While feature film nominees such as “La La Land” and “Moonlight” played the leading roles in Monday evening’s Academy Awards ceremony, the contenders in the short film categories (live action and animated films) did not gain as much attention. Nevertheless, many of these works show as much genius and innovation as any other competitors.
dir. Andrew Coats, Lou Hamou-Lhadj (Quorum Films)—4 Stars
“Borrowed Time” explores the concept of irreparable damage as a sheriff returns to the scene of a crime that he inadvertently caused many years before. The film cycles between the past and the present and shows the relationship between the sheriff and his predecessor, a close friend who was also involved in the incident. The brilliance of the short lies in its attention to detail, such as a timepiece that the protagonist broke and lost in the accident and discovers during his guilt trip. When he opens the watch, the memento reveals a picture of him and the ex-sheriff together.
Despite the film’s emotional poignancy, its power is undermined by choppy narratives. Half of the film is snippets from the past, but the transitions between flashbacks and the present feel poorly executed at times, with the chief offender a step away from the truth when the camera abruptly cuts back to a random carriage chase in the past. The action sequence turns out to be unimportant, and the time could’ve been used to further develop the relationship between the protagonist and ex-sheriff. Altogether, “Borrowed Time” is an intriguing story that seems to need a bit more time.
dir. Patrick Osborne (Evil Eye Pictures)—5 Stars
As the first virtual reality film ever to be nominated for an Oscar, “Pearl” set expectations high and followed through. It tells the story of a father, a daughter, and their music all from the perspective of a car. The plot is fairly simple: the father and daughter travel around, playing music for money, and the daughter eventually grows up and goes through life with her own band. The film is a “360 Google Spotlight Story,” meaning the viewer can look around the car throughout the short.
What’s clever about “Pearl” is that it tells a traditional parent-child story, but with barely any dialogue. On the rare occasions when people speak, their voices are somewhat obscured by the song that plays throughout. Every shot is beautifully executed, and the images speak for themselves. For instance, after the dad watches in silence a happy family living a stable life, in the next shot the audience sees that he has bought a house for his daughter. This six-minute short is a must-watch.
Ennemis interieurs (Enemies Within)
dir. Sélim Azzazi (Qualia Films)—4.5 Stars
The central topic in “Ennemis interieurs” is immigration, one of the most important issues in the world today. The short follows an Algerian man in the 90s applying for citizenship in France, a nation in which he’s lived his whole life. The man, who has a criminal record and is Muslim, is subjected to aggressive questioning about meetings he had with other Muslims and is denied citizenship unless he gives their names. The film demonstrates the ways in which aggression and racism distort the interactions between the protagonist and the immigration officer. For instance, when the protagonist describes the meetings, he sees them as warm and friendly, but in the imagination of the immigration officer, they are potentially threatening to national security. It’s unclear whether the officer is actually racist or merely enabling a system of racial prejudice. The film grows progressively more devastating as it continues, until the protagonist is thoroughly drained.
The short’s biggest weakness is that aspects of the storyline are jumbled. For example, the descriptions of the meetings are very vague, and the visuals representations make them look more cultish than the director likely wanted. However, the conclusion of the film draws every moment together in a heart-wrenching way.
dir. Juanjo Giménez Peña—4 Stars
“Timecode” is the most lighthearted of the bunch: It follows a developing romance between two security guards, one night shift and one day shift, from the perspective of the latter. Much of the story is told through surveillance cameras and notes, as the two begin dancing with each other over the security footage. The short cleverly shows this romance with few words and demonstrates the protagonist’s progression as she learns to dance. She first dances in a laughably restrained way, but by the end she has become an expert. However, the ending of the short, in which a new security guard and the boss come in and view the footage, feels like a half-hearted out constructed by writers who didn’t know how to end the movie.
—Staff writer Edward Litwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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