Why am I reviewing films when a stack of books beckons? Because it’s Oscar season, and movies, even the short ones, speak volumes about storytelling.
Like short stories, short films have only a limited window in which to engage their audiences. And like their literary counterparts, short films generally cede the spotlight to their more sophisticated brethren–in this case, the feature-length movie.
So, departing from Oscar’s front-runners for a moment, I want to share the gems in this year’s Live Action shorts category, which we consumed recently in one sitting at the Asbury Park Showroom. I’ll begin with two that examine the globally contentious issues of refugees and immigration. Whatever your stance on walls and travel bans, these films will give you pause.
In the first, “Enemies Within,” an Algerian man’s request for French citizenship rapidly spirals out of control as he bargains for his life and his family’s. Although set in the late 1990s, this timely French film captures the terror and paranoia that threatens to taint our collective consciousness.
Next, with a title and opening scene recalling the Nativity, “Silent Nights” follows a refugee from Ghana attempting to scrape together a life in Denmark, and the sympathetic Salvation Army volunteer who offers a helping hand. (Note: Although not my top personal pick, I predict Oscar gold for this Danish film.)
A third short film, “Timecode,” starts out slowly, but before long, the seconds fly by. (You’ll have to watch it to appreciate this last comment.) Once you have seen it, you’ll no doubt glance over your shoulder the next time you leave your car in one of those mammoth, multi-level parking garages.
To wrap up, our showing was bookended by my two sentimental favorites:
If you’ve ever wanted to exact revenge on a mean teacher, then by all means seek out the Hungarian short film “Sing,” in which an elementary school chorus prepares for a singing competition. You’ll root for the underdog in this universal story of friendship and making your voice heard.
Finally, there was “La Femme et le TGV,” a bittersweet tale inspired by true events. Fans of “Chocolat” will savor this Swiss journey of the quirky Elise (played by the iconic Jane Birkin) and her love affair with a “train of grande vitesse” (high-speed train).
Not that it counts for much besides some movie passes I might win, but on the Showroom’s paper Oscar ballot, I ticked the box next to the candy-colored “La Femme et le TGV.” In a world changing at a speed rivaling that of the TGV hurtling past Elise’s house, I couldn’t help but root for her. After reeling a bit when life changes course, Elise resolutely hops back on her bicycle in pursuit of her dream.
If that’s not a Hollywood ending we can believe in, I don’t know what is.