The Lamb Devours the Oscars 2021 – Best Short (Live Action)

by Rob · April 26, 2021 · LAMB Devours the Oscars, Periodic Features · No Comments

Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:

Today, Nicole of MadLabPost is here to look at the nominees for Best Live Action Short.

Thanks Nicole!

The Oscar nominees are full of dramatic stories that tug at viewers’ heartstrings, in search for a world where we honor, live by and value all of humanity. This year’s Live Action shorts paint a picture of what life is like for people we view as “other” or different based on arbitrary factors and misguided beliefs. It’s all a matter of perception and if we can view things from a different lens, maybe we can better understand – and maybe even improve – the societies and cultures that shape our lives. Within the nominees are also stories of hope and compassion. Who knows that will prevail.

In Tomer Shushan’s White Eye, a man finds his stolen bicycle, which now belongs to a stranger. While attempting to retrieve it, he struggles to remain human. The film has minimal dialogue, yet, contains symbolism that speaks volumes about immigration, exploitative business practices, prejudices and the dangers of underground job markets. If I had to describe this film in two words, it would be quiet and cold. 

The color grading and cinematography enhanced the story well, rendering any additional dialogue unecessary. White Eye does a great job in its visual depiction of the cold realities of life for those portrayed in the film, as well as the heartless nature of its characters. The last scene is a bit confusing and left me wondering whether he either really wanted the bike or if he felt that his attempts at retrieving it isn’t worth the cost. Still, I find the protagonist’s materialism also reflective of our society at large. Why do we value things or inanimate objects over human beings? Where do we draw the line when it comes to sizing up the worth of objects and people based on the latter’s perceived rung on the social ladder? 

Having watched this film several times, there are details in the scenes that can be easily missed if you’re not paying attention to it. My theory for who “stole” the bicycle changed after the second time watching it. Overall, I can appreciate the film’s unflinching depiction of the effects of unfair treatment of people based on their societal roles (gender or otherwise) and their socioeconomic status. It’s impressive what Shushan’s cast and crew managed to pull off in one continuous shot. 

In Farah Nabulsi’s The Present, a man named Yusef and his young daughter set out in Palestinian’s West Bank border crossing – which is occupied by Israel — to buy his wife a gift on their wedding anniversary. Between soldiers, segregated roads and checkpoints, what seems like a simple errand becomes an all-day affair wrought with humiliation and abuses of power.  

Beautiful cinematography, wonderful acting performances and a gripping original score brings out the heated situation on the ground in Palestine very well. Watching the film, it’s hard to see the protagonist endure senseless hardships just to go about his day-to-day life. It’s also easy to empathize with his frustrations.  

Yusef is admirable as a reasonable, disciplined man whose patience seems to be fueled by his love and devotion to his family. He deserves respect but faces nonstop opposition due to social constructs and narrow-minded beliefs impacting the everyday lives of citizens in Palestine. 

Although The Present centers around disregard for human life and that of the welfare/safety of children, it was nice to witness Yusef’s constant attempts to set a positive example for his daughter; all the while trying to protect her whimsy and innocence from the horrors of their everyday life by creating moments of joy and laughter where she can be a kid. Throughout the film, love, understanding and respect remains amidst a hostile environment that could wear down any man. The final scene shows how adults make things so unnecessarily complicated and it doesn’t have to be that way. The Present is a must-see film and I wouldn’t be surprised if it won the Oscar for Best Short Film: Live Action. 

In Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe’s sci-fi drama Two Distant Strangers, a cartoonist trying to get home to his dog gets stuck in a time loop that forces him to re-live a deadly run-in with a cop. The movie exceeded my expectations in terms of having an interesting storyline and built up over time with every loop without causing confusion. Kudos to the writers! There are two moments when you think you know what’s going on, and then the film flips things on its head.  

I found it interesting that the protagonist and his lover we more conversational and willing to carve out some time to get to know each other the more the loops repeated over and over again. I wonder if the nature of their entanglement signifies the transient nature of our relationships in society, and tendencies to see each other as disposable. It is a shame that a canine animal receives more care, love, attention and is placed on a higher pedestal than human interaction.  

Although I think Two Distant Strangers was made well, the narrative fell flat at the tail end of the film. I do not appreciate this film’s direction in tying its main character to the real-life death of a man who was detained for deliberately committing a crime; after trying the character to real-life deadly incidents involving a child playing outdoors, women who were sleeping and several related circumstances where innocent people are the victims of racial profiling, excessive force and/or murder by police officers. This is ignorant at best and manipulative at worst — furthering an agenda that does not improve race relations nor police conduct. The closing messages in this film actually causes further injustices for the very people named prior to highlighting a man who was made into martyr despite his obvious illegal activity. 

In Doug Roland’s coming-of-age drama Feeling Through, a homeless teen is desperately looking for a bed for the night when he meets a deaf-blind man at a bus stop who changes his life forever. Clocking in at 18 minutes, this is an endearing film that seems to come and go in no time but not without leaving a mark that reminds us that a little compassion can go a long way. 

As the first film ever to feature a DeafBlind actor in a lead role, Feeling Through is commendable for its ability to take a simple story about everyday encounters and use it to highlight how we can all find ways to communicate with each other and really SEE each other rather than ignoring someone’s existence just because you feel like you don’t relate to them or don’t want to understand them. It also paints a nice picture of what is possible when we engage in unselfish acts. A chance meeting with a stranger offers so much perspective on the troubles that you may be dealing with at the moment. This film offers a lot of hope and I enjoyed the pacing. Feeling Through is one of those films that I may not watch a second time but am glad that I saw it. 

In Elvira Lind and Sofia Sondervan’s dark comedy The Letter Room, a lonely corrections officer with a big heart is transferred to the letter room, where he soon finds himself enmeshed in a prisoner’s deeply private life. Although the synopsis sounds interesting, The Letter Room is one of the Oscar nominated Live Action short films that I have yet to see. After experiencing error pages and related technical difficulties with streaming sites and vendors during my several attempts to view The Letter Room, my interest in watching it has waned.  

As for which of these films will win the Oscar for Best Short Film: Live Action, it’s hard to tell. The Present has a tough match with Feeling Through and White EyeThe Present is a touching film that tells a meaningful story with a rawness that sucks you into the middle of the action. While Eye technically was much more subtle, doing more with less. Although Two Distant Strangers is a well-made film, it’s no match for the other three in terms of having a well-rounded story without creating too many questions for the viewer.  

One could argue that most, if not all of these films give off the vibe of some type of agenda with the exception of Feeling Through. For performance, story and quality, The Present might be a shoo-in. For technical craft, White Eye could have an edge. Feeling Through is a history maker. I would pick The Present and I think the Academy may go with White Eye or Feeling Through. Whoever gets the statue this Oscar night, it will be a golden feat! 

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