March 1, 2014 | 4:13pm EST
Starting off with a sob and an uncomfortable laugh, Denmark’s “Helium” and the U.K.’s “The Voorman Problem” are the first two films in the theatrical release collection of the Oscar nominated live action shorts of 2014. They are reviewed by Nolan Miller.
“Helium” introduces us to the little blonde Danish boy named Alfred who is bedridden with a crippling and life-threatening disease. Enzo, a new janitor in the hospital, becomes friends with poor Alfred who reminds him of his own brother he lost as a young boy. With each successive visit to Alfred’s room we learn piece by piece of Helium, the collection of houses suspended by balloons where sick children go when they die to “get their strength back.” As Enzo gets close to the end of his fantastic tale complete with brief scenes of Alfred’s imaginings of Helium depicted on screen, Alfred’s condition suddenly takes a turn for the worst. The short ends with Alfred, supposedly close to death, finally leaving for Helium by way of the gigantic, gold and red zeppelin called the “Helium Express.” An overly sentimental piece complete with a soundtrack oscillating back and forth between melancholy and hopeful tracks to shove its point home, “Helium” is designed to tug, no, yank violently at the heart strings of the audience.
The United Kingdom’s “The Voorman Problem” lightens the mood, but only temporarily. For a film that takes place almost exclusively in a prison, the film is overall pretty light-hearted and fun, especially after the Danish sob story. The short starts with the prison warden explaining to William the pragmatic psychiatrist why he was hired: essentially to declare prisoner Voorman insane by any means necessary so the warden can have him deported to an insane asylum. The prisoner has become a huge problem for the warden because Voorman believes himself to be a god. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the constant chanting of his name heard in the background is an auditory testament to how Voorman has convinced the entire prison population of his divinity as well. During his interviews with “God,” William becomes less and less sure of Voorman’s insanity until the psychiatrist is confronted with evidence he cannot deny. Comedic, yet nonetheless extremely alarming, “The Voorman Problem” is quite a ride from reality to insanity and back again.
Reviewed by Vera Hanson, the final three live action shorts come from France, Spain, and Finland.
The French short, “Avant Que De Tout Perdre” (Just Before Losing Everything),tells the story of a wife struggling to escape from her abusive husband. With the help and support of her coworkers, she anxiously attempts to leave town with her two children. The film, which is 29 minutes long, does an excellent job at slowly revealing elements of the story to viewers. Everything that happens seems to occur in a rushed daze. Details are, at first, withheld from the audience as a way to build, not only confusion, but also suspense. The wife, played by Léa Drucker, captures the anxiety, hurt and fear of her character in a restrained, yet unbelievably heart-wrenching manner. The film was effective in that the moments of suspenseful silence were just as effective as the moments of rushed whispers and conversations.
“Aquel No Era Yo” (That Wasn’t Me) is a raw and, at times, horrific Spanish short film telling the story of Spanish aid workers who are taken hostage in an African military compound. The story unfolds abruptly as the aid workers are forcefully taken from their vehicle at a checkpoint when the African General suspects them of kidnapping his child soldiers. From this moment on, the audience watches as countless atrocities unfold in the violent and brutal world of the soldiers and their General. Several minutes into the film comes the first switch to a present-day auditorium where one of these former child soldiers speaks to a large auditorium. It’s through these moments of reflection from the young man that the film truly takes on a whole new dimension. His insights and commentaries on what it was like to have been a child soldier offers a layer of perspective that makes the film all the more chilling.
The final short comes from Finland and is titled “Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa?” (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?). After the undeniably somber first four films, this Finish comedy offers a sigh of relief, to say the least. Only seven minutes long, the film follows a Finish family’s morning as they rush to try and make it to a friend’s wedding. With the kind of relatable humor that seems to reach each and every one of us in unique ways, the film emphasizes the hilarity in the chaos of our day-to-day lives. Perhaps I enjoyed this film so much because it provided a light-hearted end to a series of films dealing with overwhelmingly heavy topics. Even so, the director’s impeccable choice of familial moments to portray in the race to the wedding was spot-on considering the seven-minute time frame.