Just Before Losing Everything is a short French film by filmmaker Xavier Legrand that chronicles the hours preceding a woman’s decision to leave her abusive husband with her two children in tow. This engaging, ever-evolving enigma earned an Oscar nomination for Best Live-Action Short Film.

From start to finish, it’s mysterious and puzzling, with a suspenseful buildup. The whole thing is very tight, the plot taking place over a few hours on one decisive day. Just Before Losing Everything’s real-time shooting, and cinematically realistic atmosphere and tone increase the tension. It begins as a drama, but the cat-and-mouse chase is full of emotional distress and surprise deceptions.

Just Before Losing Everything introduces its three central characters within minutes. We meet a young boy who hides under a bridge, a teenage girl whose tears flow freely, and a tense woman who picks up the two in a car. The film is set in innocent and normal-looking places: a bus stop where the teenager is picked up, a bridge where the boy is found, and a big box store where the trio leave their car. Even in the ordinary scenery and scenario, the anxious actions and strained faces of the characters create tension. The viewer quickly sees that there’s something foreboding beneath the normalcy.

The viewer learns more about the characters and their situation as the plot unravels, but things aren’t immediately explained. In fact, for much of the start of the film there’s no dialogue to illustrate the narrative at all, leaving the viewer unsure of why the characters find themselves in their situation. The believable situations and obstacles the characters face are very engaging. The answers are revealed to viewers little by little, but just as one answer is discovered, Legrand introduces another turn, keeping the suspense very active.

Legrand’s characters have an emotional impact and inspire concern for their well-being in the viewer. The ending doesn’t resolve the characters’ fate. Have they escaped to freedom? Will their tale end in more misery and fear? Just Before Losing Everything orders the viewer to feel something, whether they like it or not. MMMM