The Academy Award nominated films chosen in the shorts categories vary wildly in tone, texture and technical artistry from the features, yet somehow they all manage to also complement the features. This year’s Oscar nominated live-action shorts are no exception. With themes of communication, fidelity, honor and love, the shorts singled out for exceptional praise are each enrapturing in their own regard.
SING (MINDENKI): dir. Kristof Deak, Hungary. While there isn’t a cute koala launching a singing competition here, this Hungarian short about the new girl in school who joins the choir has a springier, spirited message at its core. Zsófi is the awkward new kid yearning to fit in with rest of her peers. However, it’s not long until she befriends Liza, the most popular girl in class. It’s around this time we find out Zsófi isn’t as strong a singer as the rest of the class and her teacher asks her to mime. There’s a bit of a WHIPLASH-esque vibe working for in favor of this short, pitting a student against an overly demanding teacher. Emotions are heartbreaking and relatable, sinking under our skin in no time flat. While the child actors tend to be a tad precocious, the weight on their shoulders to carry this narrative ultimately works in their favor.
TIMECODE: dir. Juanjo Gimenez Pena, Spain. This little ditty played Cannes and is the shortest entry in this category. It’s also my favorite. Day shift security guard Luna is double-checking security camera footage when she finds the night guard spontaneously dancing alone. Over the next few weeks, she sends taped messages through dance, engaging in a friendly, dance-driven tete-e-tete. Utilizing choreography as communication, emphasizing our unspoken connections is a brilliant way of storytelling. Packing lots of emotion into the brief 15 minute run time, this one will resonate universally.
ENNEMIS INTÉRIEURS (ENEMIES WITHIN): dir. Selim Aazzazi, France. It would be unusual if real-world issues didn’t make an appearance in this category. Aazzazi’s intense short is perfect in its execution and delivery. This story about an Algerian immigrant being questioned by a judgmental French official highlights the futility of a witch hunt, badgering people who aren’t criminals because of religious panic. This is universally timely – and gut-wrenching, because this isn’t fiction for a lot of folks out there. It’s a reality for innocent people trying to practice religious freedom.
LA FEMME ET LE TGV: dir. Timo von Gunten, Switzerland. This is the far superior GIRL/ TRAIN movie of 2016. Inspired by true events, curmudgeonly village-dweller Elise La Fontaine (Jane Birkin) follows the same routine every day: get up, wave at the train, go to work at her boulangerie and return home in the evening to wave at those returning on the TGV. Things change when she gets an encouraging letter from passenger Bruno, who enjoys Elise’s warm welcomes. The pair engage in a letter-writing romance, exchanging pleasantries, baked goods and cheese. Von Gunten augments the delightful warmth of the narrative by utilizing a saturated color palette of teals that pop against beige and goldenrod. The silhouettes of dancers in the studio across the way add a daydream-like element. Tonal fluctuations ebb and flow throughout, but are balanced well overall.
SILENT NIGHTS: dir. Aske Bang, Denmark. This short about a refugee from Ghana trying to find a better life in Denmark is the most bittersweet entry in the category. Problematic beginnings – for both the character and the story itself – lead to a strong ending. Set during the chill of Winter, the film follows Kwame, a homeless refugee, as he meets and falls in love with Inger, a shelter volunteer. The story follows predictable paths – as soon as you see her horrible, drunkard mom and that cash box, you’ll know exactly what will transpire. Despite the dash of “white savioring,” the ending concludes in ways sure to make your heart grow twice its size.
The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2017 are now playing in theaters in New York. They will be released nationally on February 10.