2013 Oscar-Nominated Live Action Shorts, by Josh Long
Yes, the Oscars are upon us again. Which means it’s time once again to take a look at the short films from around the globe which have earned nominations for one of cinema’s most prestigious awards. From comedy to drama, from Denmark to Sierra Leone, these films are diverse in their scope and personality. Let’s take a look at Oscar’s nominations for the Best Live Action Short Film of 2013.
Helium, Denmark’s entry for this year, has the kind of story you expect to see in Oscar nominations. A hospital orderly tells a sick child stories of a magical world (called Helium) that he’ll be going to soon. It’s a heaven-surrogate idea, which brings hope to the boy – he says that everyone tells him he’s going to heaven, but heaven sounds lonely to him. It’s familiar ground, and honestly too sentimental for my tastes. Still, director Anders Walter does bring some lovely visuals into the mix, as we see fantastical visions of the world of Helium. Actor Casper Crump, who portrays the orderly (Enzo) gives a sad, convincing performance – his personal connection to the boy is built on the death of his own younger brother. The film has such a “nice” sheen to it, which may seem odd, especially considering that the phrase “Danish film” often conjures up the dark and harrowing images from the minds of Lars von Trier, Nicholas Winding Refn, and Thomas Vinterberg. Then again, it is about a dying kid, so maybe that’s about as lighthearted as you’re going to get from the Danes.
The Voorman Problem
The only nominated short film in the English language this year is also the only one with a recognizable celebrity – The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug’s own Martin Freeman. In it, Freeman plays a psychologist summoned to a British prison to test a troublesome prisoner. The prisoner, named Voorman (Tom Hollander), believes that he is a god (or THE God) and all of the prisoners have begun to believe it as well. The warden hopes that Freeman’s Dr. Williams can prove Voorman insane, and have him moved to an asylum. But Voorman proves trickier than expected, and to prove himself, seems to make Belgium disappear. The ending comes abruptly soon after (it’s a short, anyway) but I won’t spoil it for you. Directed by Mark Gill, this short is a clever little piece on the nature of reality and a curious “what if” about the nature of God. It’s a clever premise, and if it seems a little mind-bending to you, you won’t be surprised to find that it was co-written by David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas. Freeman and Hollander have a great chemistry, their scenes in the prison are lots of fun. If I was a betting man, I’d say this is the likely winner for this year.
Just Before Losing Everything (Avant Que de Tout Perdre)
Just Before Losing Everything is a surprisingly suspenseful film about a mother trying to escape her abusive husband with their two children. It’s a very basic premise, and a simple story, and it’s one of those films that works very well as a short. While it’s obviously part of a larger story, it doesn’t feel like it’s important to know the details of the whole story. This part of the story is where the drama and the suspense come in. Leaving some of the details a mystery even makes us more intrigued, drawing us further in. As Miriam (Léa Drucker) is trying to escape her husband, she must settle things at her job. Her co-workers are forced to take on some of the burden of helping her escape; some willingly and some not so much. Besides building suspense over whether she’ll be able to escape, the film also makes comment on the plight of the abused wife – she needs money to provide for her and her children, but if she leaves her job (a necessity, since she’s leaving town) she has nothing to go on. Co-workers urge her to press charges, but in order to do so, she’d need a medical exam to prove abuse, but that could take days, weeks. Who knows what her husband might do to them in the meantime. With this short, director Xavier Legrand (in his debut as a director, he has made a name for himself as an actor) shows us a character who has no choice but to lose everything.
That Wasn’t Me (Aquel No Era Yo)
It’s almost obligatory by this point – the Oscar-nominated short about war-torn Africa. It seems like there’s one every year, featuring kids with guns, warlords, and usually a hopeful upturn at the end. In that respect, That Wasn’t Me isn’t anything new. Still, it has real suspense, and will probably tug at your heart strings a little. The story is about three doctors in Sierra Leone (two of them Spanish), who are captured by rebels and taken prisoner. A boy soldier, Kaney (Mariano Nguema) kills one of the doctors, whose girlfriend is then taken away to be raped. When local military suddenly arrives to attack the camp, Kaney and the female doctor (Alejandra Lorente) are two of the only ones left alive. Given the choice to take revenge, she instead takes him to safety. Intercut throughout the story, we see Kaney telling his story to an audience of students. In his speech, the major themes of the piece come across. While Kaney lived with the rebels, he allowed himself to commit great atrocities, and now the hard part is living with that reality. It’s a picture of forgiveness, but also an insight into the lives of those who are snatched out of the jaws of third-world conflicts. Again, it’s familiar ground, but it still communicates a potent message.
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything (Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa?)
Finnish director Selma Vilhunen is primarily a documentarian, but in this entry she presents a light, silly, comedy. The shortest of the bunch (at under 7 minutes), Do I Have To Take Care of Everything? follows a family rushing to get ready to attend a wedding. They’re an eclectic, scatter-brained clan, and everything that could go wrong seems to. This one’s quick, light-hearted, and provides some great, genuine laughs. Underneath it is the message that even though the family might not have everything together, they’ve got each other, and that’s what’s important. Nothing mind-blowing here, but simple and enjoyable.
And that wraps it up. If you have a chance to see any of these films, I highly recommend doing so. It’s a chance to see work by filmmakers you’d never hear of otherwise, and in a format that is freer from the typical storytelling structure we’re accustomed to in feature films. Hope you enjoy them, and I’ll be tuning in along with you on March 2nd to see who takes home the gold.