The 2020 Academy Awards ceremony is a week away. Delphine Girard’s Une soeur is one of the five Best Live Action Short Film nominees, and it is worth taking a closer look at.
Girard’s film begins in a slightly disorienting way. A handheld camera in closeup, positioned in the backseat of a car driving in the night, captures the back of a woman’s head. Throughout the short, her face is mostly concealed by this camera’s vantage point. The woman (Selma Alaoui) is on the phone with her sister, but when we cut away to the other end of the conversation it is an operator at emergency services (Veerle Baetens) who is responding to her.
As the disjointed conversation comes into focus, we realize that the woman is concealing the operator’s identity from her driver, Dary (Guillaume Duhesme). Girard quickly cuts to a flashback depicting Dary violently manhandling the woman. Knowing the woman’s precarious position within this car, the operator must exercise a careful, savvy discourse in order to keep the woman safe.
The two dominant performances in the film are both striking. Baetens, in particular, elevates Girard’s script with an emotional heft. Given that for most of the runtime she is the only actor we see straight on, her performance carries much of the film’s weight.
Girard’s film is effectively tense, mainly due to this ongoing discourse and the tightly-framed camerawork from within the car. The emergency services office, by contrast, is much more open and traditionally framed, which creates even more unease whenever we cut back to the car.
Une soeur is a striking conceit played out with claustrophobic visuals and a disquieting tension. It is effectively told, Girard’s script creating a good pace. And it is compelling in its constricting, unclean cinematography. While not the most visually resplendent of the five Best Live Action Short nominees, its distinct style helps ground its narrative in an unsettling realism.