Yesterday, I began my series on the Oscar-nominated shorts with a look at the animated contenders; today I look to the live-action shorts. (I’ll offer my thoughts on the documentary shorts tomorrow.) Here, we experience several better told, more compelling stories than many full-length narratives.
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?
Selma Vilhunen helms this Finnish short about a family hurriedly getting ready for a wedding – their relatively small living space and presumed lateness hardly help. Nothing challenging or boundary-pushing here, but the scenario allows for Everything to look at both the extraordinary and mundaneness of rushing through various spots in life. It’s easy to imagine almost everything in this short actually happening – well, maybe not the darkly humorous final act.
A plot synopsis of Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson’s Helium – a hospital janitor befriends a dying boy and tells him stories about the magical land of Helium – might promise nothing more than clichés, but this short packs quite the punch.
The Danish short tugs at the heartstrings but does so more lightly, with more subtlety, than one might expect: It utilizes somber musical cues in lieu of huge musical swells, and its actors make conscious, restrained decisions instead of donning tear-stained faces and shouting loudly– Casper Crump provides a beautiful performance as the hospital janitor. Helium more than earns its quietly powerful conclusion.
Focus Features plans on adapting Record/Play, a finalist that missed out on a nomination, into a feature-length film; a feature based on Helium would hardly surprise me.
Just Before Losing Everything
Miriam and her two children hurriedly leave town, but they have to stop at her place of work, a local supermarket, before making their escape.
We know what is happening, but directors Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras slowly unravel the details of why throughout Leaving. Léa Drucker stuns as Miriam, concealing her pain from those around her without hiding it from the audience.
Tension builds with every carefully crafted shot and every line of dialog; Leaving grips you and refuses to let go until its conclusion.
That Wasn’t Me
Director Esteban Crespo’s story begins as a story of aid workers in peril but actually gives more focus to the consequent encounter between an African child soldier named Kaney and Paula, one of aid workers.
Both the setup and the crux of That allow the short to complexly examine these characters. Gritty shots feel like a logical choice here, though the shaky cam gets distracting after a while. Particularly extraordinary is Alejandra Lorente’s work as Paula – she slowly allows us to see her internal conflict as the character tries desperately to hide it.
It’s heavy stuff, sure, and I imagine some might argue that it’s perhaps too bleak, but what else should we expect when encountering this subject matter? The short offers a less depressing ending than expected but still doesn’t take away from its gravitas.
The Voorman Problem
Martin Freeman leads this short as a psychiatrist hired to examine a strange inmate named Voorman, played by Tom Hollander. This inmate claims to be a god and even offers some rather convincing evidence.
Director Mark Gill gives Voorman a rather ordinary quality, when others might show no restraint in making it fantastical. Mood and story highly contradict one another; Freeman and Hollander play their roles straight – the latter is particularly surprising given the seemingly maniacal nature of the role.
On the surface, Voorman ends on a funny note, but is there anything under the surface?
Shorts HD and Magnolia Pictures released the Oscar-nominated shorts in theaters on Jan. 31. On Feb. 25 they hit VOD. Check here for times and locations – other shorts might be included in various presentations.