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Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts (2020) review

February 3, 2020

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A running theme amongst all the Live-Action Shorts this year is a longing for connection or to be connected with others. This theme is explored in various different settings and stories. There is one in which people are in conflict with each other and another where people are struggling to figure out life in the aftermath of war. One short focuses on one individual relying on another for survival without ever meeting in person and another wherein ignorance leads to an unexpected conclusion for the another individual. Another short examines how our lives can change when we become enraptured by the way in which others live. There’s something to be gleaned from each of these shorts, yet ultimately their are unique stories to experience here regardless of the situations characters are in here.

The Live-Action Shorts can currently be found for a limited time in select theaters. I have seen them all and listed them below in order from Good to Really Great…

 

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A SISTER

From Belgian director Delphine Girard comes an economically made short that bares a closeness to a the Danish drama “The Guilty” from Gustav Möller, itself a recent Oscar-nominated film for Best Foreign Language Film. “A Sister” wastes no time immersing its audience into a claustrophobic thriller, one in which a terrified passenger (Selma Alaoui) is being driven by her alleged captor (Guillaume Duhesme) and pretends to stay on the phone with her sister to check in on her daughter, while actually talking to a 911 call center operator (Veerle Baetens) who is trying to offer questions which won’t give away the woman’s ruse. As much as this 16-minute short hits with a palpable intensity with every second counts, there just doesn’t seem to be much more beyond that.

RATING: **1/2

 

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SARIA

One of the most heartbreaking of the shorts in this category is a harrowing 23-minute dramatization of a real-life event that is likely unknown to the world. The tragedy that occurred at the Virgen de La Asuncion Safe Home in Guatemala in 2017 is brought to life by American director Bryan Buckley, but sadly falls short since it’s ultimately a story that deserves a feature-length format that would provide a greater understand of everyone involved. The story follows two young sisters, Saria and Ximena (Estefania Tellez and Gabriella Ramirez, respectively), who remain close in a so-called “safe home,” attempting to find contentment in small moments in an orphanage run by seemingly cold and cruel caregivers. The sisters desire to leave their location, which finds them hatching a bold plan to escape and have a seemingly better life in America. Without a doubt, this is a compelling story, but it’s one that deserved either a full-length treatment or a documentary on the subject. At least it has brought awareness to an unfortunate loss of life. When all of the names of those lives are listed during the end credits, good luck not having a lump in your throat.

RATING: **1/2

 

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BROTHERHOOD

Here is another short which could’ve benefitted from a full-length treatment, in order to iron out the uneven elements of the narrative. Written and directed by Meryam Joobeur as a co-production of companies from Canada, Tunisia, Qatar and Sweden, the 25-minute short explores the tensions within a Tunisian family when a son who has been away for several years returns home with a new Syrian wife who wears the full niqab, igniting his father’s suspicions that his son has been working for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Too many characters in this short feel cheated of their potential for richness and nuance, leaving me wondering about what more we could learn about them if we had more time. Maybe if the younger bothers were cut from the story and the focus was solely on the brother that came back with a wife, the runtime would allow for more development, but then a title change would be in order. As a result, it’s hard to see this as a wholly successful project, whether it be from a personal or political point of view. That being said, it is wonderfully acted and there is beautiful visuals to consider, but it’s a short that ultimately leaves much to be revealed and/or desired.

RATING: **1/2

 

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NEFTA FOOTBALL CLUB

French writer/director Yves Piat delivers a disarming dramedy with unexpected delights and suprising originality. While Tunisian children are playing a soccer (what we call football) on a barren field, two young brothers, Abdallah and Mohammed (Eltayef Dahoui and Mohamed Ali Avari), stumble upon a donkey with headphones on its ears and a bag of white powder on its back. The younger brother believes it to be detergent, but we know better. Lines are crossed and created in this amusing story that takes a brief look at a possibly troubling situation from the viewpoint of children. It’s a fresh and new approach to something somewhat familair, ending in a manner that will put a smile on a viewer’s face.

RATING: ***

 

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THE NEIGHBORS’ WINDOW

American director Marshall Curry, who has previously been nominated for his documentary work (“Street Fight” and “A Night at the Garden”), offers his first narrative work and the result is an engaging and empathetic look at how we can easily become obsessed with what we think we know about the people we observe from afar. Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller play a pair of harried New York parents of two toddlers and a newborn baby, who are unable to ignore the sexual acrobats of their new neighbors who live in the building across the street. It seems bizarre that apparently neither neighbors have curtains or blinds, but if they did then we wouldn’t have this short. As voyeurism becomes a regular part of the couple’s lives, an inevitable strain develops as interest in the other couple increases. Through their binoculars, the wife soon realizes how the neighbors’ lives abruptly changes, forcing her to consider her own misconceptions. I was taken aback by this short and found it be surprisingly natural and organic, specifically the way in which Curry writes relatable characters for his actors to portray. At no point do we condemn or encourage the couple, but we can relate to being curious about how others live a seemingly idyllic life and even developing a narrative for them, without ever knowing them.

RATING: ***1/2

 

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