Until recently, the short film portion of the Oscars was the section during which I usually went to get snacks because honestly, who cares about these unbeautiful people and their “movies” that no one has heard of. NOT THIS YEAR, FRIENDS! This year, I have actually seen the live action short films that are up for golden statuettes, and boy, do I have feelings about them.
Rather than waste time on the ones that registered only briefly, here are the first three:
1. The Voorman Problem (aka A Few British Actors You Sort of Recognize Explore God Delusions and Make Belgium Disappear)
2. Helium (aka A Kind of Roald Dahl-esqe Story About a Dying Child and the Power of Imagination, James and the Giant Peach Meets Up)
3. Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa (Do I Have to Do Everything?) (aka 7 Minute Video Interpretation of the Ongoing Conversation ‘Can Women Have it All’?)
So, this is where it gets juicy:
4. Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me) - My initial feelings of distaste for this Spanish short about a generic bloody conflict in a generic Africa starring generic generals and generic child soldiers has blossomed into full-fledged fury that I was subjected to it for 25 full minutes. The more I think about it, the more wrong it feels and the angrier I am that rather than condemning it for it’s “single story of Africa” we are lauding it with nominations.
The film depicts two Spanish doctors trying to get past a road barrier in the African bush somewhere (seriously, they give us no clues as to where this is supposed to be or when), when [SPOILER ALERTS: I'm going to spoil everything and I don't even care] shit hits the fan and they are kidnapped, beaten, and forced to kneel in the dirt while the local homicidal maniac of a general instructs the local child soldiers on how to be real men and murder interlopers. When the male doctor is killed, his girlfriend/wife is raped by one of the leaders before escaping during a bullet-laden blitz that kills basically everyone in the camp except her and young boy. She handcuffs herself to the kid, drags him into a truck, and drives him off to the city. Cut to that boy, a decade later, reading to a large audience of presumably-Spanish students about his experience as a conscripted soldier. His white savior stares back at him with tears in her eyes as she witnesses her good works in action. Fade to black.
I’m being kind of harsh. Maybe too harsh, but it really was that bad. Torture porn plus an uncomplicated, unexamined white savior narrative = lazy and dangerous storytelling.
5. Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Everything is Lost) On the other end of the spectrum from Aquel No Era Yo, I absolutely loved this French drama [SPOILER] about a mother in the last, desperate hours of planning and preparation before she leaves her abusive husband. While this could have skewed towards a general, reductionist overview of the Horror of Domestic Violence (kind of like how Aquel decided to address Horrifying Violence in Africa and How We Can Save the Children), Avant instead fleshed out the micro-universe of this particular woman, her children, and her friends. Under this super tight magnifying glass, her trauma is local and concentrated, amplifying the impact of the story far beyond the 20 minutes it was allowed.
Aquel felt like someone sat down and said, “I want to make a really dramatic, really suspensful, really terrifying, really emotional short film….hm…you know what would be uber terrifying? Watching a white doctor get raped by scary black men! And then she’ll overcome it, and oh man, the tears will be intense! Yes!”
Avant felt like the filmmakers did the reverse. They wanted to tell a very specific story of a suburban mom of two who, by all outward appearances, is living a perfectly ordinary life but secretly negotiates fear and pain every day. Turns out everyday violence can be every bit as suspensful as African warlords with big guns.
Related Post: On why “Strong female characters” is a useless designation.
Related Post: Your recommended viewing if, like me, you suffer immense media FOMO.