Oscar Shorts 2019: Live Action

Dates and Venue Feb. 22 at 1pm, Feb. 23 at 1pm | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St, Vancouver

Madre Spain, dir. Rodrigo Sorogoyen and Maria del Puy Alvarado, 19 mins.
Fauve Canada, dir. Jeremy Comte and Maria Gracia Turgeon, 17 minutes
Marguerite Canada, dir. Marianne Farley and Marie-Helene Panisset, 19 mins.
Detainment Ireland, dir. Vincent Lambe and Darren Mahon, 30 mins.
Skin USA, dir. Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman, 20 mins.

Reviewer Jason Martin

They’re back! The Oscar Shorts are an annual tradition at VIFF Vancity Theatre.

Brevity packs a punch in this series of short live-action Oscar-nominated films, a category often overlooked by mainstream moviegoers. This year’s 2019 nominees tackle a mélange of touching, perturbing and tumultuous themes, ranging from racism, murder, unexpected loss and lesbian love.

Comprised of two films by Canadian filmmakers, along with works from Spain, Ireland, and the USA, the five films nearly feel like a coordinated repertoire, with a common theme of intense, and at times tragic, human loss running through each. Collectively, they speak to our current zeitgeist of troublesome and unpredictable times.

Marguerite (Canada) being the most tender of the nominated films—and the only one in this category directed by a woman—stars Béatrice Picard as an elderly woman who contemplates a lost chance at love with a woman in her distant past while bonding with her nurse (Sandrine Bisson). It conveys this narrative with cinematic simplicity while avoiding what could have become sentimental storytelling.

Fauve, the second nominee by Canada, is the most complex and profound of the five nominees. Set against a dreamlike, moonscape terrain, the film depicts two young boys (Félix Grenier and Alexandre Perraul) playing childhood games of dare and oneupmanship amidst an open pit mine—antics that lead to dire consequences. Despite its tragic end, the viewer is left reflecting on what is real and what is imaginary.

Ireland’s Detainment is a straightforward, retelling of the horrific 1993 Liverpool murder of two-year-old James Bulger by a pair of 10-year-old boys (Leon Hughes and Ely Solan). Documentarian in its style, the film fails to offer a redeeming reason for subjecting the viewer to the 30-minute gratuitous recitations of such a disconcerting story. To disturb for disturbance sake is not great storytelling.

Spain’s Madre is a relatively simplistic short-format suspense that depicts the sheer panic and powerlessness a parent (Marta Nieto) might feel when their child is a potential victim of abduction. While well-executed in its portrayal, it feels less like a self-contained short and more like the beginning of a race-against-the-clock action film in the style of a Jodie Foster thriller.

The last of the five, U.S.A’s Skin is a clever and suspenseful exploration of the impacts of liberal gun use and racism in America—its darkly twisted denouement reminiscent of a Flannery O'Connor short story.

While some of the nominees are stronger than others, the long and short of the matter? Mainstream moviegoers should make their way to Vancity Theatre in short order. These five short live-action Oscar-nominated films do not fall short of thought-provoking suspenseful storytelling. Go now before they’re in short supply!

© 2019 Jason Martin