2023 Oscars Best Live Action Short Film Reviews: The Red Suitcase, An Irish Goodbye

After taking a break from covering the Academy Award nominees for Best Live Action Short Film, I am returning to the fold to shed some light on these under-seen gems (they are gems more often than not, at least). The nominees this year cover a broad geographical range, with films from Ireland, Iran by way of Luxemborg, Norway, Italy, and Denmark. For now, let’s focus on the first two and take a look at An Irish Goodbye and The Red Suitcase.

An Irish Goodbye

Lorcan (James Martin) and Turlough (Seamus O’Hara), two brothers who don’t get along, reunite following the death of their mother and the discovery of her unfinished bucket list. The two spend most of the short bickering at each other, until they decide to fulfill the items on the bucket list together.

The film is more heartwarming than it is funny. Not for lack of trying; the midsection is a montage of the brothers acting and looking somewhat foolish as they cross items off the list, such as “learn Tai Chi” and “model (nude) for a life-drawing class.” Again, the montage is more effective in its shorthand for the two brothers growing closer together than it is for the visual jokes. The morbid humor of the priest (Paddy Jenkins) who just can’t help but put his foot in his mouth doesn’t quite land, either.

An Irish Goodbye delivers its narrative efficiently – there are underlying tensions involving Lorcan going to live with his aunt and Turlough selling the mother’s farm. It’s all very straightforward, and while it has an impactful emotional beat or two, it doesn’t fully stick the landing.

Tom Berkeley and Ross White write and direct.

The Red Suitcase

The Red Suitcase plays like an espionage thriller. It isn’t, but it moves with the tense energy of one. Ariane (Nawelle Edad) is alone at baggage retrieval in a Luxemborg airport, visibly frightened and uncomfortable. She is stopped by airport security, who check her red suitcase, then let her go. But she doesn’t go anywhere; not right away; not when she sees who is waiting in the concourse for her. In order to evade this man – the audience is still not certain who this man is – Ariane takes off her headscarf in an emotionally vulnerable moment, alone in an airport bathroom.

As to not divulge too much of the plot, which unravels in a deliberate and intentional way, Ariane’s escape through the airport brings about a contention between liberation and control. This 16 year old from Iran finds herself in an entirely new country. She is alone, and her future is being dictated by others. In this sequence of events in the airport, Ariane exercises the little amount of agency that she has within her current circumstances, but her choices also come with consequences of their own.

The Red Suitcase is not particularly subtle with how it lays out its themes, but it is propulsive and tense in a way that complements these themes nicely. And there are occasional moments that are relatively more nuanced. The short film’s final shot, for one, begins banal enough, but as it continues and slowly pushes in on its subject, the image re-contextualizes itself in a fascinating way. Not to hang the whole film on this one shot, but it does work to elevate a lot of the material that has come before it.

Cyrus Neshvad directs.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)


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