Tunisia is the setting for two of this year’s Live Action shorts in film, one a searing drama beneath the shadow of ISIS, the other a comedy involving a mule listening to the wrong music. They’re joined by Belgian thriller “A Sister,” an American production about sisters suffering abuse in a Guatemalan orphanage and U.S. production inspired by “Rear Window (pictured above).”
Delphine Girard’s Belgian entry is very reminiscent of the 2018 feature length Danish film “The Guilty,” and much like France’s 2013 nominee in this category, “Just Before Losing Everything,” deals with violence against women. We watch a woman in a car being driven by Dary call her sister to tell her she is still on the highway on the way home and needs her to take care of her daughter until she gets home. The expletive she lets out tells us that her sister has refused. But all is not as it seems here, made abundantly clear when Girard switches focus to the other end of the call, which we hear repeated with new perspective. “A Sister” is a simple story, well told, highlighting an important topic and celebrating the public service employees who respond. The short’s title takes on a whole new meaning at film’s end, a slam dunk of emotion as portrayed by Veerle Baetens. B+
In “Brotherhood,” a shepherd instructs his son Chalek to slaughter a sheep already suffering after a wolf attack. ‘Wolves show no mercy,’ Mohammed tells his son, perhaps also referring to the ISIS terrorists on their horizon. Tensions rise when eldest son Malik returns from fighting in Syria, a new bride covered in a burka, Reem, in tow. While mother is thrilled to have her eldest home and tries to welcome her new daughter-in-law, Mohammed is angry that Malik chose Muslim strangers over the needs of his own family and insists Reem uncover herself, suspicious of his son’s affiliations. By the time Reem opens up with a horrific tale, it is too late. Meryam Joobeur’s stunningly made film in the academic ratio focuses on the oddly freckled faces of Mohammed’s three sons (non actors she found location scouting), his own face a hardened landscape. Her use of sound, too, is commanding, Mohammed’s sucking on a water pipe stressing an already anxious grouping. The narrative is packed in twenty-five short minutes. Hopefully, this creative and artistic filmmaker’s firm grip on the medium will be proven further as she develops “Brotherhood” into feature length. A-
“Nefta Football Club”
The second short set in Tunisia, “Nefta Football Club” is a real charmer, a comedy with a painfully serious undercurrent. Salim berates his partner for losing their mule at the border. Meanwhile, two young brothers riding a scooter stop so the youngest can pee. ‘Look what I found in Algeria!’ he proclaims, leading a donkey wearing headphones and pulling a cart down to the road. The older brother allows the younger to believe its load is laundry detergent as he forms his own plot. Both that and the reason behind the mule’s off course wanderings provide hearty laughs while director Yves Piat gives us a view into another place and culture based on his own childhood experience. B
The past couple of years have given us shorts addressing the global refugee crisis, mostly from the perspective of those fleeing over water and heroic, sometimes tragic, rescue efforts. 2020’s nominees include this and Documentary Short “Life Overtakes Me,” two films which switch perspective to that of the asylum seeker. Based on a horrific true event, “Saria” charts the life of a young girl and her older sister Ximena housed in horrific conditions at the Virgen de La Asuncion orphanage in Guatemala. Treated like prison inmates and forced to work, the young girls are frequently pulled aside to endure rapes. Saria views a tree close to a rooftop as a means of escape. She is distrustful of Ximena’s attraction to a young man, but after their escape comes to new conclusions. Alas their freedom is short-lived and Saria’s moment of mercy during the riot is repaid with shocking coldness. Bryan Buckley gives us a lot of think about in 22 minutes, his opening and closing shot of a kissing bug entering and exiting a room a comment upon the worth of a life. That Saria regards her ultimate destination, the U.S., as a place ‘like Tres Leches cake every day,’ is devastating when one thinks about what she would encounter today. B+
“The Neighbor’s Window”
Based on a true story that melds Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” with the adage that ‘the grass is always greener,’ Marshall Curry (“Street Fight”) and his lead actress Maria Dizzia (TV’s ‘Emergence’) illustrate how our own circumstance colors our perception of others. One night, after her husband’s gotten their two young kids down for the night, expectant mother Alli spies some unabashed love making going on in full view in an apartment across the way. The couple becomes quite enamored of their neighbors, but after Alli gives birth and is worn to the bone, she begins to resent their youth and her husband’s interest. Then one day, she sees something which dramatically changes the narrative. Inspired by a true story, three time Oscar nominee Curry’s story lands with a final, humbling observation. “The Neighbor’s Window” reminds us that we cannot know another without walking in their shoes and that we often take the best of life for granted. A-
Grade: Overall B+
Robin gives the Live Action shorts package a B.
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