REVIEW: Oscar-Nominated Shorts (Live Action)

So often I am struck by how little film makers do with their medium. It is an art form that combines visual and audio elements more immersively than reading a book or perusing an gallery can really claim to do. Yet we end up with so many American Pie types, popular but containing no real depth. Emotion and meaning are dulled when movies become uniform in this way, and their power to deeply affect dies. Moreover, even the aesthetic capabilities of the film medium are often ignored, settling for unimaginative school or office buildings, with costume designers seeking normalcy so fervently that their characters’ dress becomes boring.

Fortunately, there are some who understand the abilities film has to deeply move its audience. All five of Academy Award-winning live action short films (Mother, Fauve, Marguerite, Detainment, and Skin) provoked a larger range of emotions in me than nearly any other movie I’ve ever seen. Mother gave me a feeling of creeping cold desolation, with its wide sweeping gaze at the empty beach in the beginning and end. Using the point of view of the lost boy’s mother gives the audience a closer look into her desperation and helplessness. We listen to him with her, clinging onto every word his soft voice says through the phone. The camera work is disorienting, making us panicky with the mother and grandmother as the reality of the situation sets in.

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In Fauve, there are two drastically different sceneries: the wildly beautiful Canadian countryside (wildflowers, long grasses, mountains) and a stark mine site (plain grey earth for what seems like miles on all sides, reminiscent of an alien planet). The scenes in the mine site seem surreal compared to the lushness of the fields the boys travel through to get there. I almost expected the earth to begin to rumble and rise, revealing itself to be some enormous living creature.

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Marguerite was the only one to make me cry, and one of the few movies that have ever made me cry. The loneliness she must have felt moved past the screen and into the most melancholy part of my mind. It is unclear whether she loved again after her soulmate was married, but because she lived alone in the movie, it seemed her companionless existence had been eternal. The whole movie had me feeling cold: the slowness of all her actions, the neatness of each room in the house, the millions of wrinkles lining her face.

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I felt least connected to Detainment, though it disturbed me more fully than the true crime documentaries on TV have ever done. The documentary-esque style of the piece did not go well with the narrative tone, and the same few images of the boys abducting the baby were played over and over again, without adding much value to the film. However, the filmmakers played on the boys’ conflicting stories, which helped create an uncertain, uneasy feeling.

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Skin was by far the most brilliant star of the five. It played on racism in modern America, the psychology of childhood development, gun politics and violence, the idea of innocence and how easily it can be destroyed, the uncertainty of placing blame…I could go on. It made me question my own life and thoughts, those of my family, of the country and the greater world. I had to catch myself when I unconciously started distancing myself from the white family’s attitudes and actions, recognizing the weakness in that thought, the automatic stereotypes I’d applied to make myself feel better. And when the two young boys locked eyes for the second time, I was haunted. Somehow within the film’s disturbing content, there was still an attention to lighting and landscape details that made it uncomfortably beautiful, the exquisite drip of blood, the lonely desert nothingness.

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Emma Pinchak

I'm just a lonely cowboy displaced in the city. I don't feel the same under these dim stars.

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