The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014: Live Action: Film Review
Friday, Jan. 31 (Shorts HD/Magnolia Pictures)
Carter Pilcher, Leif Nelson
This year's shorts nominees run the gamut from slapstick to bloody redemption stories.
In a selection of short films that often plays on our sympathies in predictable ways or goes to some lengths to reach a comic twist, one movie is a clear standout: Just Before Losing Everything (Avant que de Tout Perdre), a half-hour nail-biter about a woman attempting to leave her abusive husband. Lea Drucker plays an employee of a mega-grocery store who shows up at work one day with her two children, using the store as a staging ground for her escape and enlisting coworkers to help divert her suspicious husband. The first directing effort of Xavier Legrand, who made his acting debut in Louis Malle's Au Revoir Les Enfants and has worked only sporadically onscreen since, it displays an understanding of its protagonist's world and an admirable distaste for sensationalism.
It also has a more perfect sense of dramatic structure than another highlight here, Mark Gill's The Voorman Problem. In this funny head-scratcher, Martin Freeman plays a psychiatrist called to a high-security prison to evaluate an inmate (Tom Hollander) who has declared he's God -- and whose claims are embraced by all his fellow inmates. The interaction between the two men flirts with deep epistemological questions, and both actors bring something to the table, but the screenplay (adapted from an episode in David Mitchell's novel number9dream) reaches its Twilight Zone-ish conclusion abruptly, affording us less satisfaction than we expect.
Elsewhere we get Esteban Crespo's That Wasn't Me, which pits Spanish humanitarian workers against a frightening band of child soldiers in war-torn Africa. A 24-minute length forces the film, whose action scenes are professionally rendered, to rely on some narrative shorthand that doesn't entirely sell themes of sacrifice and redemption. Anders Walter's 23-minute Helium, by contrast, has plenty of time to put across its story of a terminally ill boy who is befriended by a hospital janitor. But Walter, an illustrator of graphic novels, seems so intent on envisioning the fantasy realm that gives the film its name -- a less boring alternative to Heaven, where the dying boy will live on an idyllic chunk of Earth suspended by a massive blimp -- that he doesn't attend to the creep factor in his slightly maudlin tale: Where are the parents who leave a dying child alone so often he forms this kind of bond with a sneaky maintenance man?
Lastly, Selma Vilhunen offers the lightweight but diverting Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? The story of a family's mad rush to make it to a friend's wedding on time despite an array of mishaps, the Finnish effort would be a welcome 7-minute sequence in a larger film.
Production Company: Shorts HD
No rating, 111 minutes