With the 2020 Oscar ceremony just around the corner, now is as good a time as any to get into the nitty gritty of what are perhaps the least talked about Oscar categories. The three short film categories get a bit of a short shrift from Academy Awards viewers, but some true talent can and have come out of these categories.
Below are reviews for two of the Best Live Action Short Film nominees: Nefta Football Club and Brotherhood.
Nefta Football Club
Yves Piat’s Nefta Football Club follows two brothers (Eltayef Dhaoui and Mohamed Ali Ayari) who stumble upon a donkey on the border between Tunisia and Algeria. The abandoned animal wears headphones on its ears and carries drugs in its cargo pouches. The two boys steal the drugs, and it isn’t long before the two men who were using the donkey in a drug trade start wondering what happened to their lost product.
Piat’s film, which he also wrote, has a witty streak to it. In particular, a bit involving a misunderstanding over the singer Adele is quite funny. And the resolution to this story of misplaced narcotics is unexpected and endearing. On the flip side, there is a static nature to the characters we follow which leaves something to be desired, and the subplot involving the drug runners doesn’t lead anywhere.
What works best about Nefta Football Club is its editing and cinematography. Valentin Vignet, who served as the DP on Agnes Varda’s Faces Places (a well-shot movie in its own right), makes good use of the open desert spaces of the setting. He also plays around with shadows and sunlight at different times of day in an engaging manner. Meanwhile, Jerome Breau produces a montage in the center of the film which picks up the energy right when the film needs it.
Meryam Joobeur’s Brotherhood is a gorgeously shot film. With its crisp medium closeup and closeup shots that capture faces in a shallow depth of field and its rich landscape shots, there is a texture to the film which is full and palpable. And the tight 4:3 aspect ratio frames it all with an intimacy that makes it all the more engrossing. In this regard, DP Vincent Gonneville does a great job with this material.
The film is a family drama set in Tunisia in which the patriarch Mohamed (Mohamed Grayaa) is shocked to come home and find his estranged son, who has come back from Syria with a new wife. The short grapples with the geopolitics of this situation in a nuanced yet non-specific way. As a result, most of the dramatic energy of the film comes from the tension caused by the traditional values of Mohamed being tested by his perception of his son.
This does lead to some unclear visual narration at the end of the film, with the film cross-cutting between two different acts. And some of the narrative withholding comes of as dramatically inert. But the scene that precedes the climax is a quiet and devastating moment.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)