Guessing which short films will take home Oscars, for most people, is as sure a thing as calling a coin toss. Unless you’re in the loop of such and underplayed though highly important sect of filmmaking its an impossible thing to predict who will win. This year in the Live-Action Shorts field it will be particularly hard, as all of the films are exceptional in a unique way.
Danish filmmaker Anders Walter’s short film Helium is far and away the most hopeful if still tear-jerking movie of this bunch. It’s the story of Enzo, played by doe-eyed Casper Crump, new to being a hospital orderly, who befriends Alfred (Pelle Falk Krusbæk), an ailing child with a penchant for balloon travel. One day Alfred confides in Enzo that he isn’t looking forward to dying because he thinks Heaven is going to be boring. So Enzo fashions a new afterlife for Alfred called Helium to suit the boy’s fancy for zeppelins, and so feeds his and the child’s hope. Crump is amazing and tearfully expressive through the guise of his heroic orderly, and as such is the most sympathetic and anchored character in any film in the Live-Action Short category. The blissful fantasy segments where Alfred envisions his afterlife on Helium also give the film a pleasant lightness to such a naturally sorrowful story. The carefully struck ratio of happy to sad gives it such a boost and makes it the most full-bodied narrative of any of the short films. I hope one day this story gets a feature length treatment.
The Voorman Problem
Mark Gill’s dry and witty and very British little film presents and interesting answer to that famous question Joan Osborne asked back in 1995: What if God was one of us? Martin Freeman plays Dr. Williams has been called to a prison house to determine the sanity or insanity of an inmate named Voorman, played by the underrated Tom Hollander with giant and expressive insect-like eyes. The problem is that Voorman has convinced the other inmates that he is, in fact, God. He claims to have invented the world nine days previous, that he crafted the strange and brutal imaginations of humans for sating his own boredom, and that he enjoys being in prison. But to prove himself to the skeptical Williams, Voorman pulls of a special bit of God trickery to impress the doctor. The film doesn’t encompass a fully realized story, but rather a fun and funny idea. The category is rather laden with intense and often disturbing subjects, so this farcical little movie will definitely stand out amongst its competitors.
Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)
This French short by writer/director Xavier Legrand is by far the cleverest of the category. It’s the story of battered mother and wife Miriam, played by the placidly lovely Léa Drucker, and the day she takes her kids to flee her abusive husband Antoine, played by Denis Ménochet (Inglourious Basterds) who has a face like something out of a Raphael painting. The film is thoughtful and slow-burning, Legrand expertly crafting a constantly building unbearable suspense. Legrand never gives his viewers easy access to what is going on, letting the story unfold and reveal all relevant information as it is needed. You have to admire a filmmaker to never pities his audience. Putting together such a free flowing and seemingly natural narrative is no easy feat. And it is always nice to be paid the compliment of intelligence from artist to spectator.
Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)
Esteban Crespo’s Aquel No Era Yo might not have come off as abrasive if it had been in the feature length format. Paula and Juanjo are doctors traveling through an unspecified area of war torn Africa, when they are kidnapped by a bloodthirsty war lord and is army of AK-47 toting child soldiers. What ensues is a series of events akin to wading through hell: rape, murder, and war. Its difficult to watch not only because of the subject matter but because, as it is a short film, there is zero time to adjust to what you are seeing or to mentally prepare yourself for what is coming next. In a word, it’s brutal. The film is built with the frame story of former child soldier recounting these events at a seminar to a group of attentive people. The young man, who helped contribute to the horrific ordeal of Juanjo and Paula, talks of being a soldier and being made to do terrible things. Juanjo and Paula’s story ends badly, but the film reaches a satisfying conclusion with its final shot. Not to spoil it, it encompasses a bittersweet forgiveness that relieves much of the dirtiness and cheapness that comes from the oil-and-water combination of the format and subject.
Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
Selma Vilhunen’s adorable morning-in-the-life story is the happiest and most endearing, not to mention most accessible, of the nominees. Sini wakes in a panic – she and her family are late for a wedding. She wakes up her husband Jokke and her two girls, and the family hustles and bustles around their little apartment trying to make their date. Their squabbles play out like old sketch comedy, with the adorable mishaps piling up and flustering the micromanaging Sini. Vilhunen’s family portrait feels true to life and the message of love and solidarity in the face of bad luck fills its audience with warmth. It is the shortest film of the group though, so the viewers’ time with the darling Ketonen family is so short. The audience/character connection isn’t terribly strong – the brood is sweet but still feels like a collection of archetypes instead of fully realized people – but a lesser director wouldn’t have been able to garner so much empathy out of so small and story.