Le Pupille

We Love Short Shorts

Taking a look at this year’s Oscar-nominated short films

Let us now praise the short attention span — and, more specifically, those movies that not only cater to but celebrate our desire for a quick fix. They are so much more than mere diversions. Short films traffic in a level of artistic compression that rivals mythology, and quite often they are capable of delivering a sustained jolt that belies their very brevity.

This year’s 2023 Oscar contenders are no exception. And so, without further ado, the nominees are:

Based on the graphic novel by Morten Dürr and directed by Anders Walter, Ivalu is a Danish film set in a remote Greenlandic village that seems outside time itself. It tells the simple but heartbreaking story of a young native girl, Pipaluk, who sets out to find her lost sister, the film’s titular character. From the outset we are steeped in myth. And yet, in the end, this is a timely and devastating modern fable, one that, with its jarring symbolism and disconcerting collision of past and present, gives as a chilling glimpse into an ongoing legacy of child abuse and suicide. It is at once beautiful and nightmarish — an urgent work that whispers the poetry of the damned.

In Night Ride, a Norwegian short film written and directed by Eirik Tveiten, issues of gender identity and sexism are given a very bizarre and oddly delightful tweaking. A lone woman waits for a tram on a wintry night, but when it pulls up, the conductor, rushing to relieve himself at the station, refuses to let her on until he returns. She decides to take things into her own hands, letting herself into the conveyance, but in an attempt to close the doors she rather ineptly begins driving the tram. And then she just goes with it, picking up passengers along the way. What begins with the simplicity of a Chekov tale wrapped in a rather Hallmark-ish package of Christmas cheer soon develops a dark edge, as a transgender woman on board is bullied by a pair of bigoted louts. The resulting comeuppance, both touching and satisfying, seamlessly maintains the film’s light comic tone without diminishing in the slightest its bite of social commentary.

Released under the banner of Disney and, for better or worse, all that that implies, Le Pupille is an Italian short film written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher. Clocking in at what seems, comparatively, an immense 39 minutes, it is set in a Catholic boarding school for orphaned girls, during Christmastime in the midst of World War II. Steeped in Disney-esque sentimentality and an uncomplicated morality — Catholic nuns mean, war bad, austerity harsh, freedom good, kids indestructible — it breaks zero artistic ground. Top to bottom, Le Pupille is a sweet, harmless, good-natured, well-made and utterly predictable work, though it almost aggressively risks nothing — not even its historical assumptions, which wedge an Oliver Twist tale into a world of Spielbergian war nostalgia, while Mussolini and a church’s history of real child abuse are negated by implication. 


The Red Suitcase

In The Red Suitcase, directed by Cyrus Neshvad, a 16-year-old Iranian woman disembarks, anxious and alone, at the Luxembourg airport. An issue arises with a pair of customs officials over her red suitcase, and the question is implied: Is she, perhaps, a terrorist? But this is just a red herring, as the suitcase contains nothing but her gorgeous artwork. The real issue is revealed when the girl ducks into a bathroom to avoid the man waiting for her at the gate, a middle-aged groom for a marriage arranged by her father. What follows is a complex and confounding glimpse into issues at once personal and political — orthodoxy, sexism, tyranny, liberty — and the final image is a jarring reminder that exile and imprisonment are more state than place, independent of national borders.

Written and directed by Ross White and Tom Berkeley, An Irish Goodbye is not only one of the finest short films I’ve ever seen, but one of the best films of the year, period. A comic masterpiece as well as a moving domestic drama, the film tells the story of a pair of estranged adult brothers, one with Down syndrome — the excellent James Martin as Lorcan and Seamus O’Hara as Turlough, who journey back to the family farm with their mom’s ashes in an urn.

Turlough wants to sell the place, send his brother to be cared for by relatives and hightail it back to England. But Lorcan has other plans. Their dunderheaded priest, the hilarious Paddy Jenkins as Father O’Shea, reveals that their mother left behind a kind of bucket list, and Lorcan decides he not only wants to stay on the farm: He wants to fulfill every one of his mother’s wishes, and he enlists Turlough to join in. What results is a bawdy, rollicking journey of mourning and healing — equal parts slapstick comedy and hidden depth — that results in an authentically moving tale of healing and connection. My pick for this year’s winner.

The 2023 Oscar-nominated live-action shorts, along with the animated and documentary shorts, open Friday, Feb. 17, at Broadway Metro; for info and times, visit BroadwayMetro.com.