2020 Oscar Nominated
Short Films: Live Action

January 2, 2020

in Movies

Film (2019)

A Sister (Belgium)
Brotherhood (Canada-Tunisia-Qatar-Sweden)
NEFTA Football Club (France-Tunisia)
Saria (USA)
The Neighbor’s Window (USA)

Five excellent and stimulating live-action narrative films, all under half an hour, several from the Middle East and North Africa.

Each of these excellent films has a catch, so I will try to give a little view of each without giving away the store. (If you don’t mind getting the store, click the spoiler buttons below.

A Sister

A Sister

A Sister
This concise French-language Belgian film takes place almost entirely inside of a car. We see a woman on a phone call, presumably with her sister, while a man drives down a dark road. She carries on her side of the conversation while we gradually get the sense of the real nature of the call. The woman on the other end does most of the visual acting, but both actresses contribute to a vivid sense of the singular drama involved. Dark, but concise, to the point, and thoughtfully conceived.

Post-viewing notes, including spoilers
The conversation, we find out, is really with an emergency switchboard operator to alert her that the passenger is in a car with a violent rapist. Suspenseful.
Brotherhood

Brotherhood

Brotherhood
Set in a coastal town in Tunisia, a father deals with two teenaged sons. One has just come back from a foreign location with a bride in a hijab. There is joy at the son’s return on the part of the mother and concern, principally by the father, for the trajectory of his son’s life. Older and younger brothers go to the beach and confidences are conveyed, and we gradually understand the complexity of the involvements and relationships.

Post-viewing notes, including spoilers
The older brother has, in fact, just returned from serving with ISIS in Syria, and the father is hard put to accept it, and, in fact, doesn’t. Ironically, on a private trip to the beach together, the older brother makes the younger one promise that he will never do what he did and join ISIS. Tragically, without knowing the older son’s outlook and advice to the younger one, the father reports him to the police.
NEFTA Football Club

NEFTA Football Club

NEFTA Football Club
Again, set in a middle Eastern country, a small dark comic thriller about drug dealing. Somehow a large shipment of heroin has gone off the expected track. Two young boys from the local town have retrieved it. The older of the boys knows essentially what’s involved and approached two local dealers to see what he can manage. The younger boy thinks, because the older one has told him so, that the bags contain laundry detergent. How it all works out in the end is truly hilarious.

Post-viewing notes, including spoilers
The older kid tells the younger kids that the white powder is laundry detergent. when the younger kid has to figure out about how to draw lines for his soccer match, guess what he uses: all of it. Dark but hilarious.
Saria

Saria

Saria
Based on a true story, this is a tale of a group of girls in an orphanage in Guatemala in 2017. Treated badly, the girls naturally seek a way to escape and eventually head north to the United States. But the challenges are significant. Rebellions develop, but escape is not so easy. A poignant depiction of the relations between the young women, the content is heartbreaking and tragic.

Post-viewing notes, including spoilers
A truly heartbreaking tale about mistreatment of adolescent girls in a Guatemalan orphanage and how they were locked in to their quarters and died in a fire. Deeply tragic.
The Neighbors

The Neighbors

The Neighbor’s Window
Beginning as a kind of offbeat comedy, the film shows a youngish couple in a city apartment who notice, through an uncurtained window across the street, a series of intimate goings-on in their neighbors’ apartment. As parents of three children, the couple is absorbed and challenged, but the scene across the street, depicted over a span of time, draws them in, leading to an unexpected series of transitions and connections.

Post-viewing notes, including spoilers
What starts as simple voyeurism of a couple across the street making love turns more complex and tragic and the man in the couple across the street gets ill and dies.
The poignant denouement shows the voyeuristic wife meeting the widow, during which time the widow offers how much she has appreciated watching the voyeur’s and her husband’s tending of their children from her perch. Sweet, poignant, surprising, ironic.

All of these are very much worth watching. I found each of them compelling in its own way and had no clear sense of an Oscar winner, though, certainly, the factual foundation of Saria and its tragic narrative is uniquely significant. All are well done, but each is emotionally challenging. The lightest and most humorous is NEFTA Football Club, but it too has some pretty difficult content. So, go and enjoy, but be prepared for that intensity.

– BADMan (aka Charles Munitz)

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