Review: Oscar Nominated Live Action Short Films Offer Variety of Styles, Origins and Emotions

This year’s five films nominated for the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar hail from various regions in Europe (Ireland, Denmark, Italy, Norway and Luxembourg), and their style and subject matter are just as diverse. Now playing in theaters, the annual program offers Oscars completists (and those who appreciate short-form filmmaking) a chance to catch sharp, solid filmmaking in a small form, five films that prove a movie doesn’t have to be two hours long (or longer) to be good.

From Ireland, the most charming of the bunch is An Irish Goodbye, about brothers saying good-bye to their recently passed mother and the list of her final wishes they decide to complete together. Directed by Tom Berkeley and Ross White, the 23-minute film is a funny and bittersweet story of grief and family, and those thick Irish brogues don’t hurt, either. When their mother passes away, estranged brothers Turlough (Seamus O’Hara) and Lorcan (James Martin) are forced to reconnect and decide what’s going to happen to their family farm, whether Lorcan will get to stay or, as Turlough would prefer, they sell the place and move on. Lorcan’s clever effort to keep Turlough home long enough to fall back in love with the place is a silly, sweet, touching montage of activities, and the film overall warms the heart with a bit of humor and plenty of heart.

Filmmakers Anders Walter and Pipaluk K. Jørgensen present Ivalu, a Denmark production set in the vast landscape of cold, unforgiving Greenland, where an indigenous girl goes missing and her younger sister searches for her in every gust of wind and crack in the ice. A heartbreaking meditation on the disappearance of young girls and the lack of attention to their cases, Ivalu uses its 16-minute runtime beautifully, as we follow young Pipaluk (Mila Heilmann Kreutzmann) through her desperate search for her sister. As she recalls the moments leading up to Ivalu’s disappearance, we learn more about this tight-knit community and its secrets, from a father who can’t be bothered to keep his daughters safe to the vibrant but troubled community from which Ivalu has vanished. There’s a chill throughout the short film, and that’s both the cold of the setting and the chill the story will surely leave you with.

Alice Rohrwacher has been making films for years now, often crafting several short films between her feature-length work. Either way, they are always contemplative, beautiful things, often infused with a certain whimsy. Le Pupille is no exception, a 37-minute fable based on letters written by girls at a Catholic boarding school in war-time Italy. The film cheekily toys with conventions, offering up a sort of Greek Chorus of orphans who talk us through the story and shuffling opening and closing credits on parchment-paper letters. In between, the film intertwines a few different stories about the girls at the school, the nuns who oversee them and the townspeople, including an always-radiant Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, who ply them both with gifts in exchange for their holiday prayers. Rohrwacher gets overachievement points for production value, too, as this lush period piece delivers both in substance and style.

At just 15 minutes long, Nattrikken (Night Ride) is the shortest of this year’s nominees, but writer/director Eirik Tveiten manages to still pack quite a punch in this mostly silent moment-in-time drama about a night tram ride with unexpected twists. Sigrid Kandal Husjord stars as Ebba, who’s minding her own business and heading for the tram home in the cold, dark Denmark evening. But the driver is nowhere to found, and the tram is just sitting there, waiting to be driven. So Ebba goes for it, and in shifting the tram into gear, she finds herself in a position of control that’s a bit more than she bargained for. Though a bit cheap at times, with awkward, oversimplified conflict, Kandal Husjord is nevertheless a compelling lead who says more in a momentary facial expression than many can say in paragraphs of dialogue.

From Luxembourg and director Cyrus Neshvad, The Red Suitcase again centers a young girl’s story, this time of an Iranian teen sent abroad for an arranged marriage she very clearly does not want to enter into. We meet Ariane (Nawelle Ewad) at the airport baggage claim, nervous to approach the belt and claim her small red suitcase. Soon, it’s clear why she’s out of sorts: she’s about to make one of the biggest, most subversive decisions of her life, and it’s terrifying. In just 18 minutes, Neshvad creates a taut and dramatic narrative about a young girl forced to grow up quickly, turning her back on her family and her culture in a moment for the sake of something greater: her future. It’s hard to imagine being forced to choose something so harrowing, but Neshvad makes us believe every moment of Ariane’s journey.

The Live Action Oscar Nominated Shorts are now playing in select theaters, including at Music Box Theatre.

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Lisa Trifone
Lisa Trifone
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