La Femme et le TGA
Directors: Sélim Azzazi (Ennemis Intériurs); Timo von Gunten (La Femme et le TGA); Aske Bang (Silent Nights); Kristóf Deák (Sing); Juanjo Giménez (Timecode).
Rating: Unrated (overall combined content equivalent to an R for language, brief nudity, and sexual content.)
Running Time: approximately 105 Minutes
Release Date: February 10, 2017
Shorts HD and Shorts International.
Oscar season is again upon us and when the nominations were announced on January 18, 2017, all eyes naturally turned to the high profile categories.
Every year, some of the best discoveries are found deep down the ballot card, in the Documentary Feature and Short Subject categories, and with the nominees for Live Action and Animated Short Film. Since 2005, the Oscar nominated short films have been made available, post-nomination, via iTunes and in 2009, Magnolia Pictures and Shorts International paired together to distribute the nominated short films in theaters.
More popular than ever, the annual Academy nominated Short Film theatrical package plays all over the country in the weeks leading up to the Oscars, eventually landing on VOD the week of the big ceremony. With the reach of these films never bigger. these programs become one of the more enthralling trips a person can make to a movie theater in any given year.
This year, the five Live Action Short Film nominees represent themes centering around connection and vulnerability, with each film isolating on one specific relationship that redefines each of the lives involved.
The laughs come and go, the drama is intense, and the films offer cinematic prowess largely worth the time and investment in spending with them.
Let’s dive in…And the nominees are…
When considering global conflicts with the Middle East and recent presidential Executive Orders instituting a Muslim ban on immigrants coming to the United States from seven predominantly Islamic countries, Ennemis Intériurs distills current events into one conversation between an immigration officer and an Algerian attempting to enter France.
Essentially a two-hander, the film focuses almost exclusively on a tense series of conversations where the Algerian seeking naturalization is interrogated by a man of Arab descent. Initially, the back-and-forth is tense but formal, until the officer senses he has caught the immigrant in a topic of religious belief that seems to validate suspicions and perceptions around Islam and a fear of terrorism around the world. At this point, the film pivots and intensifies and the two men engage in a war of words where we are left wondering who is right, who is wrong, and whether the truth lies somewhere in between.
Veteran actress Jane Birkin shines in the tender-hearted La Femme et le TGV. As a bakery owner, watching her business limp along, she lives near a railroad. Each morning, she pulls out her native Swiss flag and waves it at the 6:18 a.m. train that whisks right outside her home. Then, a note arrives from the conductor that informs her that every time he passes by her home and sees her, it makes him smile. From here, we learn more about the woman as she wiles away her time, smitten with the hopes of getting another letter or correspondence from the mystery conductor. Birkin is terrific with her wide-eyed, happy, occasionally anxious performance. In a half hour, we know that at some point these two will attempt to meet and the way director Timo von Gunten handles the encounter is surprising, but appropriate.
Easy to like, La Femme et le TGV is an earnest look at love and all the fumblings that go about learning that you might matter to someone else.
Hard to embrace, though very well-made and well-acted, Aske Bang’s Silent Nights is a complicated tale of a Ghanian immigrant in Denmark named Kwame (Prince Yaw Appiah), who comes to Europe to work and earn money to send home to support his wife and three children. He toggles between desperation and measured decision-making, sometimes stealing items or money to help out his situation. In other moments however, he will donate some of what he owns to others in an effort to help those around him get through tough times. He occasionally checks in back home to a destitute village, but soon takes up the eye of a Danish homeless shelter worker named Inger (Malene Beltoft). They fall for one another and begin an affair, but Inger is not fully made aware of Kwame’s life back home. And when he is caught on security camera stealing from the shelter, things begin to unravel.
I want to say that this movie redeems everyone and everybody, however I’m not sure we come close to making that case. Bang has unearthed a clever tale that raises many prospects, but seems to not quite know what or how to deal with them.
You’ve seen this premise a thousand times. A teacher is tough on his/her students and the children must decide to accept their treatment or retaliate back.
For Sing, we are in Hungary, the production notes tell us it is 1991, and a new girl named Zsofi has arrived at an elementary school, eager to join Miss Erika’s nationally recognized and award-winning student choir. After a first-day of class, Miss Erika pulls Zsofi aside and shares some news that is difficult for the young girl to hear and comprehend. Along the way, she forms a close friendship with fellow choir student Liza and soon, they become inseparable. Refusing to share the details of their secret conversation, Zsofi withdraws and exhibits behavior that seems foreign and puzzling to her best friend. When Liza discovers what Erika and Zsofi discussed, it sets in motion a series of events that make the film achieve a conclusion that brings a pretty wide smile and grin to the face of the viewer.
The unfortunate nature of this is that Sing fails to mask its eventual resolution, but director Kristóf Deák still makes this a journey worth taking and gives us two wonderful youth performances that make us wish this movie could extend to something feature-length. Deák makes us care well beyond the 24 minutes he gives us, making this a little bit irresistible.
Timecode is something hopelessly simple and yet impossible to dislike. It tells the story of Luna, a young female security guard who arrives to work for her 12-hour shift watching monitors in a parking garage, only to stumble on to recorded footage of Diego, her co-worker, dancing and hamming it up on camera pretty much his entire shift. When she goes home, he pops in to take over, says nothing, but in subsequent days, the cycle repeats again and again.
Like Sing, the ending of Timecode may be entirely predictable once the basic premise of the story is established, but there is a joy among these 15 minutes that no other nominee captures. A little flirtation enters into the fray and yet, once both co-workers are aware of what is happening on one another’s shifts, director Juanjo Giménez, adds a new wrinkle that leaves us smiling from ear to ear as we exit the theater.
I could make a case for three of these films winning an Oscar relatively easy. Sing offers a delicious conclusion, even if telegraphed from miles away. The film feels like it has more to say, with two terrific children at the center of its story. Voters could easily swoon over the effective message it delivers. Remember, for that Oscar pool, short film winners are no longer voted on by their branches, they are accessible to all 6,000+ Academy members. Since this rule was implemented in 2014, oftentimes the most accessible and galvanizing film has won the Oscar.
And that logic makes one think about the charming Timecode, the easiest watch in the bunch, though Jane Birkin will also generate a fair number of votes in the touching and kind-hearted La Femme et la TGV.
On the flip side, the Academy could be looking to make a statement with their selection, which points towards the awkwardly rendered Silent Nights, and its polarizing look at immigration in Europe, or the searing two-hander Ennemis Intériurs.
While there may not be any all-time great films in this category, the Academy’s Live Action Short Film slate for 2016 is a solid, entertaining, and thoughtful diversion from standard cinema fare.
The overall rating for this year’s nominees?
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Always a great presentation, you have to look fast because the Short films are only in theaters for a brief time.
- Oscar pools and Oscar party contests can be won and lost with the Short Film categories. Experiencing these nominees achieves both a better chance at victory and the opportunity to see some terrific and original films.
- Casual movie watchers tend to watch high profile, big name star movies and convincing people to watch short films is a challenge. No matter how good these films are, a large number of people are not going to care much.
- You are not a fan of a wide range of genres and themes. You never know what you are going to get with these short film presentations and that mix of styles can throw people off.