You can tell that the Oscars are returning to some semblance of normalcy when they start inexplicably removing airtime for the remaining less-glamorous categories. Case in point: the Academy recently announced that the winners in a number of categories, including editing as well as the three shorts categories (Animated, Live Action, and Documentary), would no longer be announced live during the primary broadcast. As noted by many film professionals, this feels like a betrayal by the Academy, that they’re whittling away what’s supposed to be a celebration of everything that makes cinema unique to make room for more stars, singers and half-baked skits.
It’s an especially egregious sin concerning this year’s Live Action Short nominees, as the short films are mostly a banner crop of emotionally affecting works:
ALA KACHUU (TAKE AND RUN)
ALA KACHUU is from German-Swiss filmmaker Maria Brendle and opens with Sezim (Alina Turdumamatova), a young Kyrgyz woman living in a small rural town, arguing with her mother, trying to convince her to allow her to head to Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, to take an exam that could garner her a higher education scholarship. Her mother is dead set against it, espousing that Sezim find a husband instead, and forbids her to take the exam, especially underscoring her personal disdain for the woman Sezim would be staying with.
Sezim is undeterred and opts to run off to take the exam, to stay with her independently minded friend and get a job at a bakery. She glows as she eases into this new life, one of personal responsibility and individuality, and even learns how to drive a car.
While locking up the bakery at the end of the day, she gets a call from her friend, happily noting that her exam results are in! And then Sezim is grabbed by several young men, thrown into a car, and instead of living her best life as a free woman in the city, she’s forcibly married to her kidnapper, a man who doesn’t shy away from the fact that he wanted to abduct her co-worker, not herself.
Brendle tells this horrifying, but all too common, tale with an energetic verve that tugs at the viewer, while also leaning hard on visual burdens. It’s a hard watch, but one worth putting yourself through.
ON MY MIND
From 2002 Academy Award Live Short winner Martin Strange-Hansen (for THIS CHARMING MAN/DER ER EN YNDIG MAND) comes this piece about a man who just wants to sing a song for his unseen wife at a bar. At first, it feels like a one act stageplay, almost an exercise in character desire and denial, but then it turns the corner and reveals itself in a way that will clutch at your heartstrings. Especially noteworthy is how the film utilizes breath in ways that won’t cause you to wince in a pandemic way.
PLEASE HOLD, from Mexican-American director KD Davila, is the sort of dystopian depiction of the modern prison system that could easily be a BLACK MIRROR episode, or at least would be if that reality weren’t already here and prisoners weren’t unfairly detained and nickel-and-dimed until they’re bled dry. Starring Erick Lopez (CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND’s Hector), Davila’s use of visual confinement as well as the all-too-real sort of digital interface is particularly Kafka-esque.
THE DRESS is credited as being written and directed by Tadeusz Lysiak, but allegedly he collaborated with actor Anna Dzieduszycka, who plays the lead Julka. Julka is a little person working as a maid in a Polish hotel, someone who is thirsty with desire — as visually expressed by her constant diet of slim cigarettes and booze — and seems to hit it off with a trucker, who schedules a date with her the next time he swings into town.
Dzieduszycka is brilliant in the role, but THE DRESS falters near the end, pivoting to prove an unnecessary point. Despite that, the first two-thirds are a fantastic character study, but you’ll know when you should bail.
THE LONG GOODBYE
Not to be confused with the Raymond Chandler work of the same name, THE LONG GOODBYE is a piece from director Aneil Karia (LOVESICK, SURGE) and penned by Karia and lead Riz Ahmed (SOUND OF METAL, THE NIGHT OF). It made the streaming rounds many moons ago, but deserves to be seen on screens larger than one’s phone as it’s a visual whirlwind of a large British South Asian family enjoying their day together, at least until those outside turn on them.
As with many of these works, THE LONG GOODBYE is not a traditionally fun watch, but it’s an important and engrossing one. Short films can summarize a lifetime we’d never be able to imagine within a fraction of the running time, and it’s a shame that the Academy has opted to relegate them to the sidelines. However, you can still see them in the theater, as these shorts are currently playing in the Chicagoland area at the WILMETTE THEATRE — https://www.wilmettetheatre.com/ — 1122 Central Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091, USA!