Categories One-By-One: Live Action Short

For the films of 2018
dws1982
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Categories One-By-One: Live Action Short

Postby dws1982 » Sat Feb 23, 2019 8:12 pm

The nominees:
Detainment
Fauve
Madre
Marguerite
Skin


We actually got the shorts program in Huntsville, so I decided to check it out, in hopes of encouraging the theater to bring this program back next year.

My God, what a miserable group of nominees. Essentially you've got a film about a child in peril, a child in peril, two children in peril, three children in peril, and when it's all said and done, someone dying. None of the films--which, by and large, I didn't care for--jumped out as a clear winner.

Fauve, which is the one about two children in peril, is the one I would eliminate first. It won some prizes at film festivals, but it didn't work for me at all. The kids at the center of the film come off as absolute cretins before peril strikes, and then when it does strike, the movie--which is already no fun to watch--becomes absolutely miserable. The decision to end the film on a "poetic" note feels completely unearned and like a random stab at...well, something. I can't imagine it winning.

Detainment is about the questioning of the two boys who were ultimately convicted of killing James Bulger, a two year-old boy who they abducted, tortured, and killed. The interrogation scenes are pretty well-done and pretty well-acted by everyone except one of the kids, but the flashbacks that show what happened on the day of the abduction are gimmicky and show-offy. And once again, it's just a miserable sit. I don't know why this movie was made. There's never any attempt to gain insight as to why these boys did what they did, and it ultimately feels tacky and exploitative. It's also been the subject of some controversy from James Bulger's parents who were understandably upset that Vincent Lambe made the film without speaking to them even once. (Although I can understand his decision not to, I suppose.) Apparently it can't get distribution in the UK. I don't think this controversy is going be a deciding factor--I don't think it would've won with the controversy. But I think with the controversy it's a deep long shot at best.

I'd probably eliminate Madre next. Purely in filmmaking terms, I think this is by far the best film of the bunch. It's about a mother who gets a frantic phone call from her young son. He's been abandoned (he thinks) on a beach by his father, and he's not quite sure where he is. (They're not using iPhones, which would make the plot of this movie useless.) Rodrigo Sorogoyen is very good at creating tension and dread, and with only one visible edit, it definitely takes skill to do that with just performance and camera placement. The problem with it is that it's essentially a set-up with no place to go. You know that within the confines of a short film, this situation is not going to be resolved. If this were the first act to a feature film, it would be one thing, but when you realize that we'll never know if she found the kid, or if dad came back, or if he got murdered by that man who was walking towards him, it ultimately feels like you're just being jerked around.

Skin may be my least favorite of the whole bunch. It's a really broadly and crudely drawn story of race-based violence. The wife of Jonathan Tucker's white supremacist is overweight, wears form-fitting clothes, and has a really bad dye-job. For fun, they blow up watermelons with AK-47's and put their son on a couch which the father pulls behind his truck on dirt roads. That's the level of subtlety you're dealing with. After a black man smiles at the kid in a grocery store, it leads to a brutal racist attack, which then leads to a reprisal which is completely ludicrous, followed by an equally-ludicrous final punchline. In the year of Green Book, this wouldn't be a shocking winner, and the stunt of it all does at least stand out. I thought it was terrible, but I think it does have a chance. (Apparently the director has made a feature with the same title, and while it also has a racial theme, it's not a remake of the short.)

Margeurite is the only one not about children killing or potentially being killed. Instead it's about an old lady receiving end-of-life care. I don't think there's a lot of interest or uniqueness in it on a thematic or filmmaking level, but in a field that mostly goes for misery, this one goes for something a bit smaller. The older lady, upon discovering that her nurse is partnered with a woman, ultimately reflects on and reveals a never-happened relationship with a woman she knew in her younger days. It's nice, it has a sweet ending, it's the least miserable film in the lineup and it might stand out in a field where all of the other movies have a general sameness about them.

But as someone who's never watched the short films before, I don't know that watching them really helped. My vote might be for Madre, but I might just as easily skip voting altogether, because none of these movies are better than acceptable.

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