Year:  2023

Director:  Various

Rated:  MA (live action), M (animation)

Release:  22 February 2024

Distributor: Bonsai

Running time: 136 minutes (live action), 79 minutes (animation)

Worth: $16.00
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Brittany Snow, David Oyelowo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Léokim Beaumier-Lépine, Tim Blake Nelson

... dark and deeply thoughtful.

The Oscars are nearly upon us and while the nominated short films may be brief in length, they boast much to meditate on. Tackling war, grief, religion and abortion (as well as yoga and unexpected friendship), this year’s line-up is, for the most part, dark and deeply thoughtful.

Nazrin Choudhury’s Red, White and Blue follows a young mother (Brittany Snow), who crosses state lines in search of an abortion. While the film relies heavily on shock value, its ending bares a provocative, disturbing twist. Snow is superb in the lead role, trapping a chasm of pain beneath her ever-composed maternal facade. Sharply written and pointedly titled, the short serves as a seething indictment of America’s medieval abortion laws.

In Knight of Fortune, Lasse Lyskjær Noer offers a coolly-lit portrait of two men who find unexpected friendship in their shared grief. Tenderly performed and darkly comedic, the short is a quiet triumph.

Like Choudhury and Noer’s films, The After, directed by Misan Harriman, is steeped in bitter heartache. After businessman Dayo (David Oyelowo) loses his wife and daughter in a heinous, random murder, he begins a career as a rideshare driver. Though the plot is rather simple, it powerfully illuminates the overwhelming sense of immobility that accompanies grief, as Dayo cruises endlessly but finds himself (understandably) unable to move on.

Where The After is documentary-like in its minimalism, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is highly theatrical. Here, Wes Anderson weaves his velvety magic yet again, this time adapting Roald Dahl’s 1977 short story of the same name. The auteur’s latest venture is an eclectic and magnificently life-affirming tale of a philanthropist (Benedict Cumberbatch) who teaches himself to see through closed eyes via an intense form of meditation. The short flies through an array of decadent stage sets (including meticulously-painted jungle scenes and chestnut-panelled libraries), but it’s all held together by a narrative that is characteristically comic and poignant.

Invincible follows a young man Marc (Léokim Beaumier-Lépine) over the course of forty-eight fraught hours. Imprisoned in a youth detention centre, he spends two days with his family on temporary release and finds himself unable to return to the facility. Director Vincent René-Lortie’s tight aspect ratio neatly encases the protagonist’s boyish face, his sensitive expressions perennially marked with both fury and hope.

This year’s animated nominees are equally as enthralling and Letter to a Pig is particularly well-executed. In Tal Kantor’s melancholic piece, an elderly Holocaust survivor (Alexander Peleg) reads a letter he wrote to a pig that saved his life during the war, and the tale inspires a strange reverie in one of his young listeners. With a deft touch, Kantor morphs the literal pig of the title into a potent, nebulous metaphor for collective trauma.

War is Over! Inspired by the Music of John and Yoko features another animal (this time a messenger pigeon), detailing two soldiers’ lives in the trenches of War World I. It’s a cleverly structured film and a timely plea for peace beautifully set to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s eponymous song.

By contrast, Stéphanie Clément’s French short, Pachyderme, is incredibly disquieting. It presents a quaint surface and a sinister underside, gently, nimbly leading its viewer towards a terrible revelation.

Our Uniform offers a playful portrait of girlhood in Iran, its especially clever use of texture and rhythm setting it apart from the other nominees. The animated protagonist dances over the haptic surface of fabric as the narrator laments the oppressiveness of her compulsory headscarf, culminating in a very amusing, political little film.

In Ninety-Five Senses, an arsonist (Tim Blake Nelson) on the precipice of execution recalls his life through his senses, the film offering a fascinating hypothesis on life after death.