There's one mule but no dogs in this year's Oscar live-action shorts

    1 of 1 2 of 1

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

      Many forms of sibling fealty are tested in this gratifyingly consistent batch of scripted shorts, clocking in at roughly 20 solid minutes each.

      In “Saria”, two young sisters in the female wing of a Guatemalan orphanage must trust each other and the boy one of them likes in their plan to escape the brutal, prisonlike place. Based on a 2017 event and enacted by real-life residents of a different orphanage in that troubled country, the film from experienced Yank director Bryan Buckley (The Bronze, Pirates of Somalia) details some of the horrors poor people are fleeing when they mistakenly seek safe haven in the USA.

      Some sisters here are not actually related. In Belgium’s elegantly structured, superbly acted “A Sister”, a woman speeds through the night in the car of a strangely menacing man. She grabs a phone to let her sister know she’s all right, although she isn’t. Then the scene replays from the POV of the female police dispatcher who got the call. For the rest of director Delphine Girard’s nail-biting, real-time ride, she (and we) are never quite sure of what’s actually happening in that vehicle.

      Two women who’ve never met form an unusual bond in “The Neighbors’ Window”, a deft step into fiction from dedicated doc-maker Marshall Curry, who's already garnered three Oscar nominations, most recently for his “A Night at the Garden”, about Nazis in the USA. Here, a weary Brooklyn couple (indie veterans Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller) are grappling with two small kids and another on the way when a younger couple moves into the apartment across from theirs, and proceeds to “christen” every room in the drapeless place. Initially, this Rear Window situation brings out the worst in the older folks, but appearances, as they say, can be deceiving.

      Remarkably, in an already unusual group of five filmlets, two were made in Tunisia. The starker entry, called “Brotherhood”, is from Montreal-based Meryam Joobeur, who goes deep inside a rural Tunisian family to explore the tensions created among devout Muslims by extremist violence. It stars three real-life brothers, already striking for their red hair and copious freckles, reunited when the eldest returns from Syria with a pregnant bride. She won’t remove her burka, even at home. This drives the family patriarch nuts, and we learn some of what drove the headstrong son away—with little of it regarding politics or religion.

      Other brothers handle their impoverished setting with amusing aplomb in French director Yves Piat’s “Nefta Football Club”. When a brash scooter rider and his younger, soccer-mad sibling encounter a mule that has wandered over the border from Algeria, they’re surprised to find saddlebags filled with drugs. The Adele-loving animal, wearing headphones for the journey, was lost by two older brothers. You keep expecting the worst, but the perfectly judged short (and, hopefully, the program) ends with a comic payoff you won’t soon forget.