In case you haven’t heard, the Oscars are this weekend. While all the A-listers will spend the evening patting each other on the back, there’s a few no-listers out there hoping that their big break is about to come. They dwell in that oh-so overlooked sector of the film industry – short form cinema. We’ve already taken a look at this year’s Animated nominees. Now it’s time to look at the Live Action set. This year’s Nominees are a lengthy lot (all but one film coming in around 30-minutes). But they’re a feisty lot as well. And they’re built around some of the hotter topics of our time … connection, immigration, right and wrong, etc. Here’s a look at the five nominees.
Ennemis Intérieurs (27 min)
Selim Aazzazi’s tense thriller begins innocently enough – an Algerian born Frenchman (Hassam Ghancy) who’s applied for French citizenship is interviewed by an immigration officer (Najib Oudghiri). Their conversation is light. Casual even. The conversation pivots when the officer keys on small bit of information. The questions become more invasive, leading and accusatory. Interview becomes interrogation. And the interrogated man is faced with a terrible choice. Aazzazi’s story is timely to say the least. The themes of nationalism, racism and Islamaphobia are certain to resonate with viewers on all sides of the matter. But Ennemis Intérieurs is more than just a hot topic. It’s a beautifully scripted, understated chamber piece that’s bolstered by a pair of blistering, low-key performances. It’s honest. Insightful. It feels painfully authentic. And it deserves to be seen by as many viewers as possible.
Le Femme Et Le TGV (30 min)
This whimsical slice of life centers on Elise (Jane Birkin) – an aging baker who’s only pleasure in life is waving at a Swiss bound train as it passes past her house every day. Her lonely, monotonous existence changes when the conductor of said train begins tossing notes to her as his train passes. The pair begin an endearing correspondence, exchanging letters and gifts over a period of weeks. Timo Von Gunten’s film feels like it’s building toward some grandiose romanticism. But the director has something else in mind entirely. As Le Femme Et Le TGV unfolds, he diverts and subverts our expectations. Birkin brings every shifting moment to luminous life throughout and the pair manage to tell a story that’s at once heartwarming and bittersweet. Sure, it’s a little familiar. It’s way too long. And the final moments feel tacked on and trite. But, damn if you won’t be smiling all the way. Especially when you learn that Le Femme Et Le TGV is based on a true story.
Silent Nights (30 min)
Silent Nights is the only real misfire amongst this year’s nominees. Aske Bang’s tale of a homeless Ghanaian immigrant and the shelter volunteer that falls in love with him certainly has lofty aspirations. Its central topic is as timely as it comes. And Bang clearly wants to play in the gritty, blue-collar neorealist waters that The Dardenne’s have mastered in recent years. While much of Silent Nights has the look and feel of a Dardenne film, Bang makes the fatal mistake of over plotting his story. Silent Nights feels like it’s packed a full two hours worth of story into its 30-minute runtime. Every plot turn is trite and predictable. The characters are boring and cliche (though Malene Beltoft Olsen brings a welcome depth to Inger). The dialogue is steely and melodramatic. Through it all, Silent Nights unintentionally bolsters the racist, anti-immigrant sentiment it clearly wants to repudiate. And I’m not quite sure the filmmakers realize that.
Mindenki (25 min)
Sing tells the story of a girl names Zsófi (Dorka Gáspárfalvi) who tries to make friends at her new school by joining its award winning choir. Zsofi loves to sing. But she soon finds that there’s a unsettling secret to the choir’s success. And that the manipulative choir teacher Miss Erika (Zsófia Szamosi) will go to great lengths to keep that secret – and her choir – in check. But Zsófi and her new friends are not ok with the status quo. They believe that every voice deserves to be heard and they come up with a clever plot to expose Miss Erika for the bully that she is. Sing is a lovely little film with solid performances (especially from the kids). Kristóf Deák guides the action with a clear voice and a powerful message. Its moral of standing up to bullies no matter the stakes could not be more prescient. Sadly, it never quite lives up to its potential. And its heady moral ends up in schmalzy, overly sentimental territory. Which is fine. I just wanted more.
Timecode (15 min)
La La Land isn’t the only Oscar nominee dancing into the ceremony this week. Juanjo Giménez Peña’s Timecode is a fun, quirky little dance flick wrapped up in a story about connection and communication. The film centers around Luna (Lali Ayguadé) and Diego (Nocholas Ricchini), co-workers at a parking garage somewhere in Spain. The work is boring and lonely and the pair barely speak as they pass off shifts to one another. That changes when Luna catches Diego working on dance moves through one of the garages surveillance cameras. She responds in an unexpected way, and the pair set off on a relationship spoken only through dance. Timecode is fun and flirtatious and executed in such an unassuming manner that you can’t help but fall for its charms. Plus, it’s the only film on this list that never gives itself over to blind pathos. Even if Timecode doesn’t quite do enough with its premise, it always knows what it is. It never overshoots. And that’s got to count for something.