States of Grace

Go Midwest: Nicholson in About Schmidt.
photo: New Line Cinema
Go Midwest: Nicholson in About Schmidt.

SHORT FILMS: This year's curtain-raisers hail from 10 countries, and a couple of national traumas loom large. Alexis Mital Toledo's moody, dispassionate Tango de Olvido follows the son of an Argentine refugee on a quasi-noir pilgrimage to the land he never knew, where inconvenient knowledge hemorrhages into deadly denial. (It screens with Friday Night but might well have been called The Man Without a Past.) Spike Lee's rat-a-tat montage We Wuz Robbed (part of the Ten Minutes Older series, aired last summer on Showtime, and paired here with Divine Intervention) revisits (S)election 2000 via testimony from Gore aides and campaign workers; perhaps surprisingly, there's more bitter nostalgia than outright indignation. Equally steeped in salesmanship and public relations, Julian M. Kheel's Exceed (with Unknown Pleasures) drolly tracks the evolution of a TV commercial, from chaotic beach set to media-studies seminar and beyond.

The most eloquent shorts tend to be wordless. Jonathan Romney's wry, economical A Social Call (with The Magdalene Sisters) fashions an absurdist loop from a day in the life of a hit man. Esther Rots's Play With Me (with Talk to Her) infuses a lazy downstream drift with literal and metaphoric undercurrents of menace. Having previously envisioned waterlogged domesticity in The Drowning Room, Patrick Jolley and Reynold Reynolds turn firestarters in the mesmerizing Burn (with Bloody Sunday): A family of pyromaniacs sits around absently swatting flames, peacefully engulfed in an eerie inferno. And in Lifeline (with My Mother's Smile), shot in sublime black-and-white, Victor Erice scrutinizes the siesta rhythms on a Spanish farm. It's June 1940, Nazi troops have just crossed the border from France, and as a bloodstain widens on a baby's blanket, time slows down, stands still, resumes its oblivious march. (DL)

Unavailable for preview:Monday Morning andLove and Diane.
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