A Look at the Live-Action Oscar Shorts

by Brandon Yunker

Ala Kachuu – Take and Run

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ALA KACHUU (TAKE AND RUN) (Maria Brendle, 2020) is a film designed to bring awareness to an issue, in this case, the concept of bride kidnapping. For this very reason alone, the film succeeds. I certainly wasn’t aware of the practice that, despite still its illegality, is still occurring in Kyrgyzstan. But beyond simply bringing attention to this issue, the short is well-crafted, following the journey of a young woman named Sezim (Alina Turdumamatova), who seeks to live her own life in the face of cultural customs and the frightening practice of ala kachuu. 

The film opens with Sezim setting her sights on studying in the big city, only to find herself at odds with her traditionalist mother. She leaves home and enters the world on her own, which ultimately leads to her being kidnapped and forced into marriage. She wants to leave the confines of her marriage but struggles with the decision as it will bring her shame within her community as it would be seen as violating custom. The juxtaposition of this decision is an effective plot device, and soberingly, a realistic one. 

Realism is the draw to the film. There aren’t any exuberant swells of score or filmmaking tricks. The camera is close and intimate and the performances authentic, especially Alina Turdumamatova. It is an emotionally draining and visceral film as we watch the dark and violent aspects of human nature play out in such beautifully desolate setting.  The mark of a quality film is that it makes you feel something as well as think. Ala Kachuu certainly hits both of those marks.

On My Mind

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A seemingly quirky film that turns into something more meaningful and profound, ON MY MIND (Martin Strange-Hansen, 2021) explores the little things that make our relationships worthwhile and the unsinkable moxie of the human spirit. Despite its straightforward plot, the film soars because of its visual poetry and the heart of its performances. The film is about a man named Henrik (Rasmus Hammerich) who is desperate to sing a karaoke song so that he can share a recording of it with his wife who is ill. It mostly takes place within an empty bar. The only other people inside the bar are the caring bartender Louise (Camilla Bendix) and the curmudgeonly bar owner Preben (Ole Boisen). 

The film is beautifully simple in its premise but poignant in its execution. The cinematography really captures the desolate feeling of being stuck inside this bar by making the space feel deep and dark. But the camera does a great job of capturing the intimacy and vulnerability of Henrik, a man who is willing to give all his money away just so he can do this song for his wife. The final image of the film is hauntingly beautiful and does a great job of providing closure for our characters.

Please Hold

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Funny and thought-provoking, PLEASE HOLD (KD Davila, 2020) is a charming short that is easy on the eyes but doesn’t hold back its satirical bite. Through its humor, the film addresses two major issues that perfectly present in this current moment: the imperfections of our justice system and our over reliance on technology. The film is about the misadventure of Mateo (Erick Lopez) who gets mistakenly arrested by a police drone sometime in the near future. He spends his days and weeks trying to breakthrough and prove his innocence to the flawed justice system, only to get caught up in the technical mishaps of the artificial intelligence that runs the prison. 

The film manages to hit the right balance of comedy and tragedy as Mateo tries and faills. And tries. And fails. Despite the comedy of watching him struggle, I couldn’t help but think about the underlying issues of the justice system. It subtly touches on mistaken identity, the inequality of the bail system, for-profit prison. A lot of thought-provoking topic that are squeezed into this science ficition comedy. 

It wasn’t difficult to immerse myself in Mateo’s shoes. The production design really sells a slick and shiny automated prison system as well as giving you a sense of the confines of being locked up. The commercials and graphics used as Mateo tries to hire an attorney makes the world truly come alive. There is a lot of production value within this short film, really elevating it beyond your normal prison movie. PLEASE HOLD manages to get the gears working in the brain while as the same time, tickling your funny bone.

The Dress

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THE DRESS (Tadeusz Lysiak, 2020) is about many things. It is about discrimination. It is about the objectification, and abuse, of women. It is also a character study into how loneliness changes how we perceive ourselves and how we navigate the world. 

The film is about a lonely maid named Julka (Anna Dzieduszycka), who struggles to find a romantic partner because she of her dwarfism. She finds a potential suitor in a truck driver named Bogdan (Szymon Piotr Warszawski), causing her to confront her insecurities and the realities faced by someone with her physical characteristics in order to take a chance  

Anna Dzieduszycka does a phenomenal job of bringing the feisty and love-starved Julka to life. She inhabits the world well and by following her from cleaning hotels to playing the slots to sitting alone in a dark apartment, we really feel her sense of alienation. The film is effective and layered and is well-structured that the twist at the end feels painfully earned.

The Long Goodbye

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While it may be the shortest of the live-action shorts, THE LONG GOODBYE (Aneil Karia, 2020) arguably concentrates the most intensity in its nearly thirteen-minute runtime than the other shorts up for nomination. The film follows a traumatic day for a British-Asian family as they are caught up in the middle of a far-right paramilitary group out for nothing more than bloodshed and carnage as they descend up immigrant families in a London suburb. The film is a tour-de-force for Riz Ahmed, who plays the protagonist. Ahmed also cowrites the film with Karia and the short features his music. 

The visual energy and sounds of the film fuse together, pulling the viewer in with its force. The beginning of the short lulls you in with the chaotic calm of a family get-together before turning into a frenzied state of panic and anarchy as the far-right group emerges to terrorize the community. The camera shakes and Ahmad’s rap becomes blistering as the intensity of the raid emerges. The film ends with Riz breaking the fourth wall and reciting a poem as the we’re left to sit and absorb what we have seen and heard. 

The film gives us enough context to understand what is going on without being too specific about character development or plot, but this kind of film doesn’t need that. It is effective it how it bombards our senses. We get to see and hear the horror as this family is persecuted and the weight that such subject matter carries. THE LONG GOODBYE is fast, furious, and insightful.

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