Welcome to my favorite column of the year.
I’ve been covering the Oscar-nominated shorts for four years now, and while certain patterns start to emerge, revealing the academy’s predilections, they are almost always showcases for the most fresh and exciting voices I get to hear all year. Most of these films are independently produced, from first-time writers and directors, often barely making any money from their release. These are examples of storytelling for storytelling’s sake. Once a year, we get to highlight something new and interesting, and this year’s batch is full of good stuff (and one confusing, possibly racist film, but we’ll get to that later.)
Once again, Shorts HD is bringing these short films to theaters and now to VOD, so you can see them all and give them your support.
Let’s start with the Live Action Nominees:
Ennemis Intérieurs: (trailer): There’s no “horrors of war”-themed short nominated this year, so Ennemis Intérieurs (translation: Enemies Within) fills that role with a tale about the abuses of counter-terrorism efforts and the sometimes humiliating process of immigration. Writer-director Sélim Azzazi tells the story of a French-born Algerian Muslim man (Hassam Ghancy) being interviewed by a French official (Najib Oudghiri) while trying to obtain French citizenship. When the interviewer begins to accuse the man of protecting terrorists and demands he give over the names of people from the mosque he used to attend, the short heads into territory possibly better handled by our Turban Decay column.
The presence of Islamophobia and abuse of power is a story we in America have been hearing a lot lately, but Ennemis Intérieurs reminds us that this is a universal issue, and presents the unique perspective of France, a nation with a tenuous relationship to many of its former colonies. Ghancy and Oudghiri’s performances are both intriguing and enrapturing, and the film does a great job of using visual motifs and clever sound editing to create reference points in the viewer’s mind throughout the conversation. At 28 minutes, it runs a little long for the story it tells, which diminishes some of the ending’s emotional impact, but overall it’s a solid, well-made drama which offers American audiences a new and interesting perspective. (8/10) France, 28 minutes, Wri/Dir: Sélim Azzazi
Silent Nights: (trailer)
I don’t really understand what this is and I think it might be a little racist?
The short tells the story of Kwame (Prince Yaw Appiah), a Ghanian refugee living on the streets of Denmark, who begins a romantic relationship with a homeless shelter volunteer named Inger (Malene Beltoft Olsen) despite the disapproval of her alcoholic racist mother. Things are going smoothly and adorably for them until it is discovered that Kwame already has a wife and three children in his native land. Being generous, I think the takeaway here is supposed to be “immigrants have hard lives and face unique moral choices,” which has its own set of issues. But it is really difficult to imagine a Danish racist watching this film and not using it to confirm their own viewpoints. “Look, see? He comes here, doesn’t work, takes money, lies, steals, sleeps with a white woman, and leaves!” There’s even a little “not just white people” minority-on-minority violence thrown in.
It’s a muddled message at best, made worse by the fact that Appiah and Olsen are positively charming together and their brief romance is sweet and tender. You genuinely want things to work out for them, despite their situation. The film is romantically shot, full of intimate low-lit spaces and the cheer of Christmas lighting. It’s easy to fall in love with this couple, but the film’s ambiguous and tone-deaf writing leaves a sour taste in your mouth that’s impossible to ignore. (6/10) Denmark, 30 Minutes, Wri/Dir: Aske Bang
Timecode: (trailer) The shortest and most charming of the live action noms, Timecode is very simple but wildly creative. The film follows two parking garage security guards, day shift worker Luna (Lali Ayguadé) and night shift worker Diego (Nicolas Ricchini), who coordinate a special last-day-of-work surprise for their boss, using post-it notes with specific security camera timecodes written on them to communicate. The concept is unique although the story is basic, and it all leads to an immensely satisfying payoff and punchline. (8.5/10) Spain, 15 Minutes, Wri/Dir: Juanjo Giménez
Sing (Mindenki): (trailer)
Sing is a natural winner for this year: A story of uprising against a corrupt power that also happens to capitalize on ‘90s nostalgia and feature two adorable little rebels against the system.
Set in 1991, the story follows new-kid-in-school Zsófi (Dorka Gáspárfalvi), who joins the award-winning student choir where her new friend Liza (Dorottya Hais) is the star. After discovering that the choir’s success is due to the corruption and discrimination of the music teacher (a wonderfully villainous Zsófia Szamosi), Liza and Zsófi find themselves planning what can only be described as a Socialist rebellion against her.
What works so well about Sing is how writer/director Kristóf Deák draws the audience into the girls’ world by combining long establishing shots of playground antics set to catchy rhyming games with Boyhood-esque ‘90s-kids memory techniques. (Remember snap bracelets? They’re here!) As a result, the relatively low-stakes arena of an elementary school choir competition feels like an extremist situation. There’s a real respect for the battle the girls are facing. Sing is an encouraging and wildly hopeful film with a joyful conclusion that draws smiles from even the most cynical viewers. (10/10) Hungary, 25 minutes, Wri/Dir: Kristóf Deákdraws
La Femme et la TGV: (trailer) Another charming little film in the spirit of Amile, La Femme et la TGV tells the story of a lonely woman named Elise (Jane Birkin) living outside a Swiss village whose greatest joy comes from waving the Swiss flag to the TGV high-speed train which passes outside her kitchen window twice daily. When the TGV conductor makes contact with her, the two become pen-pals and Elise’s passion for life slowly returns. You get the feeling that writer-director Timo von Gunten wants to do more with Elise and her village than the short film allows, but there are amusing and slightly whimsical character moments abound. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, but La Femme et la TGV is a fun film that’s primarily interested in being cute and playful. Since this category often produces some of the most gut-wrenching works of the year, this is a welcome reprieve and a wonderfully simple story abot aging and accepting changes in life. (8/10) Switzerland, 30 minutes, Wir/Dir: Timo von Gunten
(Come back to FRC tomorrow, Oscar Sunday, to read Marty’s take on the nominees for Best Animated Short)Liked This? Share It!