Of the five live-action films nominated this year, none are from the U.S. This probably has a great deal to do with the fact that most Western European countries have some form of nationalized support of the film industry that allows for the production of unpopular media such as short films which, in our country, are more commonly relegated to aspiring filmmakers who go into personal debt to realize their creative vision — but I digress. This year’s collection of live-action narrative shorts up for Academy consideration are pretty great for the most part, if you’re willing to overlook one of the worst short films I’ve ever seen make the cut (which I am not).
Ennemis Intérieurs (Enemies Within). Director: Selim Azzazi. Country: France. 28 min. The first of two of this year’s nominees to deal with the immigration crisis in Europe, Enemies Within is set in France during the Algerian civil war of the 1990s, but its message is particularly poignant today. Playing something like an episode of 24 told from the point of view of an innocent guy being harassed by Jack Bauer, Enemies tells the story of a humble teacher of Algerian descent applying for citizenship at the worst possible time and suffering the consequences of his religion and ethnicity in a paranoid bureaucracy driven by the fear of terrorism. It’s heart-wrenching, extremely well executed and deftly skirts the edges of being heavy handed. My guess is that this will be the winner, although it’s in a close tie with two others for my favorite nominee.
La Femme et le TGV (The Woman and the Train). Directors: Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff. Country: Switzerland. 30 min. About as inoffensive as a film can be, The Woman and the Train nevertheless lost points with me on account of its saccharine predictability. An aging empty nester who lives by the high-speed railroad in a small town near Zurich finds her life revitalized when her daily habit of waving a Swiss flag at the passing train garners her an unexpected pen pal. It’s not particularly bad, I just struggled to see much of a point to the proceedings – and this assessment did not benefit from the “based on a true story” tag accompanying the credits.
Silent Nights. Directors: Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson. Country: Denmark. 30 min. This is, without a doubt, an egregiously awful film. The second of the five nominees to deal with the immigration crisis, Silent Nights seems to come down on the side of the “give them money and maybe they’ll go home” school of thought. As deplorable as that ideological stance may be, the film makes matters worse by taking a circuitous and nonsensical route to arrive at its asinine conclusion, as a young woman falls in love with a Ghanan immigrant who steals from her and impregnates her while concealing the wife and children he left behind. Her response? Send him back to Africa with a pocket full of Euros. My profanity-laden notes on this one were unprintable.
Sing. Directors: Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy. Country: Hungary. 25 min. Number two in my three-way tie for best of the bunch, Sing is a beautiful little film. Set in Hungary in the early 90s (as evinced by a well-placed slap-bracelet), Sing tells the story of a young girl who joins her new school’s award-winning choir, only to be confronted by a disturbing secret behind the ensemble’s success. Witty and engaging, this film masterfully captures the drama of childhood conflicts with authority while managing to respect its protagonists despite their youth. I would be absolutely comfortable with this one winning, though it might not be my first choice.
Timecode. Director: Juanjo Giménez. Country: Spain. 15 min. This is the one I would probably pick as my winner, although I suspect the Academy’s opinion may differ. The story of two isolated parking garage security attendants who find a surprising connection, Timecode may be a bit of a one-note joke — but its execution is flawless. It gets in and out without overstaying its welcome, it makes a statement without bludgeoning the audience over the head with it and the punchline absolutely works in the context of its quirky premise. It’s a testament to what can be accomplished with story and character in a short period of time, which is what the essence of this competition should be about.
Opens Friday at Grail Moviehouse.