Some of the most (tragically) overlooked categories in film are those of the short film. This year’s crop of Oscar contenders for the Live Action Short category prove feature-length films aren’t the only way to make movies. From dance comedies to immigration dramas, the one thing all five films have in common is that none of them are in English. Seen together, they paint a diverse picture of life across the European continent.
“Mindenki (Sing)” — Hungary — 25 minutes
The shorts begin on a high note with Kristóf Deák’s endearing “Sing.” One of the best portrayals of adolescent girlhood this year, the short centers on an award-winning school choir that boasts inclusivity and only half practices it. The plot sets up an expected, though not unappreciated ending. But what really solidifies the short is the performance of the young lead, Dorka Gáspárfalvi. There’s a scene early on in which she sings, barely above a whisper, alone to herself. She looks in the mirror at the way her mouth moves, her voice so light it comes in and out of audibility. That moment and much of the rest of the film are some of the most genuine portrayals of youth in film this year.
“Silent Nights” — Denmark — 30 minutes
Often, short films feel like pitches for longer movies. Such is the case with “Silent Nights,” a film from Danish director Aske Bang. A young woman working at the Salvation Army begins a relationship with a homeless Ghanaian immigrant who comes to the shelter. “Silent Nights” packs an emotional punch, but ultimately tries to tackle too much — love, addiction, death, racism, pregnancy — for its half-hour runtime. The film oozes potential and, given a feature length and a better script, it could be incredibly impactful.
“El corredor (Timecode)” — Spain — 15 minutes
Unlike its peers, “Timecode” is something wholly unexpected. Purely sweet and surprising, it doesn’t comment on the state of the world except to say that everyone is looking for a way to be happy. The fifteen-minute film, by far the shortest of the selection, follows two security guards working in a parking garage as they find ways to pass time and communicate across shifts. To say anything more about the plot would do a disservice to the surprise Juanjo Giménez has expertly crafted.
“Ennemis intérieurs (Enemies Within)” — France — 27 minutes
The strongest of the lineup is also the most topical. French director Sélim Azazzi’s immigration drama is set in the ’90s, following a French-Algerian seeking French citizenship during the Algerian Civil War, but it could be set today. “Ennemis intérieurs” shines a harsh light on the sort of broad-brush blame and Islamophobia-inflected immigration policy across the Western world. The best-acted of the contenders, the short is also the most heart wrenching, asking its audience to take a look at what the threat to the nation really is.
“La Femme et le TGV (The Railroad Lady)” — Switzerland — 30 minutes
The brightest and ultimately weakest of the lineup comes from Swiss director Timo Van Guten. Jane Birkin (yes, Jane Birkin) plays a lonely woman who, after years of waving to the TGV train that passes by her home, develops an epistolary relationship with the driver. A social recluse who passionately lives in the past, most of her problems are self-inflicted. The plot plays out expectedly, giving Birkin plenty — probably too many — of opportunities to flux between perplexed and borderline senile. It’s cute and almost quirky, and not much more.