Nicolas Ricchini), passes the long hours of his shift. We’re so used to the never-tiring roaming eye of security cameras being depicted as a weapon of oppression — which they most certainly are — but here we witness a delightful subversion of that as Luna and Diego fall into an ongoing visual conversation conducted solely via their appearances on the video footage as they do their rounds and Post-it notes left with timecode notations for the next shift. This short is a wonderfully innovative use of a single mundane location to tell an unusual story lived by characters vividly drawn in a smartly minimalist way. [Buy at Amazon US VOD|Amazon UK VOD|iTunes all regions (where available).]


The other nominees:

• “La Femme et le TGV” [IMDb|official site], by Swiss filmmaker Timo von Gunten, is the twee French-language portrait of Elise (Jane Birkin: The Last September), whose life has been structured lo these many years around the twice-a-day passing of the high-speed train along the tracks alongside her little house: she prides herself on never missing waving to the train as it zooms by, to the point of stubborn obsessiveness that interferes with, for instance, meeting up with her adult son when he comes to town for a visit. And then one day a note from the train driver comes fluttering in on the high-speed breeze: turns out he gets as much pleasure out of seeing her wave as she gets from waving. Will their new correspondence — she sends letters and packages to the train company HQ; he tosses his out of the train — be an even further distraction from the life right in front of her? Some tart Gallic despair from her son — who does not appreciate what the train means to her — and an incredibly bittersweet sting leaven the predictable sentimentality.tweet [Buy at iTunes all regions (where available).]

“La Femme et le TGV”
“La Femme et le TGV”tweet

• “Ennemis Intérieurs” [IMDb|official site] — the first film from French filmmaker Sélim Aazzazi, who’s worked as a sound editor on lots of big films such as The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec — gives us an Algerian-born Frenchman (Hassam Ghancy: Traitor) attending an interview at a police station in the 1990s to confirm his request to be naturalized as a French citizen. The nuances of the political situation in France at the time are explained, but still a bit confusing for those not familiar with it. Basically, the man was born in Algeria before it achieved independence from France, and has lived in France since he was a child, but his father chose Algerian citizenship for his son at independence, hence the need for naturalization. Now, in the 1990s, France is experiencing a wave of Algerian terrorism as a civil war rages in that African nation, and the man’s interview takes an intense turn as the cop (Najib Oudghiri: Rendition) starts asking invasive questions about meetings arranged at the man’s mosque, what went on at those meetings, and who was in attendance. It’s plain that Aazzazi is striving to make points about who is considered appropriately French and who is not, and how much-vaunted ideals — such as liberté, égalité, fraternité — turn out to be rather disposable depending on who is asking to participate in them. And then there’s the morally complicating factor of the cop being of Algerian descent as well. The man’s accusation that the cop is little more than the local equivalent of an Uncle Tom hits true, but whatever point Aazzazi is trying to make in where the man’s interview ultimately ends up was lost on me. I was so sure that I missed something that I went back and watched again… but I feel like something key is missingtweet here. [Buy at Amazon US VOD|Amazon UK VOD|iTunes all regions (where available).]

• In “Silent Nights” [IMDb|official site], from Danish filmmaker Aske Bang, Copenhagen Salvation Army volunteer Inger (Malene Beltoft Olsen) falls into a romantic relationship with charming Ghanaian refugee Kwame (Prince Yaw Appiah). The loneliness and desperation of migrants and the bigotry they face gets poignant playtweet here, and Olsen and Appiah are lovely and exhibit palpable chemistry together. But the obstacles that will trip up the couple are less than surprising, and Inger ends up as something of a white savior, which is less than savory. [Buy at Amazon UK VOD|iTunes all regions (where available).]

share and enjoy
If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
If you haven’t commented here before, your first comment will be held for MaryAnn’s approval. This is an anti-spam, anti-troll, anti-abuse measure. If your comment is not spam, trollish, or abusive, it will be approved, and all your future comments will post immediately. (Further comments may still be deleted if spammy, trollish, or abusive, and continued such behavior will get your account deleted and banned.)
notify of
1 Comment
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
view all comments
Fri, Feb 24, 2017 8:03pm

Your description of Timecode reminds me of how, at the factory job I used to work, employees from different shifts would communicate through workplace vandalism. There was an ongoing argument about proper mathematical notation that at one point covered most of the operation panel at the back of our line and was bleeding over onto various structural posts before everything was repainted.