Men are just trouble in this year's Oscar-nominated live action shorts

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      In English, French, and Spanish, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      A bubbling bouillabaisse of toxic masculinity is this year’s serving of live-action narrative shorts.

      Hard to say if it’s mere coincidence or a veritable zeitgeist menu, but this sitting is certainly not for the faint of heart, or stomach.

      One of the slickest shorts here—all of which run from 17 to 30 minutes each—is called “Madre”, but it’s haunted by the voice of a six-year-old boy, stranded on a beach in France while his divorced mother (Blanca Apilánez) goes nuts back in Spain, and her own mother helplessly watches.

      The kid’s father has vanished and no one else is around but some scary-looking guy.

      The movie is masterful in building tension in a confined space, but it plays like a teaser for a longer film by Rodrigo Sorogoyen, who already has two features behind him.

      Written and directed by Israeli-American Guy Nattiv, “Skin” also resembles an elaborate trailer, about a family of neo-Nazis led by a tattooed dad who beats up one black man too many.

      This leads the story into Jordan Peele territory, with mixed results, but it’s anchored by a fine cast of familiar faces, and the child actors are especially good.

      The grandson of four Holocaust survivors, Nattiv also has a feature called Skin, although it stars Jamie Bell as a neo-Nazi who recants his violent past.

      In “Detainment”, two 10-year-old boys don’t need much encouragement to hurt others for no reason at all.

      Irish filmmaker Vincent Lambe, who has mostly told tales of the Troubles, here relies on hours of taped testimony from the pair of otherwise unremarkable Liverpool lads who kidnapped two-year-old James Bulger in 1993 and tortured him to death in a crime that still resists all explication.

      Thankfully, the violence is not shown, but the story is so brutal that you must remind yourself to marvel at the veracity of the child actors (and the people who play their permanently broken parents) in order to endure it.

      The French-Canadian “Fauve” also centres on a pair of boys about the same age as the killers, but they are just regular, if chest-beatingly macho, kids (played by superb first-timers) on a summer lark in an abandoned quarry.

      The story, and its most harrowing turn, take on more significance when you know that the open pits around the town of Thetford Mines—dehumanizing in their otherworldly scale—were once North America’s greatest producer of asbestos.

      The loss of friendship, childhood, and hope hangs over the tale, which is this program’s lone exercise in pure filmmaking.

      Young director Jérémy Comte uses spectacular camera angles, disorienting montage techniques, dissonant music, and small swaths of resurgent natural beauty to create an experience that operates on levels both symbolic and literal.

      The show’s most emotional respite comes from another Quebec effort—its only total break with maleness, and the sole film directed by a woman.

      Actor turned filmmaker Marianne Farley’s “Marguerite” is a two-hander like “Madre”, but here the age difference is greater, since the title character (TV veteran Béatrice Picard, nearing 90) is a failing diabetic who depends on a caregiver (Sandrine Bisson) for her daily needs.

      When Marguerite realizes that the much younger woman is a lesbian, this triggers memories of unfulfilled elements of her own long life.

      The tale is perfectly acted and handsomely shot, but the lugubrious piano music actually undermines its otherwise poignant assertion of self-discovery at any age. Or gender.