A lot of these new shorts struck me with their sheer intensity. There’s profound loneliness and strong emotional beats. Many in this batch deal with how young women are controlled by the men around them or ways they are forced to do something that they might not normally want to do. I really liked all of them.
A rivalry between two beauty queens is at the center of Thomas Vernay’s Miss Chazelles. At a local pageant, Marie edges out Clara for the crown, and Clara’s friends don’t hold back in their disdain over the judge’s decision. One blasts Marie on social media, but Clara doesn’t seem to be as invested in her loss. We spend time with Clara’s group of friends as they cause trouble while Clara looks on.
This film reminded me of a combination of Romeo & Juliet with the saga of Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan rivalry sprinkled in–at least at the beginning. Vernay keeps Marie and Clara in their beauty queen gowns for the entire short, and it’s an obvious choice to keep their femininity in mind when the boys around them try to out-bro each other (one quite literally tried to break bottles with a samurai sword).
At its heart, Miss Chazelles is telling the story of the silent bond between two girls and how that bond is hidden from the people they spend their daily lives with. Adolescence is rife with relationships that close friends don’t know about, and Vernay doesn’t entirely define what goes on between these two young girls. There’s a lot of beauty in what is hidden and left in the dark.
Brwa Vahabpour’s Silence is heartbreaking but hopeful as it chronicles a young girl’s isolation at school when her classmates tease her for being deaf.
There are many shots of young Bahar (a remarkable Ebru Ayse Cakir) by herself that perfectly establishes how lonely she is. Her sisters mock her at dinner since she can’t hear herself eating, but the kids at school prove that children can be cruel when you are the most vulnerable. When she feels defensive, Bahar lashes out, and Vahabpour makes us worry for this young girl. The family is slowly saving up the money to take her to a specialty school, but the emotional damage might hurt her before she gets the help she truly needs.
Vahabpour will muffle the sounds for the audience to place us in Bahar’s shoes, and it’s a strong choice that surprises and frustrates us. We can take the earmuffs or hands off, but Bahar’s life is only beginning. This feels like it could be a true contender at this year’s Oscars with how it begs the audience to empathize with its young protagonist.
Clarity features two incredibly intense performances from its leading men, Brett Zimmerman and Chris Browning. Director Roy Arwas directs a confident short about forgiveness, abuse, and how love can begin to grow back.
Zimmerman plays Tom, a Marine returning home first the first time in a decade. He only wants to retrieve his inheritance and get out of there without seeing his abusive father, Richard, played by Browning. When he arrives, his sister informs Tom that their father’s Alzheimer’s has gotten even worse, and Richard thinks that Tom is his brother that died in Vietnam.
Since Tom has not had the time to reconcile his anger with Richard, he quite literally doesn’t know how to act around his father. Richard doesn’t know who his son is, so does it make sense to stay angry at someone who doesn’t know what he has done? Tom is distracted by Richard’s excited attitude to spend time with who he thinks is his brother, and it is the first time that the two can bond despite one person being confused. Zimmerman does a fantastic job of letting his wall come down but then have it thrown back up on the spin of a dime. These men don’t hold back with an impressive and tragic pair of performances.
Arwas films a truly masculine space flooded with complicated emotions. It’s clear that Tom thinks that he learned how to be a real man from his time in the Marines, but maybe these last moments with his father will shape him more than he expects.
A young girl’s focus on her education is cut short in the tense, addictive thriller, Exam. It took me to places I definitely didn’t expect. It is clear as to why it has won over 10 prizes, including Grand Jury Prize for Live Action Short at AFI Fest 2019 and the Special Jury Award for Acting at Sundance Film Festival 2020.
A young girl’s father asks her to deliver a pack of cocaine to his client when all she wants to do is get to school on time to take a test that she has been studying hard for. When the client is running late to the designated spot, she is forced to go to school and unforeseen things happen when she gets into the classroom. It would truly ruin it for me to say more than that.
Director Sonia K. Hadad succeeds by letting Eleheh Afshari’s face fill the frame so much. Her eyes are wide and she carries the weight of impending charges on top of her already overwhelmed teenage shoulders on top of being a young woman living in Iran. If this were a feature, something would have gotten lost, but Hadad instantly makes you care about her leading lady as she jacks up the tension.
People think that they know the ingredients to create a film to garner awards. There are jokes that if you make a movie about a certain subject or a certain time period and you get the right talent, a strut up to the stage to collect an Oscar is inevitable, right? In Poppy Gordon’s biting and unnerving dark comedy, For Your Consideration, a group or privileged, ambitious young women try to take awards season by storm.
Heather, Stacia, and Christa (of course those are their names) toss ideas around to make a meaningful–and baity–Hollywood hit. It has to be culturally relevant, right? Of course it does. It needs to focus on the struggles of women, yes? It can’t possibly focus on a man in this climate. Surely they can get someone famous to do a quick social media shout-out to give their project about American’s crisis at the border some traction?
For Your Consideration is sleek and sly and it captures that perfect tone of what people think about young, cutthroat people who live in Los Angeles. Gordon satirizes how art house cinema is on the chopping block because all you need to do is select the right Instagram filter and the least controversial caption. This is essential viewing for those who adore and obsess over awards season. You will laugh and then cringe.
Of all the shorts that I watched, my favorite might have to be Lanre Olabisi’s A Storybook Ending, an entertaining but dangerous thrill ride with so many turns that I swear it had an 80-minute run time.
The short came from the story of James Black, a Black former tennis player who was tackled by a plainclothes police officer in New York City in 2015. Blake was thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and arrested simply for being a Black man who “fit the description.” With the murders of so many Black men coming to light, Mr. Olabisi’s film feels more relevant than ever.
Storybook centers on Claudia and Wale (Carra Patterson and Rotimi Paul, respectively) who find themselves in a dangerous situation when Virginia and Gonzo (Toni Ann De Noble and Sawandi Wilson) break into their home to demand money. They had a recording of Wale accidentally killing a white police officer and they want fifty thousand dollars for their silence. Needless to say, things turn violent very quickly.
Olabisi is very playful with his tone. He has “Carmen Suite No. 1” plays throughout and Virginia and Noble laugh as the married couple squabble over money amid all the chaos. The space is illuminated with red and blue light, making it feel like the cops could bust in at any moment. All four leads deliver strong, memorable performances.
If this is what Olabisi does with a short film, give him a big tentpole budge immediately.