Friday, February 15, 2019

Oscar live action shorts: harrowing and then some

Harrowing. That about sums up four of the five live action short films (at the Detroit Film Theatre) in competition for this month’s Oscar. Whether most of the nominees should be sit on the edge of your seat dramatic films is another question. But all are emotionally taut and finely made. All, interestingly, involve children…..The first, from Spain, is Rodrigo Sorogoye’s Madre. The film opens with a sweeping view of an uninhabited beach. A mother (Marta Nieto) receives a call from her son, apparently abandoned by her estranged husband on a beach somewhere in northern Spain or France. The six-year-old doesn’t know where he is and cannot see land marks. The terrorized mother doesn’t know what to do, while her son’s cell phone battery drains and a stranger begins stalking him. The film benefits from exceptional acting and elongated visuals within the mom’s apartment…..Next is Fauve by Canada/Quebec’s Jérémy Comte, which I had seen previously and was as stirring then as it was a second time. Two boys Tyler (Félix Grenier) and Benjamin (Alexandre Perrault) are horsing around in a rural area outside their town. They scramble under a fence to an abandoned open pit mine. At the bottom of the basin is quicksand. Benjamin gets trapped but extricates himself, but their adventures don’t end there. Amazing kid performances…..The third film is Marguerite (Marianne Farley), also from Quebec, and which is decidedly not harrowing. Instead, it’s a sweet nuanced story of a caregiver (Sandrine Bisson) and her elderly patient (Béatrice Picard). When Marguerite learns that her nurse is in a gay relationship it reminds her of an earlier episode in life when she was drawn romantically to another woman. Great poignant acting…..Back to harrowing. The fourth film is Detainment (Vincent Lambe, Ireland) , and the best of all five. It’s also the longest, and a re-creation of a sensational murder case in England in the 1990s.  Two 10-year-old boys, engaged in shoplifting at the local mall, befriend a two-year-old. They take James Bulger for a walk, which ends in his murder. The film re-creates the police interrogation of the two boys, with astonishing performances by Ely Solan as Jon Venables and Leon Hughes as Robert Thompson. The youngsters, tried as adults, are the youngest convicted murderers in the UK in the 21st century…..Finally, there’s Skin (Guy Nattiv, USA) which follows a white trash family, the kind that for thrills hauls their kids around in couches pulled by a pick-up. Dad (Jonathan Tucker) trains his son (Jackson Robert Scott) to fire a rifle. Later, they’re at a grocery store. The boy locks eyes with a friendly African-American man, who shows him a toy. Dad, a racist, takes offence. He and his pals beat the black man to an inch of his life. But there’s more, in the vein of what goes around comes around. I understand there’s racism among small – very small – pockets of the population. But sometimes I think too much is made of it, adding to bad race relations. In fact, racism (at least the public overt type) seems so scare to me, my first inclination viewing the grocery scene was to think the white deadbeats would give a friendly nod to their fellow black customer.

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