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« Interview: Screenwriter Deborah Davis on her 20 year passion project "The Favourite" | Main | A Shocking First-Time-Ever WGA Surprise! »
Monday
Feb182019

Review: The Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts

 by Eric Blume

It’s my fourth year covering the nominees for the Live Action Short Oscar, and this group of nominees is far and away the most grim, depressing, and unrelenting batch yet.  Four out of five of these films are about horrible things happening to young boys. You’d think the nominating committee would have cleaved to some other topics. After a while, provided you view them back-to-back, the horror of it all becomes nearly comical.  If you have a boy child under twelve years of age, you will definitely want to skip this category this year to avoid going to a very dark place. But all five directors are talented artists who know how to build suspense and tell a story with fluidity and grace. Ready? 

Madre (Mother)
This short won the Goya (Spanish Oscar) last year and the director and actress have since reteamed for a feature version, currently in post-production. Director Rodrigo Sorogoyen swings swiftly from an everyday conversation between a woman named Marta (Marta Nieto) and her mother to an urgent phone call from Marta’s son...

The placid everyday energy turns quickly to panic, as Sorogoyen creates a potboiler in our own minds. He gets a powerful performance from lead Marta Nieto, and although the entire movie takes place in one location, he makes several interesting, predatory moves with the camera during long interrupted takes that make the drama intensely immediate.  There’s not a lot of there there, but it’s chilling and effective work.

Fauve
Fauve chronicles the power games between two young boys playing across deserted industrial landscapes. It's an arresting tale of our instinct to control rather than to listen, Canadian director Jeremy Comte definitely has facility with young actors and he uses the geometry of his natural visual canvasses to smart effect.  Comte gives the film a beautiful grace note at its conclusion, and sustains a dark heartbeat of dread throughout. It’s an accomplished work.

Marguerite
This French-Canadian two hander is the sole non-boy tale: it's about an elderly woman and her caretaker. When the caretaker reveals she has a girlfriend, not a boyfriend, the older woman experiences a transcendence.  The two actresses are superb, and director Marianne Farley keeps the storytelling and its emotional details brisk and specific.  It’s so different from the other four films that it’s like a breath of fresh air.

 

Detainment
This one's a true-life story so horrifying that no writer would dare dream it, and it actually creates nausea.  Two ten year olds may or may not have committed a brutal crime. This appears to be the short with the biggest budget, as it has numerous locations and an alarming sense of detail to the true-life crime case.  Vincent Lambe, the film’s director, commands two astonishing performances from his young actors, finding subtleties within their respective hysteria and armor. The short is almost unbearably intense and thoroughly unpleasant, but it's absolutely spellbinding.

Skin
In this short we follow an obnoxious skinhead as he unleashes his hatred upon an unsuspecting black man. The Israeli director Guy Nattiv has also made a feature-length film of the same name starring Jamie Bell (Danielle MacDonald of Birdbox and Dumplin' fame is in both the short and the feature) which premiered at TIFF in the fall. Nattiv's passion, as distasteful as the subject is, comes across.  Nattiv steers his actors away from super-obvious choices, and the story twists in a way that is blackly comic. The ending is too pat, as the obvious alternate ending would have been stronger.  But Nattiv has a sure hand for filmmaking, and it’s well shot and edited.

Should win:  Detainment could have been very exploitative, but it’s made with both delicacy and ferocity.

Could Win:  Marguerite because it’s absolutely different from the competition.

Will Win:  Skin.  It’s sadly topical, has familiar actors (Jonathan Tucker, Danielle Macdonald, and Lonnie Chavis from This Is Us among them) and has the most "story” so it could well feel the fullest to some voters. That (too) satisfying conclusion might help it towards a win as well.

 

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Reader Comments (11)

Completely disagree on DETAINMENT: watching the film, I felt like I was watching a Dateline episode; constant flashes and camera angles that made no sense. To tell this story in this way feels exploitative, not to mention the fact that it just...ends.

For me, MADRE and SKIN are the winners, with SKIN slightly edging MADRE out. Not only was I not expecting the ending to SKIN, its storytelling was conventional and fulfilling in the best way in a way that some of the other experimental shorts (like FAUVE) weren’t.

February 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Small but important correction: the horrible crime in Detainment took place in England, not Ireland. It is probably the most famous case in the UK.

February 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterevangelina

None of them are award-worthy, but I guess I'd go with Fauve or Marguerite. Skin is repulsive, a nitwit porny Twilight-Zone episode. Madre felt like the first twenty minutes of thriller rather than a self-contained short. I'm not surprised they're making it into a feature.

February 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

The only one I've managed to see is Fauve, and at the end I just had to ask what the point was. I fear the others may end up eliciting similar reactions.

February 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

I've only seen Madre which I really liked (Sorogoyen is quite hot, actually). Watching Fauve and Skin on Wednesday. I've only read bad things about Skin.

February 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

The only two I didn't get to see where Detainment and Skin, but I think Marguerite will be the winner. So many of these shorts revolved around dead kids, dead adults, and kids in danger, Marguerite might actually seem like a breath of fresh air even though it too is pretty sad.

February 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrittani

Detainment is set in England, where the film's Oscar nomination has caused considerable controversy. A petition with the title “Stop the Jamie Bulger movie from being shown and taken off the Oscars shortlist” has garnered almost 100,000 signatures.

February 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJohnny

previous spanish nominees at this cathegory developed into interesting filmmaker (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo shot the great Intacto and 28 Weeks Later, which I like better than Danny Boyle's original) and the two great masters of Spanish cinema to come out in the last 25 years, Javier Fesser (El Milagro de P. Tinto, and Goya winners Camino and Campeones - this last one, his only misstep) and Nacho Vigalondo (whose career I'm completely devoted to:Time Crimes, Extraterrestrial, Open Windows and specially Colossal, for me, 2017's best film)

February 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

I mentioned this in another thread, but about half the theatre audience where I saw this walked out during the fourth or fifth short. It's as if these (except for the lovely "Marguerite") were curated/chosen by Lars Von Trier. Two of them include horrible child deaths (with a third resulting in the same possibility), two of them have children as murderers (with a third having a child as a possible accomplice to murder). I avoid slasher and snuff films, so this is the most sadistic two hours I've spent in the theatre in a long time. Stay away.

February 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterdtsf

Detainment could have been made without being exploitative. But that's exactly what is.

A vile piece of shit. Marguerite is sweet and Madre has no idea how to end. The other three pieces of massive shit, with Detainment proving to ve one of the worst things of the year. The actors and especially the kid who played John are exceptional, but the movie is about nothing and just indulges itself.

Unbelievably bad.

February 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe

Any way to watch these online like the Documentary Shorts?

February 20, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNick

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