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The short films nominated for this year’s Oscars in the live action, animated and documentary categories feel very different from the Bafta shorts – there is a bit less offbeat wit and singularity on show. The Academy Awards contenders are generally sleeker, glitzier, more sentimental and more deferential to the Hollywood mainstream, although there is one nominee for both: Carol Dysinger’s Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), which won the Bafta.
Among the live-action shorts, my vote goes to Delphine Girard’s Une Soeur (A Sister), in which a terrified woman who is in the passenger seat of a car driven by a rapist has been given permission by him to call her sister from her mobile, but is actually calling the emergency services, and alerting them to the situation in code. Edge-of-the-seat stuff.
Brotherhood, by director Meryam Joobeur, is about a Tunisian sheep farmer whose errant son returns from a jihadist stint fighting in Syria. It’s a competent, plausible microdrama, but a little worthy. The same goes for Bryan Buckley’s Saria, based on the agonising true story of girls abused and then left to die in an orphanage in Guatemala.
Perhaps the silliest short is Marshall Curry’s The Neighbors’ Window, a kind of Rear-Window-meets-Friends lark about an exhausted, grumpy couple with young children who form an unwholesome obsession with the attractive young couple in the apartment opposite, visibly having joyous carefree sex. The twist ending is almost outrageously solemn and sentimental.
In the documentary list, the best short is the staggering story told in Yi Seung-jun’s In the Absence, about South Korea’s 2014 Sewol ferry disaster, which killed 304 passengers, including 250 schoolchildren. It is an extraordinary portrait of the grotesque official incompetence involved, as everyone, including the subsequently disgraced president Park Geun-hye, entered an almost catatonic state of indecisiveness and buck-passing as the catastrophe unfolded.
I also admired Sami Khan and Smriti Mundhra’s St Louis Superman, about the activist and battle rapper Bruce Franks Jr, who was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives. It is a good film, although it mentioned Franks’ eventual resignation only briefly, in a few lines in the closing credits.
Unexpectedly, the most powerful and emotional shorts were the animations, which can so often be self-conscious and twee. Bruno Collet’s Mémorable from France is a moving study of an artist’s dementia, as his world unravels into a swirl of brushstrokes. Siqi Song’s Sister gently but powerfully shows the human cost of China’s one-child policy. There are gems among these short films.
• The Oscar Shorts 2020 are on release in the UK on 7 February and are available on Curzon Home Cinema.
Source: The Guardian
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