The hope, for me, when viewing a program of short films at the annual Wisconsin Film Festival is that I'll enjoy a few of them. If more than half are good, I consider it a triumph.
This was not the case with the "Short Films from Spain" program on Saturday afternoon at UW Cinematheque. Maybe it was because I was coming right from seeing The Substitute, a Danish film that only reinforced that country's excellent reputation for producing festival favorites. The Substitute was a roller coaster ride; the shorts from Spain were more like a punch in the gut.
Before and After Kissing Maria and Down the Hole focused on death. Senseless death, in fact. Dolly was about unrequited love and regrets. The Parabolic Dish was funny, but lectured. Mensajes de Voz was a story told via answering machine messages and, while certainly inventive, tested the audience's patience.
The one apparent bright spot, Made in Japan, was enjoyable only to those who spoke Spanish in the theater. The festival guide listed all the shorts as making use of English subtitles, but for some reason Made in Japan did not have them. So while several people chuckled through the six-minute comedy, I shared confused shrugs with those around me. Down the Hole also aired without subtitles, but the pathos it communicated relied less on dialogue.