This year’s five Oscar-nominated live-action short films come from seven countries (two are joint productions). Which makes all the more striking the universality of the emotions on display. That’s true whether the setting is a London suburb, Los Angeles in the near future, or the steppes of Kyrgyzstan.
The shortest film is Aneil Karia’s “The Long Goodbye.” A joint British-Dutch production, it was written by Karia and its star, Riz Ahmed (”Sound of Metal”). The runtime is an increasingly intense 12 minutes. Set in Ahmed’s hometown, Wembley, the film begins amid the cheerful domestic turmoil of a multi-generational English family of Pakistani descent. There’s a different kind of turmoil out on the street. The use of handheld camera throughout adds not just immediacy and energy but also uncertainty and disquiet. A shocking, ghastly climax makes all too much sense. After it occurs, Ahmed delivers what amounts to a soliloquy that turns into a rap. It’s figuratively anti-climactic as well as literally so. We’ve seen something horrific, something we needed to see. We don’t need to have it elaborated upon, earnestly meant as that elaboration is.
“The Long Goodbye” is unmistakably political. So is “Please Hold.” K.D. Dávila’s 19-minute film is at once antic and unsettling. A young Hispanic man, Mateo (Erick Lopez), is arrested by an LAPD drone — that’s right, no officer involved — and put in solitary confinement. Well, not entirely solitary: He shares the space with a large computer screen, which offers a constant stream of ads and useless or outright misleading information. The parody of call-center/help-desk speak is pinpoint precise. Mateo never can learn what he’s been charged with. It’s a situation worthy of Kafka — and not all that far from some news headlines.
Political in a very different way is ”Ala Kachuu — Take and Run.” Writer-director Maria Brendle’s film is a joint Kyrgyzstani-Swiss production. It’s the longest short, with a runtime of 38 minutes. Alina Turdumamatova is excellent as a college-age woman who’s caught in the middle as patriarchal tradition and liberating modernity collide in Central Asia.
Memorable as Turdumamatova is, it’s Anna Dzieduszycka, in “The Dress,” who takes the shorts program acting prize. She gives a powerhouse performance, with so much of the power coming from what goes unsaid. Dzieduszycka plays Julia, a motel chambermaid, whose dwarfism has made her an outcast in her Polish hometown. She’s asked why she’s stayed. “If I left I would be a coward.” Cowardly Julia is not. What authority Dzieduszycka has: Her despair is like a clenched fist. The writer-director Tadeusz Lysiak is partial to tight close-ups and two shots. They feel like punches from that clenched fist. Lysiak’s use of a bluish-gray palette balances that emotional force with a visual coolness.
“The Dress” has a runtime of 30 minutes. That of the Danish drama “On My Mind” is 18 minutes. It feels shorter, because of the viewer’s eagerness to find out why a gruff-looking distraught man (Rasmus Hammerich) is so eager to record himself doing a karaoke performance of Elvis Presley’s “Always on My Mind.” The answer involves mortality and marital love.
“On My Mind,” like “Ala Kachuu — Take and Run” and “The Dress,” is subtitled. It speaks to the emotional richness of all three how expressive they’d remain even without the translations.
As noted, “The Long Goodbye” and “Please Hold” are overtly political; and “Ala Kachuu” is political in a deeper way. Yet the most politically startling moment on the program — certainly the most topical — comes in “The Dress,” not that the filmmaker intended it that way. The story hinges on two encounters Julia has with Bogdan, a truck driver. At the end of the first one, he tells her he’ll be back in four days, after he’s made a delivery. It’s in Kyiv.
OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2022: LIVE ACTION
At Coolidge Corner and Kendall Square. 121 minutes. Unrated (as R: sexuality, violence, smoking).
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.