An International Batch of Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts
ShortsTV is bringing this year’s batch of Oscar nominated Live Action, Documentary and Animated Short Films to a global audience. In the United States, check your local Landmark theater for availability. Here’s our rundown of the Live Action films.
Contributing reviewers are Erik Yates, Krystal Lyon, and Jim Tudor. Get an edge in your Oscar pool, and more importantly, be informed about some solid, if short, cinema that is being celebrated:
Vincent Lambe and Darren Mahon, Ireland, 30 minutes
This United Kingdom entry deals with what is perhaps the most disturbing subject matter I’ve ever seen. Based on a true story, using the interview transcripts and legal records of the case, Detainment chronicles the abduction and murder of 2-year old James Bulger (Caleb Mason). While this alone is heartbreaking, the disturbing aspect is that the accused murderers are 10-year olds Jon Venables (Ely Solan) and Robert Thompson (Leon Hugues), who carry out a murder so disturbing that at least 4 tapes of testimony were sealed with some of the court records. Thankfully, the film doesn’t re-enact this crime, or fully spell out all of the details. Rather, it lets the pure shocking nature of the crime alone drive the suspense, with just enough details to lead your mind into the darker details of this case, where you can imagine some of the more grisly details that are left unsaid. While the family of James Bulger has come out against the film, it is a jarring reminder of the nature of evil, made all the more disturbing that it was committed by the youngest people in the world to ever have been tried as an adult for murder.
– Erik Yates
Jeremy Comte and Maria Gracia Turgeon, Canada, 17 minutes
Fauve is French for “wild beast”, and this name can easily describe the two boys who are at the center of this French-Canadian live action short film. Most of the time, Tyler (Felix Grenier) and Benjamin (Alexandre Perreault), spend their time walking around. They are in engaged in an ever-escalating contest of getting the other to fall for whatever lie they can conjure as they throw rocks at each other, climb structures, or explore a surface mine. In a case of foreshadowing, one of the boys sees a wild fox, which serves as a dark omen for this ever-escalating game of crying wolf. The care-free spirit of these wild beasts will eventually yield to the sobering reality that comes into focus when all is said and done. Fauve is effective, yet not as fully developed as it could have been.
– Erik Yates
Rodrigo Sorogoyen and Maria del Puy Alvarado, Spain, 19 minutes
Holy moly, Madre is a thriller! In one shot, that’s right, one continuous seventeen-minute sequence, director Rodrigo Sorogoyen gives you a glimpse at every mother’s worst nightmare. A 6 year-old child, abandoned in another country, on the other end of a dying phone, unable to tell her where he is. The brilliance of this film comes down to carefully choreographed camera work, a tight, concise story and the incredible performance of Marta Nieto, the boy’s mother. As those moments tick by you watch Marta’s emotions build from carefree and talking about a night out with friends to frantic and hysterical panic. She exhausts all her options, from calling her ex-husband’s new fling and the authorities, to talking her son through identifying a landmark, but nothing works. There’s only one bar left on Ivan’s phone, no father in sight and what’s worse, a strange man has arrived on the isolated beach and is walking towards her son. The audience isn’t seeing any of this action on the beach. You experience the horror through Marta’s pacing around a bright studio apartment with her own mother looking on helplessly. Sorogoyen wrote, “The ambiguity makes the story terrifying. That makes them (the viewer) build the story in their own mind, which is more powerful that any position I can take.” Madre isn’t for the faint of heart but it’s a slick story that makes your blood run cold!
– Krystal Lyon
Marianne Farley and Marie-Helene Panisset, Canada, 19 minutes
Another French-Canadian entry follows the story of Marguerite (Beatrice Picard), and elderly woman suffering from kidney failure. Marguerite is cared for by her nurse, Rachel (Sandrine Bisson), who bathes Marguerite, dispenses her meds, and rubs lotion on her swollen, and bruised legs and feet. When a phone call between Rachel and her love interest is overheard by Marguerite, Marguerite uses the occasion to make small-talk by asking “what’s his name”. The answer surprises her when Rachel tells Marguerite that her love is actually a woman. Rachel leaves, but Marguerite continues to ponder this information, revealing a suppressed secret from her past that may have the chance to finally be dealt with before she succumbs to her condition. Touching, and tender, yet melancholy and sad, Marguerite ultimately shows the humanity of simply caring for one another in our times of great sorrow.
– Erik Yates
Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman, USA, 20 minutes
Like A Night at the Garden over in this year’s Documentary Oscar Shorts showcase, Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv leans into Trump-era awareness of the long-percolating Neo-Nazi subset of today’s America. Like A Night at the Garden, the casual commingling of the American flag and the swastika are paramount to the underlying grotesquerie at hand. Skin tells the story of a loving (but sickeningly racist) rural family of three wherein the patriarchally enforced ideology of white supremacy is their truly defining characteristic. During a routine evening trip to the grocery store, the father (a wiry, emboldened and inked-up performance by Jonathan Tucker) has his buddies in waiting violently assault an African-American shopper (Ashley Thomas) who’s made the mistake of eliciting a laugh from his young son (Jackson Robert Scott). Soon enough, a rival black gang kidnaps him, enacting a ridiculous revenge plot worthy of The Twilight Zone. As the young boy’s indoctrination gives way to reactionary response, Skin ends on a grossly misfired leftist trauma mongering. Here’s hoping that Nattiv’s upcoming feature version of the same title course corrects its self-seriousness into a place of more honest empathy and grappling.
– Jim Tudor