The Oscar-nominated live action shorts are here once again…
by Martin Hafer
I fully realize my taste in films isn’t normal…and I’m okay with that. I love foreign films, indie films, silent films…all sorts of non-mainstream movies. But one of my loves appears to be becoming a bit more mainstream. Each year, I attend the special screenings of the Oscar-nominated short films (live action, animated and documentaries) and have noticed that attendance in these screenings has been on the increase. Apparently other folks are starting to realize how exciting these pictures can be.
As far as this year’s lot goes, I enjoyed seeing all the movies though this is not one of the stronger years for live action shorts. Plus three of the shorts are downright depressing to watch. There is no one terrific short that stands head and shoulders above the rest…though I particularly enjoyed the Danish film Sing (Mindenki), the French short Enemies Within (Ennemis intérieurs) and the Swiss picture La Femme et la TGU. If I were a betting man, I would predict that Enemies Within will take home the award. Below are my short reviews for each film and I am putting the film in the order that they were shown at the screening.
Zsofi is an elementary school-aged girl and she’s excited to be going to a new school after she discovers they have one of the best children’s choirs in the country. She also soon makes a friend and everything looks just fine. However, after going to the choir, the teacher in charge meets with her privately and tells her something shocking….her voice isn’t any good and she may remain in the choir if she agrees to only mime instead of actually singing! Naturally, the child is heartbroken…and she does have a lovely voice. There is just something wrong with this teacher, with her win at all costs attitude, and the choir is about to compete in a very prestigious contest.
The acting was excellent in this film, as it’s difficult to get good and believable performances out of children. However, the Hungarian actors all do a terrific job and the film works very well. It’s an exceptional little drama spiced up with a bit of a comedy. This was probably my favorite of the films to watch and the easiest one to like….and it has some interesting messages that give it added depth.
This film is about a woman who volunteers with the local Salvation Army shelter as well as a man she meets there who is a refugee from Ghana. Although she feels sorry for the guy, she unwisely falls in love with him despite many warning signs that he is not the best boyfriend material. Little does she know that he’s also already married and has three children!
This film is ‘Oscar bait’, as the subject is homelessness and refugees in Europe and it has a reasonable chance to win. However, I found the story and its message to be muddled. In some ways, your heart really goes out to the guy…but he repeatedly also behaves terribly. And, the lady also believes quite foolishly and it makes it more difficult to care about either of them. So viewers might (like me) think that the moral of the story is confusing. Additionally, there are some adult elements that make this one you don’t show your kids. I especially disliked seeing the leading lady cleaning up after her mother defecated on herself and felt this scene could have been handled a lot better and not so vividly. Call me crazy, but I don’t like seeing images of old drunk ladies crapping themselves.
By the way, this film, despite being Danish, most of the dialog is in English—the only one of the five nominees in English. This is very unusual as most years several of the nominees are American short films.
Luna works a rather boring job at a parking garage. The payments are all automated and all she does is watch the lot on her monitors as well as occasionally patrolling the lot. However, when her boss asks her to review footage from the night before, she discovers that her co-worker working the other shift is behaving very strangely as he makes his rounds…and Diego inspires Luna to have an all new outlook on her job.
This is a cute but rather inconsequential film. I am not saying it’s bad, but it’s the weakest of the five nominees and won’t change your life. However, I also have to admit that the final line of the film is hilarious and makes it all very worthwhile.
Enemies Within (Ennemis intérieurs)--A
While I enjoyed Sing more, I think Enemies Within had a strong story and the strongest impact on me. It also has a strong message about our fears of Muslim extremism that makes you think. And, it manages to do all this without being preachy.
It’s the story of an Algerian-born man who is requesting French citizenship. Many of you might not know but when he was born in the 1950s, Algeria was technically part of France and only later gained its independence. He has lived most of his life outside Algeria in France and considers himself to be French. And, while the meeting seems to be just a formality before obtaining citizenship, it soon turns into an ugly confrontation with a bureaucrat who treats him like a criminal.
I am not an extreme left-wing guy and I do have my concerns about immigration and Islamic extremists…and this is why the film impressed me so much. It really challenged my beliefs and shows the dangers that a hard-line approach to immigrants might create. Well worth seeing and very well made.
La Femme et la TGU—B+
This film is a strange little comedy about a very odd Swiss woman (ably played by British actress Jane Birkin). Every morning, like clockwork, she arises from bed at 6:05am in order to wave at the train speeding past her house. And, in the evenings, she does the same…each time waving her Swiss flag madly at the passing train! Apart from this odd ritual, she is a grouchy and rather miserable woman. However, her mundane and antisocial demeanor begins to change when someone from the train begins sending her fan mail—thanking her for the years she’s spent greeting the train! She, in turn, begins writing back to this unknown admirer! What’s next? Just see this one, as I don’t want to spoil the suspense.
This film is just fun….something that can’t really be said about most of the nominees this year. In fact, so many of the films left the audience feeling a bit depressed that La Femme et la TGU has a strong chance of winning, though I’d still bet on Enemies Within.
If you also saw the shorts, I’d love to hear from you. Which film was your favorite or, perhaps, which film do you really disagree with in my reviews? And, by the way, these special showings are still occurring around the country…be sure to consult http://shorts.tv/theoscarshorts/ to find your nearest theater showing the films.