These are all remarkable short films with top-notch storytelling and audiovisual technique. Read more below to learn which one I would have voted for!
Four of this year’s five Oscar-nominated live action short films contained stories with young boys in extremely dramatic situations. Be prepared to feel emotionally drained after watching them in succession. Unlike previous years, there wasn’t any comedy, only heavy stuff!
The first film, called “Madre” (Spain 2016), begins with a long shot of a beautiful empty beach. The action then moves on to an apartment in a city where a woman and her mother are having a casual conversation until they receive a phone call from the woman’s six year-old son. The film takes a dramatic twist as we quickly understand that the boy has been left alone on a beach by his father and no one is around him. The film takes place in the woman’s apartment, we never see the little boy alone on the beach. It’s reminiscent of the recent Danish film “The Guilty” in which a police dispatcher deals with an abduction and we follow the story from where he is in the call centre. We only hear the phone conversation with him. The audience is left to imagine what is going on on the other end. “Madre” succeeds in getting us into this dramatic situation, the actors convey their stress perfectly and the end credits are dramatic and unique in their own way. It’s a clever film but in the end it didn’t fully live up to its setup.
The second film, called “Fauve” (Québec 2018), is one of two Canadian films nominated this year. It’s visually intriguing as it takes place in a deserted mine.The filmmaker uses the grey, dry, muddy at times, surfaces to tell the story of two young boys playing within this scenery. Just like “Madre,” the film takes a sudden twist as the two boys play in the grey mud and one of them becomes stuck, gradually sinking in something reminiscent of quick-sand. The first half of the film was intense and perfectly directed but I can’t say I enjoyed the second half as much as the music was omni-present turning into an obnoxious presence. The acting by the two boys was incredible.
The third film, called “Marguerite” (Québec 2017), is the second Canadian nominated film. It’s the only film of this program that doesn’t revolve around young boys. It’s a snapshot in the life of an older woman, Marguerite, who lives alone. Every day, for an hour or so, a nurse comes to her house and takes care of her health and her sanitary needs. It’s a simple set-up. At first I wondered why I should care about this old woman but the story gradually reveals something about Marguerite which is unexpected. The film had grace and ultimately was about love. I found this film to be more touching than the violent dramatic situations explored in the other four films.
The fourth film, “Detainment,” from Ireland (2018) was the longest of the five films. I would call it the Pièce de résistance of this program as it seemed to be in a category of its own. It had the most complex editing, the most number of actors and it was the only period piece. The film is based on the true and horrific story of two 10 year-old boys who, in 1993, abducted a toddler who was later found dead cut in half over railroad tracks. The film never shows any gruesome images but is a reconstruction of the interrogation scenes between the police and the two boys. It gradually reveals more and more details. There is a lot of crying by one of the boys and his parents. Despite not showing any details, our minds can’t help but imagine what must have happened. It’s a powerful and very disturbing film. In the end, I was not sure what the point of the film was. Was this film made so we never forget what happened? Or was it to show how terrible humans and even children can be? There is no lesson, no take away which surprised me. Was this just a gratuitous reconstruction? Is it because the two boys are now adults and have served their sentences? I was also a bit disturbed by how the film’s director managed to make one of the young actors cry so much. Is it acceptable to manipulate a young actor into feeling that way? Or is that young boy such a good actor? In the end, should this film be considered more of a documentary reconstruction rather than a piece of fiction based on real events?
Again, this film is in a category of its own. It raises many questions which I wished were addressed. Perhaps there is a reason why this film was made 25 years after these events. Is just to celebrate that anniversary? Is there more to it?
9/10 and 1/10
“Skin” (USA, 2018) is the final film to centre around young boys. Unlike the other films in this program, this film shows us gruesome violence. The film takes its time to introduce us to a group of white supremacists. The word is never pronounced but you know that’s who they are. In that group there is a dominant muscular-tattooed-alpha-male and his girlfriend who have a young boy. The film takes a sudden twist when the father attacks a black man only because he saw his son smiling at the black man in the supermarket. The attack on the black man is all the more revolting as the black man’s wife and son watch the scene unfold before their eyes unable to do anything without any help from the authorities. It’s extremely dramatic and disturbing but the film then takes on a sort of “Pulp Fiction” turn which I won’t reveal here. It makes the film more tongue-in-cheek than “Detainment.” This might be the film that will win as it is timely and powerful.
My vote, however, would go to “Marguerite.” It’s a great example of how a film doesn’t need to be visually dramatic to be strong. It’s subtle. It’s also on a timely topic which needs to be talked about until it’s completely accepted. But most importantly, it was the most touching film of that group.
See all the films here: https://shorts.tv/theoscarshorts/ or in Toronto here: https://www.tiff.net/events/oscar-shorts-live-action-2019/
Seen with Douglas, Vidya and Ed on February 11, 2019