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Close-Up with Camenker Volume XLIII: 2023 Oscar Short Films – Live Action

February 22, 2023

The Oscars are only a little over two weeks away! If you’re like me and trying to fit as many nominated movies as possible into your viewing line-up, then you were delighted to see that the Oscar shorts once again returned to Red River this past Friday!

I remember watching one set of the shorts at RRT some years ago and a former employee saying that these films were among the highlight of the year for the theatre. I concur. At a time when folks have perhaps struggled to get back to the cinema and theatres themselves have not been able to keep as steady of a line-up, let us celebrate that the short films were, once again, featured here in Concord on the day they opened world-wide!

I want to highlight the live action shorts, which I think may be the best of the bunch this year. Sometimes they are underwhelming while another set of shorts is the opposite. For me personally, it’s been awhile since I have seen as strong and versatile a live action set as this year’s.

If you do go to see them, do not let the first film throw you off. IVALU, a 17 minute drama from Denmark, is definitely a downer. While several of the short films often are, this one carries a different feel to it than some because of its vague subplots that are never really developed. Mostly told through narration and scenic exploration, there is little said about the setting or the cultural components of the piece. It does, however, send a clear message by its ending that is ultimately quite an important one.

The following film in the line-up is a much lighter one called NIGHT RIDE, a short with some comic flare that is set in Norway. While it is not all a barrel of laughs, the premise is quite funny and unique. What develops over the course of the 16 minute running time is a playful yet honest portrayal of fleeting connections and the delicate variety of human emotions. Like the first film, NIGHT RIDE relies on periods of silence very nicely, examining characters, facial expressions, and scenery. It’s a good reminder that not all films need heavy dialogue to be good films. Just ask Hitchcock, who was a silent filmmaker at heart despite making “talkies” for the majority of his career!

LE PUPILLE is the third of the bunch and the longest. It also feels remarkably longer than the other four. At 39 minutes, this Italian short faces an identity crisis amongst this year’s collection. For me, it was my least favorite by a long shot, though some critics have praised it extensively, including at Cannes. The audience members found it laughable while I was there, though I really didn’t. Maybe I missed what made it funny, though I did find the setting intriguing. It just was not my cup of tea overall, but please don’t let me convince you.

If you do go and see this line-up and struggle with the middle film as I did, then THE RED SUITCASE, the penultimate short of the bunch, will likely draw your attention back to the screen. At 18 minutes, a comparable length to the first two, this movie draws you in immediately. Themes of tradition, femininity, independence, and fear are established right away through minimal dialogue or extensive character development, but just enough to keep you hooked. It works with minimal space at times to convey a timely and profound message about personal choice, all the while leaving you thinking deeply.

THE IRISH GOODBYE is the last of the bunch and a sweet one to finish out. The only English language piece this year, the premise is immediately one that is meant to be satirized, laughed at, and enjoyed. The relationship of the two brothers/protagonists at hand is well developed despite only a 23 minute running time and the mix of laughter, emotion, and the theme of family difficulties is one we can all relate to in some way. It ends the set of movies on a “feel good” note.

Unlike some years where the entire line-up was full of depressing and heavy stories, this year’s group of films is versatile. They explore deep themes and focus on representation in ways that are crucial as cinema continues to move forward. Seeing characters who are “different” from the norm is refreshing in so many aspects, both through comic and dramatic moments.

While my vote would be for THE RED SUITCASE to win, I am guessing that THE IRISH GOODBYE, which just picked up Best Short British Film at the BAFTA Awards, will be the victor here. Often, the Academy goes for something a bit more laughable in this category when it has the chance and I just don’t think the other comical one NIGHT RIDE is totally their cup of tea. That said, this is often a tough one to predict and it could be any of the five.

Stay tuned for final Oscar predictions from me in a couple weeks. In the meantime, do all you can to check out as many of the short films at RRT as you can!

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