Review: Diverse Slate of Live-Action Short Films Vie for Oscar

Sometimes, the makers of live-action short films use the strength of their storytelling skills in abbreviated form to land a job on their first feature length films—as either a director for hire on something, or in an attempt to expand their short into a feature (in the case of one of the Oscar-nominated shorts in this program, Skin, it has already been adapted into a feature). Running at just under two hours, the Oscar Nominated Live Action Short films are a varied and diverse mix of films.

From Ireland comes Detainment (Dir.: Vincent Lambe), an ice cold retelling of the real-life interrogation of two 10-year-old boys suspected of abducting and murdering a toddler on a whim. The piece features two of the finest performances from child actors I’ve seen in quite some time, and the way the filmmakers use editing to peal back the layers of lies and half-truths to get to the true story is remarkably sophisticated. Two more terrific child performers show up in the French-Canadian piece Fauve (Dir.: Jeremy Comte), in which two boys at play around a mining pit get into a life-threatening scenario that leaves one of them changed forever.

Fauve. Image courtesy of the film.

Also from Québec is the meditative Marguerite (Dir.: Marianne Farley) about the relationship between an elderly woman and her home healthcare worker, whose relationship with a woman sparks decades-old memories within the title character, whose health is failing but whose emotions still run strong and unresolved. From Spain comes Madre (Dir.: Rodrigo Sorogoyen), the tense, single-take thriller about a divorced mother who gets a call from her seven-year-old son on a beach trip with his father, who has vanished from the boy’s sight for unknown reasons. The entire piece is a series of phone calls between the mother and son, and the mother and the ineffective police. The short feels like the opening to a longer feature that I would very much like to see, and even without editing, the fluid camera work and impressive acting are enough to keep the tension high.

The program’s sole American entry is the harrowing Skin (Dir.: Guy Nattiv), in which a terrifying hate crime against a black man by a gang of racist thugs results in an act of revenge that is both wholly fitting and utterly shocking. Although the film seems rooted in the very real world, it also contains moments of surrealism that make it something more artistic in its execution.

The Oscar-nominated Live Action Shorts program opens today at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.