Sunday, February 9, 2014

Oscar Shorts Live Action (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Oscar Shorts: Live Action

This year's Live Action Oscar shorts, introduced by director Steve McQueen and actor Matthew Modine among others, administer a healthy dose of existential apprehension and quirky fun.

They don't disappoint.
From Denmark, Anders Walter directs "Helium", a somewhat lighthearted magical fantasy about a young boy (Pelle Falk Krusbaek) who is terminally ill, and a fanciful orderly (Caspar Crump) who delivers hope thru a Wizard of Oz story. Thankfully this is no sappy vignette. Krusbaek and Crump have such a chemistry that all sentiment promptly evaporates. The visuals are striking creating huge mansions that float on clouds.

Here we have a Maxfield Parrish in motion with a bit of Terry Gilliam thrown in for good measure. By himself little Albert seems taken right out of a Tintin book.

From the UK, Mark Gill's  "The  Voorman Problem" plays tongue in cheek with theology. Doctor Williams (Martin Freeman) is sent to evaluate an hospital inmate (Tom Hollander) who believes that he is God. While the premise might seem like Monty Python, Hollander plays the condition completely straight, which gives his position gravity as well as transgression. Williams becomes more and more vexed while Voorman grows increasingly more convincing, even lending his position a bit of poignance. Hollander is as daring as Anthony Hopkins in this role and he soon turns all question of  authenticity on its head.

A final eerie haunt is delivered by the ominous sounds of chanting that go on continuously during the interrogation. "The Voorman Problem" produces a perfect hybrid of uncertainty and black humor sure to please.

As far as the Oscar goes, my pick would have to be France's gripping entry ,"Just Before Losing Everything" by Xavier Legrande. This film is absolutely harrowing reminiscent of Michael Haneke. A mother (Lea Drucker) is forced to flee her violent husband with her two children in tow. We never see the husband (Denis Menochet) overtly aggressive. Every impulse is implied with his eyes---a pair of two slumbering black bulls waiting to pounce. Just as in a crime thriller, this film is an impressionistic and taut Rorschach of emotion that will take you right to the brink of ambiguity and beyond. You might want to place this in the realm of noir, but this is simply life on the edge where authority may or may not be ineffectual.

A similar danger persists in Spain's "That Wasn't Me," helmed by Esteban Crespo. The extremely violent story is a sociological tale of atrocity set in Sierra Leone. A group of doctors on a healing mission are taken hostage by a savage warlord. While initially compelling, this piece is rife with bloody cliches (ala Captain Phillips) and its all too self conscious finale of a young soldier making amends seems taken straight from the  script of "Blood Diamond."  A true story no doubt this is, but as to the matter of offering  any insight, a less force fed resolution, would have been welcome.

Finally, from Finland, "Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?" by Selma Vilhunen, provides some welcome comic relief, depicting a family's wedding preparation that goes from bad to worse. This rollicking short is nothing less than madcap. The story rivals the best of British comedy while the narrative is colorful, lively and brisk. The sheer verve in entertainment it possesses, compressed in such an intimate scope, is unmatched.

While I think you can bet all the gold on France this year, these annual shorts---true to form and intent--- are diverse and thoughtful. Each one is its own insular realm, if not completely profound.

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