Oscars 2017: Reviewing the Live-Action Shorts

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Each year, ShortsHD releases the Oscar-nominated short films in theaters, and each year this release serves as a reminder of the true magnificence of the world of film. Played together, these shorts present a microcosm of global cinema, each individual film beautiful in its own right, the diversity between them a treasure unto itself. This year, the live-action shorts are particularly remarkable.

 

Sing (Mindenki) – Hungary

The series commences with this wonderful 25 minute film about the competition that institutions attempt to instill in children who simply long to be happy. Sing follows young Zsofi, instructed by her choir teacher to mime, rather than sing the songs, as her voice is too pitchy. Culminating in a comical but strikingly poignant scene in which all the children in the choir choose to mime the words, Sing is a good story told well with clear, purposeful cinematography. Although its climax is almost completely silent, its message rings loud throughout the theater: “Silence one of us; silence us all.” Grade: A

Silent Nights – Denmark

Silent Nights makes the mistake made by too many short films: it attempts to cram a feature length film into 30 minutes or less. Following the affair of a Salvation Army volunteer and a Ghanaian immigrant who sends money to his family back home, Silent Nights does pose some admirable questions about our natural role as caregivers. However, the film asks too many other questions, often in the form of cheesy dialogue and trite romantic tropes. Through heartbreaking violence and graceful romance, Silent Nights brings its audience on an emotional journey but takes too many detours along the way. Grade: B-

Timecode – Spain

This year’s Palme d’Or Short Film is exactly what a short film ought to be. Its cinematography and lighting are not particularly awe-inspiring. It does not shout a moral message from the mountaintop. Timecode’s beauty lies primarily in its simple yet captivating plot followed closely by superb performances by Lali Ayguadé and Nicolas Ricchini. Telling the story of two security guards, fostering a romance by dancing for each other on security cameras, Timecode is a flawless short and a frontrunner for the Oscar. Grade: A

Ennemis Intérieurs (Enemies Within) – France

Portraying the showdown between an Algerian seeking French citizenship and a French state-employee demanding answers related to terrorist activities, Ennemis Intérieurs poses a myriad of fascinating questions: Questions of the roles of states and citizens, questions of identity, questions of belonging and obligation. Like Silent Nights, Ennemis Intérieurs dizzies its audience with a whirlwind of problems and questions, but unlike Silent Nights, this film poses its questions with distinct purpose. Writer/director Sélim Azzazi has planned everything extremely carefully, from the blocking to the manner in which the Algerian’s past is revealed (or not revealed). Like the complex world it imitates, Ennemis Intérieurs is an intricate piece, relevant to our time. Grade: A-

La Femme et le TGV – Switzerland

As this film began, I thought that it was a technically sound film but would not compare to Timecode or Sing.  La Femme et le TGV quickly became my favorite film in the series by far. One immediately observes that La Femme et le TGV has the most beautiful, vibrant cinematography of the lot, and it does not take long to realize that the film offers much, much more. A humorous, refreshing story, La Femme et le TGV follows aging baker, Elise Lafontaine (Jane Birker), clinging to her routines in an increasingly unfamiliar world (demonstrated by her line, “I have never sent an ‘internet’, and I never will”).

A brilliant metaphor for her struggle to keep up with time, Elise waves at the high-speed train as it passes by her old stone home everyday – something she has done for decades. The film takes off when Elise receives a letter from the train’s engineer, beginning a correspondence between the two.  The film’s color coordination, score, and set decoration all deliberately advance the film’s artistry. Led by Birker’s delicate, sincere performance, La Femme et le TGV’s cast truly raises it to the next level. This series of short films is well worth the watch, if for no other film than La Femme et le TGVGrade: A

 

By Ryan Rose

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