Monday, December 14, 2009

SCN: Spanish shorts amuse and entertain in the FSLC's SHORTMETRAJE program

Each year, for awhile, at least, there has been one program in the FSLC annual Spanish Cinema Now that features nothing but short subjects. I remember a few years back seeing a terrific 22-minute short called Traumalogía from Daniel Sánchez Arévalo and think-
ing, "Wow-- this guy is clearly ready to make a major features." He already had, actually; the year previous he'd made the splendid DarkBlueAlmostBlack, but we hadn't yet seen it on these shores. This years he's back in the festival with his wonderful Gordos.

You never know what you'll get from this grab-bag of short films, but usually there are several worth seeing, and this year's SHORTMETRAJE program is no exception. The longest short, at 19 minutes, also proves perhaps the best of the lot, and shows, I think, that its maker Esteban Crespo Garcia, is ready for a full-length feature. With his LALA, he offers up a large extended family, gathered for a funeral, in which the lead character -- a middle-aged, married man living abroad, whom everyone seems to think is gay -- surprises himself and everyone else by breaking out in a very odd manner. Trying to remember in its entirety the fairy tale he's heard from his grandmother (whose funeral this is) is giving him trouble, and how this weaves through the whole movie is funny and thoughtful indeed. I'd love to see a full-length version of this little 19-minute movie.

With MOM (Mamá), Andres Muschietti gives us a funny and even frightening horror film, complete with great special effects. With the current market for zombies, vampires, werewolves and other ghastly ghouls, I think it's clear we'll be hearing from Muschietti again, even if his little movie lasts only four -- yes, 4 -- minutes in total. The woman sitting next to me noted, afterward, that maybe all horror movies should be so short. I tend to agree, as most of them inevitably outstay their welcome, not to mention their intelligence and entertainment abilities.

Eva Ungría's comedy DON'T WORRY finds much good fun in the situation of a movie being shot in the street below the apartment of a woman who seems singularly middle class and "unenlightened about movies." When a production assistant rings the bell and asks permission to just shoot a single shot of the film using the woman's window -- "Don't worry; this will only take a few minutes!" -- we can quickly imagine what's to come. And it does, but it is both funnier than we might think and, I suspect, quite realistic about filmmaking and how filmmakers and their crew will do whatever it takes to "get that shot."

(Rumbo a peor) is Àlex Brendemühl's first try at directing, after co-writing Yo (which was seen at SCN in 2007) and making more than 50 appearances as an actor in film and TV. This 13-minute film features joggers, chairs and a (maybe) hooker and is a kind of shaggy-dog story in which little happens, though the movie still holds your interest. My interest is in what Brendemühl -- a talented fellow whose own interests tend toward the bizarre/
normal, or maybe the normal/bizarre -- decides to do next. This is an perfectly OK (though perhaps not that indicative) beginning.

Tracking the downward spiral of an angry teen, LA TAMA, from Martín Costa, proves one of the best of this series, showing strength in both the documentary and narrative form. We follow Tama (Rocio Monteagudo) as she goes from her home into one "reform" school and then into another that's worse. Initially angry at everyone around her, she softens, even as her cross grows heavier to bear. This is a sad film but an honest one because it does not prettify either characters or events.

The one misfire of the lot is probably ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS FROM NEBULA-5 (El ataque de los robots de nebulosa-5) from Chema García Ibarra. Only six minutes long, the film still seems endless as it offers up a probably brain-damaged older teen who imagines the world on the brink of apocalyptic destruction. Though a subject like this could end up being a whole lot of things, boring should not be prime among them.

Joining Mediterranean Food and Paper Castles in this year's exploration of Spanish sexuality with emphasis on the man-to-man variety DRIVES (Pulsiones), from José Manuel Carrasco, tells the ten-minute tale of Guillermo, who hires rent-boy Felix to help him discover if he might be gay. Of course Guillermo hopes he is straight (and Felix is sure that he is), but when they get to know each other a bit, some breakthroughs appear to occur. All this is handled with delicacy and charm, despite the rather obvious theme. And the ac-
tors are so interesting -- very different from each other, which makes the chemistry all the more apparent -- that they, with the help of a smart script and camera-work, carry us along quite easily.

Shortmetraje screens one more time at the Walter Reade Theater on Wednesday, December 16, at 2:30.

(The three photos here are from
La Tama,
the only film of the seven to offer visuals.)

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