This year's crop, showing at the Uptown, include a weird abundance of films about children in severe distress, and aging adults ruminating on loss and mortality. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
Dear Academy members: Is there, uh, something you’d like to talk about?
This year’s Oscar-nominated short films, screening in separate live-action and animated programs at SIFF Cinema Uptown, suggest Academy members need a collective hug. How else to explain the weird abundance of films about children in severe distress, and aging adults ruminating on loss and mortality?
Here are the titles:
“Detainment”: Filmmaker Vincent Lambe re-creates the 1993 real-life police interrogation of two 10-year-old boys in Merseyside, England. The children had abducted, tortured and murdered a toddler named James Bulger. Though it’s a little hard to discern a narrative point to “Detainment,” I dare you to try to sleep after this.
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“Fauve”: This impressive shocker from Canada’s Jeremy Comte focuses on two rowdy, preteen boys and their terrifying encounter with quicksand-like muck.
“Madre”: Reportedly, writer-director Rodrigo Sorogoyen has filmed a follow-up to this short, though that doesn’t justify “Madre’s” senseless, resolution-free exercise in audience torment. A mother in Spain tries, via cellphone, to save her 6-year-old son, who is abandoned on a French beach with a predator coming his way. Sorogoyen makes nothing of this except cinematic nihilism.
“Skin”: A violent neo-Nazi reaps what he sows after his young son watches him viciously beat an African-American man. Filmmaker Guy Nattiv inserts a twist in the tale, though everything leads to a lesson in what happens when hate is normalized for a kid.
“Marguerite”: An elderly woman’s discovery that her kind caretaker is a lesbian with a same-sex partner prompts the former to recall, with regret, a lost opportunity in love more than a half-century ago. Prolific Canadian actress-turned-writer-director Marianne Farley shows us compassion and decency in unexpected forms.
“Bao”: Pixar animator Domee Shi worked on the studio’s “Incredibles 2” and “Inside Out.” With “Bao,” she succeeds admirably directing a touching film about an empty-nest mother who becomes mom to, yes, a steamed bun.
“One Small Step”: From Andrew Chesworth comes a bittersweet story about a little girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut. Her stalwart father is there for her through good and bad days alike on her long path — until he isn’t. Bring a tissue for this one.
“Late Afternoon”: Better bring extra tissues. This lovely, haunting work by Louise Bagnall finds an old woman literally falling into scattered memories from past chapters in her life.
“Weekends”: This heartbreaker by Trevor Jimenez finds a little boy making the best of his parents’ divorce. Alternating between his mom’s sweet serenity and his dad’s fun-loving anarchy, life is good — until interlopers arrive.
“Animal Behaviour”: Longtime husband-and-wife animation team Alison Snowden and David Fine provide much-needed belly laughs in this frenetic piece about group therapy for animals. Neurosis reaches new heights when a voluble ape with repressed emotions joins the others.
For more information and to see the two programs’ schedules, go to siff.net/year-round-cinema/coming-soon
★★★ “2019 Oscar-Nominated Short Films”: live-action program, 108 minutes; animated program, 75 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In various languages with English subtitles where necessary. Opens Feb. 8 at SIFF Cinema Uptown.