The short film categories at the Oscars are often overlooked, and frequently neglected even by the Academy themselves at the ceremony. However, short film offers a medium which can contain some of the best and most memorable filmmaking of the year. Although a single set of five nominations cannot hope to capture the variety seen in the past 12 months, here we take a look at those that made the shortlist.
Review: Jim Ross
Marianne Farley’s film opens with Marguerite (Béatrice Picard) being taken care of by a care worker, Rachel (Sandrine Bisson). Inquiring after Rachel staying for a cup of tea, her understated loneliness is made clear. When she becomes aware of Rachel’s homosexuality, a gradual drip feed of information leads us to why Marguerite seems so regretful.
Farley’s construction of the short, and Picard’s acting make MARGUERITE a touching film, that largely lays out our picture of the lead character in gentle, visual ways. Framed under a single kitchen light, centre of the frame, is an example of how the sections carried solely by Picard are impactful in generating empathy and sympathy for her. As Marguerite flicks simply through a photo album, the soft focus highlights the fondness she harbours for the album’s subject through the fog of a fading memory. The two actors bring a lot of meaning through deliberate pauses and small looks in their interactions, unsure of each other at first – again, understated, but wonderfully done.
MARGUERITE is a beautifully melancholic short that illustrates the sadness inherent within a life led in unnecessary societal constraints, and the long term emotional impact it can have. Although the conclusion feels a little trite, the compassion of the visuals and skill of the acting delivery is consistent with an excellent film to that point.
Review: Chris Dobson
Apart from opening and closing shots of a grey, barren beach, the fifteen minutes of Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s MOTHER take place inside the sunlit flat of Marta (Marta Nieto), who chats idly to her mother (Blanco Apilánez) about her dinner plans for the evening. Then Marta receives a phone call from her young son, Iván (Álvaro Balas), who tells his mum that he is on a beach in France. Marta grows worried, however, when she learns that Iván’s Dad has left him alone. Her worry soon grows into terror as she realises how vulnerable her son is on the beach. With the police not providing any help, Marta’s terror becomes desperation.
Nieto puts in a convincing performance as Marta, but the mood changes are too rapid and sometimes veer towards melodrama. The film itself is minimalist in its use of music, at least until the jarring techno end credits.
Viewers who are not fluent in Spanish must rely on the subtitles to understand the frantic dialogue, which is a shame, as it distracts from the film’s focus: the slowly unfurling anguish on Marta’s face. MOTHER succeeds in ratcheting up the tension, but it fails to reach any resolution, suggesting that this is more a first draft for a feature-length film than a satisfying narrative in its own right.
Review: Jim Ross
SKIN, which has already inspired creator Guy Nattiv to expand upon the themes in a feature of the same name, follows the tale of the fallout from a black man smiling at a young boy (Jackson Robert Scott) in a small-town supermarket. Previous to this, a portrait of a loving blue-collar family has been turned on its head as it morphs into a weapons-training session, to the mother’s (Danielle Macdonald) obvious unease. The retaliation meted out upon the racist father (Jonathan Tucker) is swift, and ironically reflects back his own prejudices.
There are interesting elements to the narrative here, including the presentation of the family as an otherwise loving, reasonably stable unit. The film also hints at contrasting the point of view of the young white boy with the black assault victim’s own son (Lonnie Chavis). The endless feedback of hate and how it can be rather innocuously instilled at a young age is definitely highlighted, but the contrast between the boys is never developed despite framing and shots that hint otherwise.
However, these strands are jettisoned as the revenge part of the story begins to unfold. In the context of a short, the change in perspective and approach is a bit whiplash-inducing. The form of retaliatory ‘justice’ seems absurd compared to the effective and subtle opening segments, and what they seemed to be building towards. If the themes and approach taken in the opening are explored in a different way in Nattiv’s feature – which has a very different plot and narrative setup – then the way that is handled here bodes well for the longer story.
Review: Jim Ross
From our Edinburgh Short Film Festival 2018 preview:
“The stand out film of the selection is FAUVE, which has been completing a sweep of awards wins at festivals, and it is easy to see why. Jeremy Comte’s film starts off by following two young boys playing, initially in an abandoned train and then lush green surroundings. The opening scenes evoke handheld camera work, with medium and medium-long shots tracking the boys. It has a look not unlike that of Andrea Arnold’s work or the Dardenne brothers’ THE KID WITH A BIKE. However, the widening scope of the boys predicament is foreshadowed by the key contrast between those two and Comte’s short – the anamorphic ratio and panoramic view the film sets out to frame its characters. This is confirmed when the boys’ predicament changes, with their toeraggy-but-harmless games taking a turn for the worse. Moving into a grey surface mine, Comte’s framing makes this feel like an alien, threatening landscape, leaving Félix Grenier’s Tyler to race around within it like the lost, clueless child he is. Returning to the verdant pastures of the opening scenes only underscores the tension that was built up. Paced fantastically, with visuals and story working in great harmony, FAUVE will linger long after Thursday’s viewing.”
FAUVE has continued to make waves since its debut, and was chosen as a Vimeo staff pick. The dramatic framing and dread-inducing score build an atmosphere of devastating impact by the time the film concludes, artfully constructed and perfectly paced. The film went on to win Edinburgh Short Film Festival’s Best Film award and was one of the runners-up in awards voted for by the whole TAKE ONE team, and it is easy to see why.
Review: Chris Dobson
Twenty-six years later, the death of James Bulger still raises many questions. Why did Jon Venables and Robert Thompson abduct and murder the two-year-old? How could they have committed such an atrocity, when they themselves were only ten at the time? Anyone hoping to find answers to such questions in Vincent Lambe’s controversial short film will be disappointed.
DETAINMENT is not a documentary; instead, it is a phenomenally well-acted character study of two young boys who have done something unthinkable. Ely Solan in particular deserves praise for his performance as Jon, who is shown to be a scared, weeping child, not the monster of popular imagination. Robert is portrayed less emotionally but with no less conviction by Leon Hughes. The half-hour film juxtaposes Jon and Robert’s interrogations in a police station with flashbacks to the day of the crime. Slow-motion shots of them walking through the streets drag out the tension as we draw closer to the inevitable. Meanwhile the boys’ lies are picked apart by police officers and the terrible truth is gradually revealed.
Verisimilitude is achieved through a reliance on the actual interview transcripts and police records, although it should be noted that there are some inaccuracies. The boys were tried in Preston Crown Court, for instance, not in Liverpool, as the end credit incorrectly states. It should be noted, too, that they unsuccessfully tried to take another child before managing to abduct James, whilst the film implies that the abduction was a spontaneous decision.
Inevitably, Lambe’s sympathetic portrayal of two of the most hated figures in modern British history – as well as his failure to inform the Bulger family about the film before its release – has provoked widespread ire, with a petition calling for it to be withdrawn from the Oscars shortlist attracting over 250,000 signatures. It does seem rather distasteful to present Bulger’s killers as victims themselves whilst not once showing the agony caused to Bulger’s family, but in Lambe’s defence the suffering of James Bulger’s parents arguably goes without saying.
DETAINMENT makes for distressing viewing, not just due to its content matter, but because it contradicts the assumption that Bulger’s killers were simply monsters born to be evil. The thought of them as children, with their own childish motives and fears, is far more discomforting.
“I can’t…I can’t sit through any more of this,” Robert’s mother sobs at one point, and the viewer is likely to share this feeling. We keep watching, however, because the acting, the cinematography and the music are all so outstanding. Whether it is distasteful to humanise these two killers is a separate discussion to judging this film’s artistic merits, and it is certainly deserving of its place in the Academy Award lineup.