BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
Detainment (Directed by Vincent Lambe)
Synopsis: In 1993, ten-year-old friends Jon and Robert are brought to an English police station for questioning after CCTV footage implicates them in the kidnapping and murder of a two-year-old boy.
Review: I’m not sure in what order the Live Action shorts are being shown to audiences in theaters but in my screening package this one came first alphabetically and it sure started things off on a somber note. Based on the interview tapes conducted after the horrific 1993 slaying of James Bulger, the filmmakers of Detainment have come under scrutiny by the family of the slain toddler for not reaching out to them and gaining their blessing. Watching the film, even with its strong performances it’s hard not to side with the family because it truly rips open wounds that won’t ever fully heal. Having this thrust back into the spotlight can only serve to hurt and while the filmmaking itself is admirable the ethics behind it are questionable.
Fauve (Directed by Jérémy Comte)
Synopsis: At an isolated surface mine in the Quebec countryside, two boisterous young boys run wild, challenging each other to reckless tests of endurance and daring, with only Mother Nature as their witness.
Review: Two boys spend a lazy afternoon exploring an abandoned train and causing some youthful trouble before eventually finding themselves in an abandoned quarry. All alone in what looks like a barren planet, the boys trek over large rock piles and dirt mounds without any thought that something could go wrong. It’s hard to go any further in a review of this one because it would give away a major twist that affects the latter half of the film, but suffice it say that the day doesn’t remain carefree for long. There’s a poignant coda to Jérémy Comte’s short that I found particularly moving, showing a rare moment of connection during an extreme circumstance.
Marguerite (Directed by Marianne Farley)
Synopsis: Elderly Marguerite is cared for by kindly nurse Rachel and the two become friends. As the lonely Marguerite learns more about Rachel, feelings from her youth resurface, prompting her to examine and accept her past desires
Review: The relationship between Marguerite and her nurse Rachel is explored in this short that I found extraordinarily delicate and lovely. I never knew quite where Marianne Farley’s film was going to end up and that’s a tribute to her thoughtful writing and the performances of our two lead actresses. A daily routine is thrown off balance when a secret is revealed, sending Marguerite on a journey into her younger days when particular choices weren’t available to her. I found some parallels between this and the Oscar nominated short Late Afternoon, both feature women in their advanced years longing for days gone by. A sensitive and well-acted nominee.
Mother (Madre) (Directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen)
Synopsis: While chatting with her mother at her apartment in Spain, Marta receives a phone call from her six-year-old son Iván, who is on vacation with his father in France. Marta quickly realizes that something is desperately wrong and that she has very little time to solve the problem
Review: Every year it seems this category has one film that frays your nerves in the span of a brisk 10 minutes. Last year it was the breathless DeKalb Elementary, the year before that it was Everything Will Be Okay, and in a previous year it was the heart-pounding Just Before Everything Falls Apart. This year we have Mother (Madre), a tense short seemingly done in one take that brings every parents worst nightmare to the forefront. What if your child was in danger and you were helpless to do anything about it? As she’s about to leave her apartment with her own mother, Marta gets a call from her son that his father has vanished and left him alone on a beach in another country. With his phone dying and her options limited, Marta has to think on her feet as how to rescue her child thousands of miles away. The one-take style made this feel like a play and upped the ante for everything to go as planned. Aided by strong performances, it’s a winner in the maximum tension department.
Skin (Directed by Guy Nattiv)
Synopsis: After spending the day shooting guns and relaxing at the lake with several white supremacist friends, Jeffrey and Christa head home with their young son Troy. Stopping at a grocery store, Jeffrey is irate when Jaydee, an African-American man, is friendly to Troy, and Jaydee’s innocent act results in bloodshed.
Review: This is one film likely to divide most viewers. With the heightened tension in our society toward race relations, I can’t tell if Skin is trying to make a political point or just be a fiery bit of sensationalist drama but it’s a frustrating experience no matter how you look at it. The son of a white supremacist sees his father beat a black man for no apparent reason, only to be witness to an act of revenge that will send shock waves through their family. The dank places Skin goes in it’s final moments are kind of repulsive but it accomplishes its mission of getting your blood boiling. Interesting note: the director has already filmed and screened a feature length film of the same name featuring at least one returning cast member. Though the plot isn’t exactly the same, it does bear a striking resemblance in tone to this original short.
Final Thoughts: It’s been my experience that the Live Action shorts are often the most forgettable of the bunch because they wind up feeling like early calling cards for feature directors looking to cut their teeth on a smaller scale. This year, however, the nominees are a strong bunch and though they are tonally dark they are more successful as a whole than they have been in the past. I can see the skill of Mother (Madre) being rewarded while Marguerite might be a safe bet because it’s the least depressing and its rich emotion might capture the hearts of voters more.