Review: 'Memorable,' 'Saria' top DFT's Oscar shorts program

Detroit Film Theatre's popular annual showing of the Academy Award-nominated short films kicks off this weekend and runs through Feb. 16

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

A father struggling to help his daughter with her hair. An unlikely friendship between a kitten and a pitbull. A drug deal gone bad that turns out well for a group of local children. 

These stories and more are a part of this year's animated and live action Academy Award-nominated short films, which start Friday at the Detroit Film Theatre. The program, which plays through Feb. 16, is one of the DFT's most popular annual bookings. (The program is also playing at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor and at Howell's Historic Howell Theater.) 

A still from "Memorable."

The animated offerings are highlighted by "Memorable," an intimate look at a couple dealing with the onset of dementia.

Director Bruno Collet introduces us to an elderly couple, Louis (voice of André Wilms) and Michelle (Dominique Reymond), who are styled like characters out of a Van Gogh painting. (There's even a nod to Van Gogh's "Starry Night.")

As Louis' mind starts to go, Collet illustrates his blurry focus by making drops of paint ascend before his eyes, and he captures both the shame and the internal terror of the debilitating disease. Oscar handicappers looking for this year's animated short winner will want to start here.

Wordless "Daughter" is a powerful story of a fractured father-daughter relationship, and director Daria Kashcheeva is able to convey more with her characters' eyes and slight body movements than many filmmakers are with human characters and two-hour narratives.  

"Hair Love" is a sweet story from former pro football player Matthew A. Cherry, about a single father attempting to help his daughter comb out and style her hair. The seven-minute short also features a vocal cameo from "Insecure's" Issa Rae. 

A still from "Hair Love."

In the cute "Kitbull," an unlikely friendship forms between a stray cat and an alley pit bull, and "Sister" puts a surreal twist on the story of two siblings. 

"Saria" tops the live action selections. It's director Bryan Buckley's true story of an orphanage in Guatemala and the tragic aftermath of a large-scale breakout. Filmed using a cast made up of residents of the orphanage, it hits an emotional note the other films in the program can't match and leaves the most lasting impression of the group. 

Veerle Baetens in "A Sister."

"A Sister" is a gripping thriller about a 911 operator (Veerle Baetens) and the frenzied nature of her job: one minute she's the most important person in a caller's life, the next she's dealing with an empty line, and writer-director Delphine Girard paints a gripping picture. 

"Nefta Football Club" unfolds in a Tunisian village and gets laughs — a rarity among this year's nominees — from a situation involving a donkey who listens to Adele and a child's misunderstanding of the value of street drugs.

A still from "The Neighbor's Window."

"The Neighbor's Window" is a grass-is-always-greener story about a New York couple who can spy on their neighbors through their open windows. "Brotherhood," meanwhile, touches on father-son relationships, ISIS and the tensions between Tunisia and Syria, although its resolution seems rushed. 

The entire shorts presentation runs about three hours with an intermission. Advance ticket purchases are encouraged, as the program tends to sell out.


'The 2020 Academy Award Nominated Short Films: Animation and Live Action'


Not rated: no graphically objectionable content, but the mature themes addressed in many of them make them inappropriate for children under 12

Running time: 180 minutes, with intermission