Saturday, December 31, 2011

SCN finale : the Shortmetraje program, plus a round-up & wrap-up for this year's series

The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Instituto Cervantes' annual event Spanish Cinema Now came to an end over a week ago, but TrustMovies is still trying to catch up and juggle postings covering new films opening here in New York City with this tasty series that combined new movies from Spain and a retrospective of films (one of which is below, and yes, that's our own Edmund Gwenn in The Rocket from Calabuch) by the late Luis García Berlanga. At the press conference at Instituto Cervantes that opened the series this year, one of the most memorable comments from the podium was this: "Spain has no oil; culture is our oil." Indeed.

The "culture" viewers take away from this singular series each December is always varied and meaningful. And while Spanish film and Hispanic film often share a language, there are enough differences between Spanish Cinema Now and, say, LatinBeat (the FSLC's annual late-summer series of new Hispanic films) that most viewers would seldom confuse the two. For this year's SCN, between the scheduled press screenings, the few "screeners" made available to the press and the public screenings, TrustMovies managed to see all but one of the new films (due to the last-minute scheduling of Ventura Pons' Year of Grace).

It seems to TM that this year's series -- despite some wonderful, must-see new movies (Extraterrestrial, 23-F, Barcelona Before (above), Double Steps) and the Berlanga retro, of which he saw five of the ten films -- disappointed somewhat. Whether this was due to lower quality of the new films overall (and this, due perhaps to the current and continuing economic situation in Spain) or to TM's own slightly depressed mood these days (weeks, months), he cannot say for certain. There were also fewer films to be seen this time. The 2009 SCN series, for instance, hosted 18 new films, this year there were 15. (One of these -- Black Bread -- was first shown in last year's series, and another -- José & Pilar -- is actually a Portuguese movie, so this brings the count of new Spanish films down to 13.)

The Spanish Civil War and its after-effects (above, from 23-F) were on display as keenly and interestingly as ever this year, and the series managed, as usual, to include some art films (Double Steps, The Waves, along with the mainstream-tasteful (Ispansi!) and mainstream-not-so (Torrente 4). Filmmakers with their own distinct voices were on display, too: Otero's Crebinsky and Trueba's Every Song Is About Me (below). Just going over these film again brings them back with a jolt of pleasure and a smile. As usual, even with a slight dip in quality/quantity, Spanish Cinema Now is one of the special delights of the year -- one that I wouldn't and couldn't bear to miss.

And now to Shortmetraje, the yearly program of short films from Spain (which also, overall, seemed a little less exciting than usual), discussed below in the order in which they were shown:

Dying Every Day / Morir cada día
Aitor Echevarría, 2010, Spain; 11minutes
In a very short time, this filmmaker dissects a dysfunctional family over dinner, bringing to the fore all sorts of veiled unpleasantness. We've been here before (and so, I think, have a number of full-length Spanish films) but Echevarría and his very good cast capture these individuals with gravity, humor and panache.

Stereoscopy Estereoscopía
Xacio Baño, 2011, Spain; 12min
The Eye kind of thing -- done short-film style, and very nearly as good as the full-length (original version, not the dumb American remake). Strange, disconected, original visuals (left eye/right eye) accompany this tale of a fellow who gets someone else's eye and begins seeing things. The ending manages to be about as shocking but surprising as anything you could image. This one's just lovely (in a very sad way), and filmmaker Baño should be heard from again.

Gentlemen / De caballeros
Adrián Orr, 2010, Spain; 17min
Watching this film about a barber and his clients (I hadn't read anything about it prior to viewing), I thought it was a narrative, albeit with a documentary style and structure. But it's not. It is evidently pure documentary. The talk, as you might expect in a all-male barbershop, often turns to sex and the differences between the sexes, but 17 minutes with the barber and his clients proves a bit boring after awhile. Though the movie certainly has its moments, I might have wished for different clients, or maybe a different day on the job.

Alberto Vázquez & Pedro Rivero, 2010, Spain; 12min
The one animated short this year offers a simple but creepy and original style to go with its dark subject matter: industrial accidents, environmental despair, nuclear holocaust, among other things. In a world where, increasingly, everyone is becoming "the other," birds, mice and fish begin to change before our (and their own) eyes. The use of masks is telling, as are so many of the little touches here. This one's quite good, so remember the name Birdboy -- and if you ever notice it playing on cable or elsewhere, catch it. Vázquez and Rivero's little film definitely belongs in a animated anthology.

Beds / Camas
Manuela Moreno, 2010, Spain; 10min
In this quartet of bedtime/sex stories, we meet four couples and their rooms and beds. Nothing much new, or all that interesting here, But it's short. And that's Raúl Arévalo, above, and anything that features this talented and ubiquitous actor is worth watching.

The German Pavilion / El Pabellón alemán
Juan Millares, 2009, Spain; 14min
In this very interesting little documentary, we learn that the great French photographer Eugène Atget thought of his own photography as showing "the scene of the crime." This makes filmmaker Millares begin to look at other photos as such, including those of the 1929 Universal Exhibition of Barcelona, at which Mies van der Rohe unveiled the famous German Pavillion. Is there some mystery hidden here? Millares says yes, then no, then maybe -- in his somewhat over-reaching and under-budgeted documentary that fascinates, all the same.

My Friend / Lagun mina
Jose Mari Goenaga, 2011, Spain; 12min
Male friendship gets an good going-over in Goenaga's narrative short, as Ekaitz and Román meet in a hostel during their holidays and vow to be friends -- but with quite a different meaning attached to the word on both their parts. Or so we learn as time goes on. This themes and these characters could easily be expanded, I think, to make an interesting and worthwhile full-length feature.

A Shitty Boyfriend / Un novio de mierda
Borja Cobeaga, 2010, Spain; 4min
The funniest of the shorts is also the shortest, as a girl gets a surprise visit from her ex, and we learn just exactly to what the title of Cobeaga's film refers -- and how some women ought to be spanked for settling so easily. This could have been one of the stories in Camas (above), and it would have made that film a little more interesting and original.

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