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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts (86th Academy Awards) review

The Voorman Problem Martin Freeman

My favorite of the five films is the British “The Voorman Problem,” starring Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander in a hilarious and provocative bit of speculative fantasy…
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Death, religion, domestic abuse, war… and mornings: the five mini films nominated this year for the Oscar for Best Live Action Short manage to cram in much of the horror of human life. But it’s not all bad news: there’s a lot of humor, poignance, and hope to be found here, too. Start with the relentlessly solemn: “That Wasn’t Me” [IMDb], from Spanish writer-director Esteban Crespo, sees two Spanish aid workers in a brutal encounter with child soldiers in Africa, witnessing the brainwashing they suffer at the mercy of their adult leader and the toll it takes on one young boy; this is a harrowing film that only just gives us a hint of promise that terrible abuse can be overcome. And from France comes “Just Before Losing Everything” [IMDb], from writer-director Xavier Legrand, in which a woman plans to run away from her abusive husband, and enlists the help of her boss and coworkers at a giant supermarket; the film is a bit long and slow in revealing what’s going on, but eventually becomes a tense little thriller, overlaying quiet horror on the mundane world, very appropriately to the violence that hides in everyday life. “Helium” [IMDb] is somewhat, er, lighter, despite the fact that it gives us a little boy who’s dying, no reprieve coming. Danish filmmaker Anders Walter (who cowrote with Christian Gamst Miller-Harris) weaves a beautiful and heartbreaking tale of the boy’s friendship with a hospital porter, and a promise of the adventurous world of Helium, a far more exciting afterlife than Heaven, to come for the child. (You will sniffle.) My favorite of the five films is the British “The Voorman Problem” [IMDb], the only short here with recognizable cast in Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) and Tom Hollander (About Time). Filmmaker Mark Gill’s hilarious and provocative story gives us a psychiatrist attempting to treat a prison inmate who believes he is a god… and who says he can prove it. The Finnish “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” [IMDb] — from director Selma Vilhunen and writer Kirsikka Saari — is by far the airiest of the bunch, a little farce about one family’s crazy morning rushing to get to wedding that leaves mom frazzled. My prediction for the winner: I’d love it to be “Voorman,” which most speaks to my sense of humor, but I suspect it will be “Helium,” which won’t displease me at all.


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