Os­car-nom­i­nated Short Films

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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

Piper

En­ne­mis In­térieurs

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