BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
This category often acts as a first-look testing ground for short films that will inspire full-length features. While I usually like warming up to the nominees that feel like a more singular, contained effort, my favorite Live Action Short Film of 2023 is the one I’d like to see expanded on. A few choices in this group could make an intriguing movie; uniformly, it’s one of the stronger years for the category.
An Irish Goodbye (Directed by Tom Berkeley, Ross White)
Synopsis: On a farm in rural Northern Ireland, estranged brothers Turlough and Lorcan are forced to reunite following their mother’s untimely death.
Review: Clearly, An Irish Goodbye is one of those nominees destined for bigger (longer) things. The directors have composed a short and sweet tale of two brothers spending time with one another after their mother passed away. One brother has moved off of their tiny Irish farm and now lives in the big city, and the other, with a developmental delay, has stayed behind. Life will change for both, and neither is ready for this shift. Bound together by their mom’s bucket list, the big city brother has a major decision to make before they cross off the final task. I could see where a viewer would find this overly saccharine and pandering, but it worked right in my comfort zone, and I’d heartily sign up for a full-length feature.
Ivalu (Directed by Anders Walter, Pipaluk K. Jørgensen)
Synopsis: Ivalu is gone. Her little sister is desperate to find her. Her father does not care. The vast Greenlandic nature holds secrets. Where is Ivalu?
Review: Already an Oscar winner for his 2014 short Helium, director Anders Walter pairs with fellow Danish director Pipaluk K. Jørgensen for the dream-like Ivalu. Following a sister’s quest to find her sister through a picturesque yet haunting Greenland backdrop, it boils down to an overly simple examination of the dangers lurking inside your home. On the shorter end of the nominees, as beautiful as the film was visually, it’s as cold as the icy locales that are shot so elegantly. You’ll wish it all added up to something more.
Le Pupille (Directed by Alice Rohrwacher)
Synopsis: From writer and director Alice Rohrwacher and Academy Award® winning producer Alfonso Cuarón, Le Pupille is a tale of innocence, greed, and fantasy. This live-action short is about desires, pure and selfish, freedom and devotion, and the anarchy capable of flowering in girls’ minds within the confines of a strict religious boarding school at Christmas.
Review: This is a strange one but delightful in its way. Produced by Alfonso Cuarón and available now on Disney+, Le Pupille is the only nominee that felt like an actual “Short Film” in that it has a beginning, middle, and end. I wouldn’t imagine we’d return to the small Catholic boarding school in Italy and the mischievous young girls there. This Christmas tale is “clumsily adapted” from an actual letter received and is told through traditional narrative and a few songs here and there. It’s very much in line with the whimsy Cuarón brought to his adaptation of A Little Princess in 1995 but I can see even older, more mature children not knowing quite what to make of this oddball short.
Night Ride (Nattrikken) (Directed by Eirik Tveiten)
Synopsis: It is a cold night in December. As Ebba waits for the tram, an unexpected turn of events transforms the ride home into something she was not expecting.
Review: Despite some unfortunate ugliness around the ¾ mark, Night Ride pulls into the station as a charming slice-of-life short film notable for its leading performance. Sigrid Kandal Husjord plays a woman just wanting to get warm on the train home, but the driver has to take a scheduled break and won’t let her on for another half hour and leaves the tram unattended. Undeterred, she decides to risk it, pry the doors open, and sit down, only to find they won’t shut. Thinking she’s found the button to close them, she presses it…only to find the train pulling away from the station instead. The magic of the movie rests in Husjord’s face as she a) realizes what she’s done and b) comes to understand her situation and rolls with it. What happens next is a little dangerous, kinda funny, a bit cringe, but ultimately genuine.
The Red Suitcase (Directed by Cyrus Neshvad)
Synopsis: An Iranian girl decides to remove her Headscarf/Hijab in a life-changing situation.
Review: Here’s a nail-biter for you, even if it tends to trade in several conveniences that only exist in the movies. A young woman arrives at the deserted Luxembourg airport late at night, and from text messages, we understand she’s there to meet the man who will become her husband through an arranged marriage. A security door is the only thing between her and a life she hasn’t chosen. A security check of her sole possession, a red suitcase, shows a young woman who dreams of freedom. The subsequent events have the new arrival narrowly evading her intended groom while trying to exit the airport. The central performance from Nawelle Ewad is fantastic; I only wish the screenplay didn’t always find a way for the cat-and-mouse game to become such a close match in the vast airport.
Final Thoughts: Of these unusually solid selections (past years have been hit or miss, with few standouts), I responded most to An Irish Goodbye, and it’s likely because it’s the most commercial (not a bad thing, mind you) and the only short that left me wanting to know more. The Red Suitcase could also easily be filled out to 80-90 minutes, giving the director more of an opportunity to flesh out his intriguing characters. I can see Academy voters finding a good amount of joy in Le Pupille or simply marking it down because it has Alfonso Cuarón’s name attached to it. Night Ride has a leading character I’d welcome in a different story down the road, and Ivalu, while beautifully photographed, was ultimately too cold to the touch for me.