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Senior Correspondent

Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts

Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts

Tom Hollander

“THE VOORMAN PROBLEM” (Directed by Mark Gill; UK; 13 minutes) My rating: B-

It features a couple of recognizable faces and some impressive ultra-widescreen cinematography, but basically Mark Gill’s “The Voorman Problem” plays like a truncated “Twilight Zone” episode.

Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit,” PBS’s “Sherlock”) is Doctor Williams, a psychiatrist summoned to a prison to examine an inmate who claims to be God.  Williams interviews Voorman (Tom Hollander) — who is trussed up in a straightjacket — and finds that his patient is smart, cocky, droll, and absolutely committed to his, er, delusion.

Voorman announces that the universe is only nine days old — that he created it only a week earlier. When the doctor protests that he has years worth of memories stretching back to early childhood, Voorman says that’s because he gave the doc those memories.

“I know you’re skeptical, Doctor,” Voorman says. “I made you that way.”

As proof of his powers, the prisoner announces that he’s going to do away with Belgium. Crazy, right? Except that when Williams goes home that night and opens his trusty world atlas,  he discovers that the space formerly occupied by Belgium is now a large inland sea.

“The Voorman Problem” is technically accomplished (but why wide-screen treatment for so claustrophobic a topic?), well acted and quite amusing. But it’s a lot of effort devoted to a jokey idea.

“HELIUM” (directed by Anders Walter; Denmark; 22 minutes) My rating: A

A quiet little heartbreaker of extraordinary power, the Danish “Helium” unfolds in a children’s hospital where a newly-hired janitor, Enzo  (Casper Crump), befriends the terminally ill Alfred (Pelle Falk Krusbaek).

Alfred has no illusions about his future — “They say I’m going to heaven…looks like a boring place to me” – and Enzo responds by creating for him a world called Helium, “where sick kids go to get their health back.”  Alfred – who is a big aviation fan – will be transported to this alternate universe aboard the Helium Express, a huge Jules Verne-ish airship.

As Alfred’s health fails and Enzo tries to wrap up his story while there’s still time, “Helium” raises all sorts of moral conundrums.  Does Enzo – not a parent or a doctor but a mere janitor — have any right to fill the boy’s head with nonsense? Is Helium any more ludicrous a concept than a cloudy afterlife filled with harp-strumming angels? And where do you stand on lies when those lies provide hope?

Director Anders Walter dishes some lovely fantasy sequences set in the ethereal Helium, but the film’s greatest triumphs take place in a hospital room where two souls struggle to find meaning in tragedy.

“JUST BEFORE LOSING EVERYTHING” (directed by Xavier LeGrand; France; 30 minutes) My rating: B+

Small, seemingly insignificant details add up to a gut-knotting nail biter in “Just Before Losing Everything,” a French production that keeps us on the edge of our seats.

Director Xavier LeGrand builds his story slowly.  A little boy (Miljan Chatelain) ditches school and hides under a brdige. His mother (Lea Drucker) picks him up in her car. Then they get his teenage sister (Anne Benoit), who bids a tearful farewell to her boyfriend.

They drive to the mother’s workplace, a big box store where her coworkers – everyone from sales clerks to the manager – bends over backwards to facilitate what we finally realize is an escape from an abusive husband and father.

And then Daddy (Denis Menochet) shows up at the store looking for the Missus.

With a lived-in feel and almost documentary performances, “Just Before Losing Everything” brings us face to face with a story repeated hundreds of times a day. Frankly, it’s scarier than any horror movie I’ve seen in a long time.

“THAT WASN’T ME” (directed by Esteban Crespo; Spain; 25 minutes) My rating:  B+

A Spanish couple (Gustavo Salmeron, Alejandra Lorente) travelling the back roads of an unnamed African nation find themselves prisoners of a rebel warlord (Babou Cham) with an army of child soldiers.

The Europeans claim to be physicians. The “general” believes they are part of a group attempting to kidnap and “save” the gun-toting kids.

Esteban Crespo’s film is an astonishingly brutal half-hour (murder, rape, mass casualties) that takes an unexpected turn when the woman, surviving a raid by government troops that all but levels the rebel camp, takes one of her young tormentors captive.

Now she’s torn between rescuing the boy and paying him back for his causal cruelty.

Deeply disturbing.

“DO I HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING?” (directed by Selma Vihunen; Finland; 7 minutes) My rating: B

In this amusing little tossoff, a young couple (Joanna Haartti, Santtu Karvonen) awken to find they’ve overslept on the day of a big wedding they must attend.

Chaos ensues as they attempt to get themselves and their two children ready as the minutes race by… and the madcap enterprise ends with a twist that nobody expects.

It’s basically a shaggy dog story, but an amusing one.

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