This review contains spoilers for “Ala Kachuu - Take and Run,” “The Long Goodbye,” “The Dress,” “Please Hold” and “On My Mind”
This year’s nominees for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film all center around the human response to trauma and the isolation that can often follow.
If you want some unspoiled recommendations, I’d say “Ala Kachuu - Take and Run” is brilliant, “The Long Goodbye” is quite good, “The Dress” would’ve been amazing if it weren't for one fatal mistake, and “Please Hold” and “On My Mind” are solid. If I had to pick my preference to win, I’d go with “Ala Kachuu - Take and Run.”
“Ala Kachuu - Take and Run,” directed by Maria Brendle
Ala kachuu, or bride kidnapping, is still a practice in some parts of Kyrgyzstan, and the short “Ala Kachuu - Take and Run” does an exceptional job conveying the terror that the young women who are taken face. We follow Sezim, a young woman who wants to study at a university but is instead taken by a boy in a twist of cruel fate. We see her lose all hope that her family may help her as her family welcomes the marriage and abandons her with her kidnapper’s family.
This is a remarkably well-made movie, from its writing to the direction by Maria Brendle. The way that the audience is made aware of the ala kachuu practice is jolting and illustrative, though there is one decision toward the end of the movie that I just don’t believe. It also feels like the most complete narrative arc of the five nominees. Watch this one on the biggest screen you can.
“The Long Goodbye,” directed by Aneil Karia
The shortest of the five films, “The Long Goodbye” stars Riz Ahmed as a member of a British South Asian family that gets torn apart by a far-right squadron in a hypothesized ultra-conservative United Kingdom. Ahmed’s character gets hit by a bullet, watches as members of his family are either shot or herded into vans and then delivers a blistering, lyrical, long goodbye to the U.K. and the racism that pervades it.
Sections of that goodbye are echoes of Ahmed’s 2020 concept album of the same name, and the whole soliloquy is delivered in a single shot where Ahmed stumbles to stay on his feet. Ahmed plays it perfectly and the filmmaking displayed in the first half of the short when the invasion happens is top-notch.
“The Dress,” directed by Tadeusz Lysiak
I was in love with “The Dress” for the first 25 minutes of its half-hour runtime, where we get the story of Julka, a woman with dwarfism who works as a maid in a rural hotel. Julka is played marvelously by Anna Dzieduszycka, who hits every note perfectly in a movie that asks her to be removed, alluring, lonely and sexy at any given time. Julka confides in her closest friend Renata, who had an equally brilliant performance by Dorota Pomykala, that she’s never been intimate with anyone. Julka soon senses that she’ll have a chance, though, with a truck driver named Bogdan, who’s passing through and will be back in a few days. The film follows Julka as she gets ready for his return.
Julka spends this time looking for a dress right for a night out — and hopefully a night in — with Bogdan. Julka isn’t a natural dreamer — she knows the realities of living life as an outsider in a small town — but she also sees her chance at something else with Bogdan, even if it is just for the one night. Dzieduszycka is a master at making the audience want that chance for her, too.
This makes it all the more heart-wrenching when that night goes disastrously in the film’s last five minutes, and Bogdan turns out not to be a monster. What’s worse, the film doesn’t allow Julka the chance to come to terms with what happens or even remark on it. The ending feels cheap and for shock value only.
“Please Hold,” directed by Kristen Davila
“Black Mirror” on a budget is a good way to describe “Please Hold.” Set in a future Los Angeles where policing and incarceration are handled by automated drones, our protagonist Mateo gets arrested and taken to a prison cell where he can either argue with an insufferable little animation that’s constantly asking what his plea is or crochet little garments for pennies. Oh, and Mateo never gets told what crime he’s being arrested and held for.
I wasn’t able to tell whether the point was supposed to be that the criminal justice system is so dehumanizing that it might as well be carried out by machines or that automation always brings fresh hell even to the worst situations. Regardless, the filmmaking was good enough that I didn’t mind too much.
“On My Mind,” directed by Martin Strange-Hansen
“On My Mind” is the story of a bar patron, Henrik, who desperately needs to sing “Always on My Mind” on the bar’s karaoke machine for his wife. I won’t say why, but I will say that the solid dialogue and acting doesn’t make up for the short being too brief and too predictable. Henrik’s arguments with the bar owner, who doesn’t like the karaoke machine to be played during the week, aren’t involving enough to hold tension for the amount of runtime they take up.
The ending is moving, and there are some interesting ideas about how we remember someone who was in our life even after they’re gone, but “On My Mind” was probably my least favorite of the five nominated movies.
Though “Ala Kachuu” is my personal favorite of the bunch, I’m putting my money on “The Long Goodbye” to win the Oscar on Sunday, March 27. Tune into the Academy Awards to find out.
Matthew Salcido is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @baggyeyedguy