The Austin Chronicle

Academy Award-Nominated Live Action Shorts 2006

Not rated, 99 min. Directed by Various.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 16, 2007

Few surveys of the 2006 feature filmmaking world have failed to notice the ascendency of Mexican-born filmmakers (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón) into the international spotlight. A similar case might be made for Spanish directors in the category of live-action shorts: Two of the five shorts nominated for 2006 Oscars hail from Spain. "One Too Many" by Borja Cobeaga is an amusing little story about what happens when a woman leaves home abruptly and her husband and son are left to their own devices. Pigs in both the housekeeping and political-enlightenment senses of the word, the men resort to reclaiming Granny from the nursing home to fulfill their needs, but the old woman has an unexpected surprise up her sleeve. In fact, all the films in this package, except for the other Spanish film "Binta and the Great Idea," are mordant tales capped by tables-turned endings reflective of the great tradition of short storytelling. "Binta," although helmed by Spaniards Javier Fesser and Luis Manso was filmed in Senegal in collaboration with UNICEF and champions the necessity of universal education for both sexes. The film manages a haunting aesthetic bridge between naive primitivism and modernist self-awareness, although its universal understanding is slightly impeded by the undefined use of an essential Wolof slang word. "West Bank Story" by Ari Sandel is the only U.S. entry here and it's a doozy. A full-scale musical takeoff on West Side Story, the film spotlights the rivalry between two neighboring fast food joints: the Kosher King and the Hummus Hut. Employees and owners finger-snap their way through West Bank warrens Sharks-and-Jets style. A Hummus Hut employee of the month and an Israeli soldier play the star-crossed lovers. It's all very funny and silly and deadly pertinent. Australian helmers Peter Templeman and Stuart Parkyn are responsible for "The Saviour," a droll story about a door-to-door Christian evangelist who is in love with a married woman on his route. This film and the Hungarian "Helmer & Son" by Søren Pilmark and Kim Magnusson of Denmark both expertly make use of surprise endings. "Helmer & Son" is the most unpredictable film of the lot in its detail of what happens when a son is called to a rest home to coax his father from the closet where he has locked himself. In all, it's a strong collection of work, and it's rare to see this program of films in Austin prior to the awarding of the Oscars in 10 days. You now have the chance to be one up on everyone at your Oscar party in a category that everyone generally cedes for lack of knowledge.

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