SARASOTA (WWSB) - The 91st Oscars are just round the corner, and films long and short are ready to compete. Let’s take a look at this year’s Live Action Shorts.
The first on the list is also the longest--and possibly the most grueling. Detainment follows the true story of Robert Thompson and Jon Venebles, two ten-year-olds who became the primary suspects of a murder. The film is heavily based on the interrogation tapes, following every revelation and inconsistency the boys tell the investigators.
The film has gained some controversy for its subject matter, notably from the victim’s family, stating that the film is sympathetic towards the boys. If anything, it seems the film is sympathetic towards the boys’ parents, caught up in this horrible moment and terrified of what their children might have done.
The two leads, Leon Hughes and Ely Solan (as Robert and Jon, respectively) are excellent, and more than hold the heavy weight of the film. Whether or not the film as a whole sticks the same landing, it’s hard to deny that director Vincent Lambe’s vision is spot-on.
Two boys, Benjamin (Alexandre Perrault) and Tyler (Félix Grenier), are all alone, with nothing but the dilapidated remains of train yards and mining facilities to add (minimal) color to their day. As they navigate these spots, their conversation and made-up games keep them going, until a discovery brings their fun to a sudden end.
Director Jérémy Comte manages to make this the most visually-impressive of the bunch. Perspective is the standout here, at one moment bringing the world close to face, intimate and full of detail, and at another can make the boys seem like ants crawling along a sprawling desert. While the film can feel slightly aimless, a solid conclusion and riveting shots still give it the quiet, contemplative punch it’s aiming for.
Easily the more reserved and gentle among this set of films, our title character, Marguerite (Béatrice Picard), and her caretaker, Rachel (Sandrine Bisson), have more in common than they first realize. Marguerite’s short journey takes her back in time with the help of her friend, and helps to expand her own self-image as we see her life is coming to a close.
Small moments of loneliness really come across through Béatrice’s performance and Marianne Farley’s direction, often placing Marguerite against the backdrop of a quiet home, or in total darkness. It’s ending does feel a bit abrupt, but it manages to pull off stronger characterization in shorter time that the rest.
Despite being one of the shortest of the films, Madre finds plenty of opportunity for intense, taut thrills. A mother (Marta Nieto) calls her son on vacation to find that he may be in serious danger, and only she will be able to talk him through it and get him to safety.
What sets this apart is that for a majority of the film, it all happens in real time, in a single shot. The emotions are large, and when they become too powerful, our lead shifts to the next room, where the tension begins all over. Director Rodrigo Sorogoyen keeps it quick and breezy, and while it can come across gimmicky at times, it never lets go until the very last seconds.
Lastly, director Guy Nattiv gives us the morality tale Skin. A father (Jonathan Tucker) commits a hate crime in front of his family, including his son played by Jackson Robert Scott (who you may remember as Georgie in the recent IT adaptation), and ends up paying for it in a very unexpected manner. The film also serves as a companion to a feature film of the same name by director Nattiv.
How exactly this all plays out goes differently than expected, even dipping its toe into horror elements. The performances are bold and outrageous, without being untethered, and it won’t be a surprise if the film’s message helps give it a leg up for the Academy voters. It’s a slickly-made short that covers a lot of ground, and still comes out on top.