Oscar-nominated Short Films
2017 OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS; live-action, animated, and documentary programs; not rated; The Screen; live-action: 3 chiles, animated: 2.5 chiles; documentary: 4 chiles
Though Meryl Streep’s chances of winning a fourth Oscar this year seem slim (she earned her 20th career nomination for her role in Florence Foster Jenkins), don’t expect that she won’t step up to the mic during the awards ceremony and again deliver a pointed condemnation of this country’s abrupt shift in direction under the Trump administration. She probably won’t be the only person to do so. Judging by the Oscar-nominated short films, many of which focus on immigration, refugees, and war, Hollywood’s leaders are embracing its unique positioning in American and world culture to represent those affected by the policies supported by far-right populists domestically and abroad.
The nominated shorts are touring in three categories: live-action, animated, and documentary, with the last divided into two feature-length viewing sessions. The live-action package begins with Ennemis
Intérieurs (Enemies Within), centered around an Algerian man’s (Hassam Ghancy) application for French citizenship and his cross-examination by a young bureaucrat (Najib Oudghiri). Their conversation begins politely and gradually unravels, unmasking the messy confluence of unresolved history and nationalistic prejudices that are the legacy of French colonialism in North Africa. Another liveaction short, Silent Nights, explores the blooming relationship between a volunteer (Malene Beltoft Olsen) at a Danish homeless shelter and an immigrant from Ghana (Prince Yaw Appiah). Less topical gems include a turn by Jane Birkin as a Swiss woman who establishes an unlikely correspondence with a high-speed train conductor in La Femme et le TGV, and a Hungarian film (Sing) in which students in a school choir confront their teacher’s deceptive brand of inclusivity.
Promotional materials for the animated program carry stern warnings about Pear Cider and Cigarettes, citing its unsuitability for children. The CanadaU.K. entry graphically depicts the downward spiral of a thrill-seeker who has gotten all the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll he could handle, and then some. It’s a slick production, with an ultracool downtempo soundtrack, a visual style reminiscent of the influential anime series Cowboy Bebop, and grim narration straight out of the dead-of-night monologues of radio raconteur Joe Frank. The warnings of adult content should be heeded, and note that another film in this program, Borrowed Time, could also upset the little ones. It’s a pity that kids may miss out on this program, because the Pixar/Disney short Piper, about a fledgling sandpiper’s first encounters with the ocean, is a charming entertainment for all ages.
The most powerful and affecting shorts are the documentaries. Watani:
My Homeland begins in Aleppo in June 2013, where Abu Ali fights for the Free Syrian Army. His wife Hala and their children attempt to carry on despite the bombings and gunfire, but by January 2015, they have fled for Turkey. They are accepted under Germany’s refugee-resettlement program and begin new lives as Europeans. The children’s transformation as a result of being accepted by their classmates is moving — and so is the sorrow Hala feels for her homeland.
The White Helmets is named for the squad of volunteer first responders serving Aleppo and other combat-torn regions of Syria. The film opens with an explosion worthy of Michael Bay, but it’s not a special effect. The central characters — a tailor, a builder, and a blacksmith before the war — train in Turkey to saw through concrete, rappel down walls, and perform CPR. In Syria, they contend with “ISIS on the ground and the Russians in the air,” racing from one bombing site to the next. Incredible footage captures the moment when they unearth Mahmoud, their “miracle baby,” from a jumble of concrete and twisted metal.
Extremis, which is distributed by Netflix, follows a doctor and other hospital staff members attending patients with dwindling options. In many cases, relatives are tasked with making end-of-life decisions for them. It’s difficult material, to be sure, but at least the patients in the hospital are supported until their death with modern medical care. No one will have to dig their bodies out of the rubble of a collapsed building.
The opening film in the first documentary program is the most harrowing of all these shorts. 4.1 Miles, part of The New York Times’ Op-Docs series, focuses on members of the Greek coast guard who patrol the waters between the island of Lesbos and the Turkish coast. Life in this sunny corner of the Mediterranean was once tranquil, but not anymore. All day, every day, drowning migrants must be pulled out of the water. Some hang on to the shredded remains of rubber rafts. Others merely float, clinging to life, wet and cold. The film places the viewer in the middle of the chaos without editorializing. It is viscerally devastating. — Jeff Acker
La Femme et le TGV
Watani: My Homeland