' Cinema Romantico: Just Before Losing Everything: The Only Oscar Live Action Short That Matters

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Just Before Losing Everything: The Only Oscar Live Action Short That Matters

Like every year, I planned to watch the five Oscar nominees for the Best Live Action Short Film and then review each one before providing my entirely subjective, wholly unimportant endorsement. But, occasionally plans and circumstances are modified.

Finland's "Do I Have To Take Care Of Everything?" is a perfectly acceptable little trifle, seven minutes of easygoing Finnish niceness that underscores how families need to care of everything together. "Helium" is a bit like "Finding Neverland", just without Kate Winslet and the watered-down portrait of J.M. Barrie. "This Wasn't Me", and pardon me for saying so, is mostly hogwash, tracking doctors in a nameless worn torn country who are taken hostage. It has an interesting idea in there, children handed machine guns who are so brainwashed they don't understand the circular illogic of a civil war. But that idea is forsaken so that a foreigner can save the day and we can all feel good about ourselves.

"The Voorman Problem", I'm guessing, will actually win the Oscar, and it's probably going to win the Oscar because it's packing Star Power. Which is to say, it features Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander, the latter as a man claiming to be an all-powerful god and the former as the psychiatrist tasked to evaluate him. And it's solid enough, managing to be everything in 13 minutes that "Bruce Almighty" couldn't be in 101 of them.

But ultimately the 2013 Live Action Short category is akin to the 1973 Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the so-called Triple Crown horse race in which a mere four thoroughbreds so inconsequential no one figured they had a real chance and whose names no one remembers were thoroughly and astonishingly demolished by the legendary Secretariat.

France's "Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)" is Secretariat and its four challengers are what's-their-names?


I appreciate films choosing to airdrop us into the midst of an ongoing, fully-formed situation, and then refraining from convenient dollops of exposition to provide bearings, trusting the filmmaking and acting and editing to organically do that for us. Xavier Legrand's "Just Before Losing Everything" is such a film, and a sensational one.

Miriam (Léa Drucker, and if the Best Live Action Short category had Best Actor/Actress, she would win) picks up her young son Julien (Miljan Chatelain). We sense urgency, but to what point and purpose? Miriam then picks up her teenage daughter Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux) at a bus stop. She kisses her boyfriend goodbye. For a moment we sense the old cinematic dynamic - Boyfriend Parent Does Not Want Daughter To Have. Except.....when Josephine climbs in the van, her boyfriend lingers at the window. Miriam is hardly upset. Hmmmmmm.

They press on and to the supermarket where Miriam is employed. Her co-workers appear helpful but panicked. What is going on? Eventually, delicately, compellingly, perfectly, it is revealed that Miriam and her children are hoping to flee Miriam's abusive husband. This plot detail does not, refreshingly, come to light through a single misplaced line, or some such, but rather via basic of details all piled on top of one another that dramatically allow the audience to form a working knowledge of what is taking place all on its own.

I hesitate to give away much more, but even the most rudimentary familiarity should not taint your experience, specifically because how the film is made is everything. It's a little Greengrass-y, as in it's very much a docudrama, but the camerawork and editing are much clearer and the music does not swell and the auteurism never outweighs the people in the frame. Stakes. All I ever hear about from critics are "stakes." You want stakes, critics? These are f***ing stakes. The film is so suspenseful I sweat through my shirt and my overwhelming urge to pee (because I foolishly bought a cup of coffee for the showing) vanished because I became so involved.

The ending is open, as it should be, because, like Jesse Wallace talking to the journalists in the Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore in the same city, "It's a good test, right, if you're a romantic or a cynic." You think they got away. You think they didn't get away for sure. You hope they got away, but you don't know.

Whether or not a film earns an Oscar bears no relationship to its true merit, of course. Yet, this is Xavier Legrand's first film, short or feature, and I was so taken with it that I am already desperate to see what he may do next. I can only imagine that earning an Oscar will open all sorts of doors for him to do all manner of projects. Therefore I say with all the passion I can muster...for the love of God, give "Just Before Losing Everything" the Oscar.

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