Hard-hitting drama, clever satire: The 2022 Oscar-nominated live-action short films
From this year’s slate of Oscar-nominated live-action short films, two constants jump out: There’s a surfeit of acting talent in them, and a dearth of uplift. These are mostly hard-hitting dramas, with one pitch-black satire among them. They’re quite moving pictures that remind how much force can be packed into one punch. Just be ready to not feel so great after.
“Ala Kachuu — Take and Run”: The film follows a bright, hard-working young woman (Alina Turdumamatova) in rural Kyrgyzstan who dreams of attending university in the big city. However, as the term “Ala Kachuu” refers to the practice of kidnapping young women and forcing them into marriage, the film becomes a wrenching portrait of a promising person having her dreams snuffed out in slow motion.
Director Maria Brendle learned of the practice from a friend who spent time in Kyrgyzstan: “It wasn’t enough to be upset; I wanted the world to know about the fates of these girls and young women,” she said. In the process of research and casting, she was disturbed by how accepting some were of the practice.
“There was a young boy; I asked him if bride kidnapping was OK with him. He was so proud, he said he was involved in bride kidnapping three times. He said they waited around a corner to get the first woman who came by — wrong place, wrong time.”
“The Dress”: Julia (Anna Dzieduszycka), a dwarf working at a Polish motel, longs for her first romantic encounter. Writer-director Tadeusz Łysiak elicits a trio of excellent performances from Dzieduszycka, Dorota Pomykala as Julia’s fellow maid and Szymon Piotr Warszawski (a kind of Polish Pedro Pascal) as Bogdan, a passing trucker who takes an interest in Julia.
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Łysiak read extensively on the world of “people of short stature,” but found the best resource to be his leading lady.
“I think of Anna as a co-author of this film. We developed this character together,” said Łysiak, now a student at Warsaw Film School. “I already knew Anna because we worked together years before. I knew she was an amazing person, so powerful and strong. I didn’t want [Julia] to be withdrawn; I wanted her to give you the middle finger if she wanted to. She listens to death metal.”
“The Long Goodbye”: The film plays as a dire warning against the racist nationalism that has been rising in the West in recent years. The less said about the plot, the better to preserve the experience — especially for a film that is more experience than story.
“That’s my natural instinct as a filmmaker, to make something as experiential, lived and breathed as emotionally as possible, rather than being too plot-based or intellectual about it,” director Aneil Karia said.
The film arose from wide-ranging conversations he and star and co-writer Riz Ahmed had as Brexit came to a head about “what was fueling us creatively, emotionally, what was terrifying us. The insidiously poisonous rhetoric creeping into mainstream politics was really worrying. The film was an almost cathartic way of churning out these nightmares that were living in the deepest, darkest corners of our minds.”
In the film, Ahmed spits a searing verse. Karia said, “I think it’s such a beautiful piece of writing; he showed it to me in the development process. I felt it was something that had to be in the film. When you’re in any kind of minority and living in the kind of febrile state we’re in today, you spend so much of your life experiencing this messy cocktail of emotions, whether it’s fear or anxiety or rage. You spend so much time suppressing that and getting on with your day. What was so amazing to me about Riz’s soliloquy at the end was he distilled it into this beautiful, defiant, controlled poetry.”
“On My Mind”: In it, a man with the weight of the world on him enters a bar, orders a double and desperately tries to record himself singing karaoke. Rasmus Hammerich and Camilla Bendix deliver superb performances.
Oscar-winning director Martin Strange-Hansen said the situation came from a similar, very serious, experience in his own life. Like his protagonist, he found himself in a dive bar. He remembered, in his intense state, hearing people next to him speaking of trivial things.
“You can be so close to your fellow man and never know what he’s going through. So when he walks in, he’s the way I was when I walked into that bar.”
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The film was radically changed when it landed Hammerich; originally, the veteran actor was offered the bartender role due to his imposing physicality.
“He said, ‘I love everything about it, but I’ve played that role too many times. I love the main character.’ That made me think,” said Strange-Hansen. “ ‘What would happen if that guy has this physique and is not accustomed to letting his heart out?’ So I called him back and said, ‘Rasmus, challenge accepted.’ ”
“Please Hold”: Clever filmmaking in a pitch-black satire of commercially run correctional systems. It’s marked by smart cinematic touches and a fine performance by Erick Lopez as a bewildered man caught in the machinery of automated authority.
Producer and co-writer Levin Menekse said, “Places like the one we show in our movie do exist. There’s one called the Seal Beach Detention Center — it’s not completely automated, but you can upgrade your room. It’s like a hotel.”
Director and co-writer K.D. Dávila said, “It feels dystopian, but it’s real. In many ways, our prison system is inhumane already. What’s going to happen when we remove humans from the process even more?”
They call their film a “normtopia”: “It’s basically now in many ways,” said Dávila. “Everybody has the experience of being stuck on hold with an automated system that is indifferent to your suffering.”
'Oscar Shorts 2022 - Live Action'
Unrated (language, violence, harrowing sexual situations)
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Playing: Visit shorts.tv/theoscarshorts for tickets and information.
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