The LAMB Devours the Oscars 2020 – Best Short Film (Live Action)

by Rob · February 9, 2020 · LAMB Devours the Oscars, Periodic Features · No Comments

Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:

Today, Nicole of MadLabPost is here to look at the nominees for Best Short Film (Live Action).

Thanks Nicole!

Short Film
(Live Action)

The Live Action shorts have been a heavy crop of films lately and this year’s Oscar nominees continue that trend. Laced with storylines that appear to try to further one social agenda or another, some of these films really lay it on a bit too thick for my liking. Still, this year’s Best Short Film – Live Action is a strong category, so how does one choose between the complexities of familial bonds and the fight for one’s humanity as the common thread that seems to weave through all of these films? Here’s a look at the contenders.

In A Sister directed by Delphine Girard, a woman must make the most important phone call of her life during a dangerous situation. Girard takes our assumptions about a seemingly uneventful drive on the road and flips them on their head in the film’s opening act. We are introduced to an emergency dispatcher who is thrust into a mentally and emotionally traumatizing role to play while trying to keep a situation from escalating from bad to worse. “Lulu’s” feeling of helplessness reminds me of the main character’s sense of despair in Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s Madre — one of last year’s heart pounding Live Action short film nominees. 

A Sister plays like a horror movie in it’s eerie feel, yet we remain captivated by the film’s realistic tone, settings and dramatic turn of events. I appreciate how the subtle music score lends itself to the heavy nature of this story, as tension in the air builds up and thickens to a point where viewer’s are looking for signs of relief at every turn. 

A Sister is powerful in its subtlety as Girard handles a horrific situation with care. The acting performances are great, considering that the film has minimal dialogue and these are nameless, faceless characters in the car. We mainly see them from the backseat and side windows. We only see the characters in the call center full-on. Perhaps Girard aims to make the case that these characters could be anybody…..which makes this film all the more alarming. 

In Brotherhood directed by Meryam Joobeur, family dynamics get complicated when a rural Tunisian shepherd’s eldest son returns home with a mysterious new wife. The strained relationship between father and son continues to grow, creating an uncomfortable environment for everyone else in the household. On one hand, watching this movie had me feeling like I needed to do additional research — about the landscape of religious persecution in Tunisia and Syria — to better understand the some issues addressed in this film. That said, I can still appreciate Brotherhood for what it is at it’s most basic level — a family drama where misunderstandings and a lack of communication leads to rash decisions in a plot twist that changes everyone’s lives and puts the new arrivals in danger. 

The 4:3 aspect ratio is annoying but I can see how it works for the story, as it’s a character driven film. With the exception of the acting performances, there isn’t really anything else about this film that stands out to me. While I didn’t find Brotherhoodto be the most visually stunning of this year’s nominees, it does a nice job of building up the conflict and plot twists to draw us into the story. 

In Nefta Football Club directed by Yves Piat, two Tunisian brothers bump into a headphone-wearing donkey lost in the desert on the border of Algeria. The boys take the donkey home, unaware that drug smugglers are searching for the animal. This is an endearing film with a drug deal gone sideways and a kid trying to score a big payday with bags of white powder. The older brother soon realizes he’s in way over his head. The naïveté and innocence of the younger brother leads to a practical result that serves as a teachable moment for us all. 

Nefta Football Club has the makings of a winning film, as it takes viewers on a rollercoaster ride through action, drama and suspense with beautiful cinematography, a catchy music score and then packs it all up with a humorously refreshing twist.

In Saria directed by Bryan Buckley, two young sisters plan their escape to America from Virgen de La Asuncion Safe Home in Guatemala, an abusive orphanage where they face daily hardship. Based on a true story of a tragic 2017 incident that claimed the lives of 40 orphaned girls, Saria is a depressing film to watch.

I like that the filmmakers cast non-actors from an orphanage to play the characters in this story; making the performances more convincing. The pacing of this film is among the best I’ve seen throughout the Live Action nominees. 

I paid absolutely no attention to the soundtrack until the closing credits. The musical arrangement wraps up the story in a way that pulls at your heartstrings. Putting the immigration elements a side, I would say Saria could be a front runner for the Oscar win because it has a strong narrative, the acting performances are well done and it gave me the impression that I was watching a feature film rather than a short film. 

In The Neighbor’s Window directed by Marshall Curry, a middle-aged mother of young children has grown frustrated with her daily routine and husband. But her life is shaken up when two free-spirited twenty-somethings move in across the street. Considering I initially thought ‘Window was going to be comedy, this film does a great job of introducing the main characters quickly through their hangups, as insecurities surface and relationship tension rises within the first act. Curry’s ‘Window plays like a good exercise in handling jealousy and comparisons while exploring how they spin out of control into unhealthy behavior that is destructive to otherwise happy relationships. 

On the flipside, are our unspoken needs, desires and dissatisfaction bound to surface when we observe other people’s lives from afar? The Neighbor’s Window isa touching film in its portrayal of unfortunate circumstances where a window is the source of escape to some sense of relief and entertainment for the characters involved. It is sad and disturbing that an unfulfilled mother and wife lives vicariously through the seemingly vibrant life that she sees her neighbors enjoying. The Neighbor’s Window is a relatable film, which gives it an edge up on most other nominees, except Delphine Girard’s A Sister.

So, who get’s the gold overall?

Hard to tell which one of this year’s nominees will win the Oscar for Best Short Film – Live Action. In some ways, Brotherhood and Nefta Football Club leave viewers hanging at the end, hungry for more. There doesn’t seem to be much closure, which is understandable given the nature of how each story unfolds, but I still wish where was more to the ending in both of these films. I would love to see how the story continues to unfold if Piat or Joobeur made a sequel or developed their shorts into a feature film.

Where the plot and story development is concerned, A Sister, Saria and The Neighbor’s Window jump right into the action during their opening scenes, which I appreciate. There is no time to waste with short films. Brotherhood and Nefta Football Club build up the storyline from their opening scenes, but Brotherhood is more of a slow burn to watch. I find Nefta Football Club, Saria and A Sister to be the most well developed films in this year’s Live Action category overall. I predict the Academy will go with Saria. My pick would be Nefta Football Club and A Sister because they are damn good short films.

Congratulations to all of the Oscar nominees for Best Short Film – Live Action. May the odds be ever in your favor!