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San Diego Latino Film Festival

Spain has more than a dozen shorts, documentaries and features screening at this year's San Diego Latino Film Festival. While features draw the most attention, festival-goers should also seek out the condensed and often more experimental format. Tonight, for example, you can feast upon a delectable array of Spanish shorts, each spiced with a twist. Take

Thumbs Up

, in which a man's hands take on a life of their own once he falls asleep.

CLIP Creepy SFX as hands 'wake up'

This short along with La Nevera , Retruc and Tuanis Mae tweak reality in the same way that The Twilight Zone used to. Perception rather than reality is tweaked in The Abandoned , in which a husband reflects on the day his wife left him. The film begins as a meditation on personal loss but takes on a broader significance as recent Spanish history plays into the wife's fate. Then human destiny receives clever re-imagining in La Ruta Natural . Here, a man's life begins with his death as the film unfolds in reverse.

CLIP Footage and SFX of war

As images play backwards, TV news footage shows soldiers springing to existence on the battlefield, prompting the man to marvel at the way violence gives life and rapidly creates buildings from rubble. This simple yet inspired storytelling device prompts us to look at life and the way we interpret events from a fresh vantage point.

While the shorts offer consistently provocative, experimental material, the majority of the Spanish features take a decidedly comic approach as they spin tales of modern love. In Amor Idiota or Idiot Love , the hapless Pere-Luc concludes that his life has been one long journey toward idiocy. Take the night he literally runs into the woman of his dreams.

CLIP Runs into ladder

Pere-Luc crashes into Sandra's ladder as she's hanging banners, and he falls instantly and obsessively in love. But being a self-confessed idiot he ends up stalking her rather than talking to her. He concedes that being a Peeping Tom makes a poor foundation for a relationship and will likely lead to disaster yet he persists with surprising results. Actor Santi Millan gives idiocy goofy appeal in this sexy, silly romantic comedy.

Another collision leads to romantic entanglements in Semen: A Story of Love .

CLIP Man crashes bike into young woman

Once again, a concussion awakens a male protagonist's libido. This time it's Serafin who crashes his bike into a beautiful young woman who turns out to be a patient undergoing fertility treatment at the clinic where he works. Complications arise when drops the sperm sample he's supposed to use to fertilize her ovum and must replace the sample with his own.

Affection combined with sudden paternal impulses make him pursue her. Then he discovers she's a surrogate mom who plans to give the baby to her infertile twin sister. Luckily, Sarafin believes life is chaos so that sort of prepares him for the mess he's about to enter into.

Contemporary relationships get more serious treatment in Malas Temporadas , a multi-stranded plot in which characters cross paths and impact each other's lives. Set in Madrid, the film deals with isolation and confinement, and with characters trying to find their place in the world. Teenaged Gonzalo decides his place is in his room, and despite his mother's pleas, he refuses to come out.

CLIP Mom calls Gonzalo

Gonzalo's decision baffles and upsets his mother who's already consumed by the problems of others. She works for a non-profit organization that tries to help immigrants and refugees reunite with family members. Gonzalo's self-confinement also baffles Mikel, a chess teacher who spent years of forced confinement in prison. Meanwhile, Carlos, a Cuban expatriate, imagines a future in Miami but passes time in Madrid in a casual affair with the wheelchair-bound wife of a business associate. As the distance between dreams and reality expands, these characters learn to redefine themselves in this compassionate and carefully crafted film.

Then the action takes a humorous turn in The Longest Penalty in the World , a slacker soccer comedy.

CLIP Soccer announcer

It's the last game of the season for the small team of Estrella Polar, and they're about to have their first winning season. But in the last seconds the star goalie's injured and the back up goalie Fernando must step in. When the referee calls a penalty, the fans storm the field and the game's stopped. But the penalty kick must still take place so a new game is set for the following Sunday. Fernando, who's always been a loser and a benchwarmer, suddenly finds himself in the spotlight as the coach, owner, townspeople and politicians treat him like a celebrity. Without losing his slacker attitude, Fernando blossoms. He takes full advantage of the situation, enjoying lavish meals and even managing to extract a date with the coach's beautiful daughter. The film's low-key charm and appealing humor prove a winning combination.

CLIP Soccer song

These Spanish entries are just a small sampling of the diverse films from Mexico, Cuba, Latin America, and the U.S. screening at this year's San Diego Latino Film Festival.

For a complete schedule of films visit their website at www.sdlatinofilm.com. -----

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