Here is part two of my preview of the 2013 Chicago Latino Film Festival, which kicked off last Thursday and runs through April 25:
Things the Way They Are / Las Cosas Como Son (Lavanderos, Chile, 2012)
Las Cosas Como Son is the reason why film festivals exist. It’s a shoestring indie made without “stars” in a country that doesn’t have a large local industry but is so impeccably crafted and so compelling in terms of content that it will likely blow away any lucky viewers who are curious enough to take a chance on it based on festival catalog descriptions. This exceedingly realistic drama, the fiction feature debut of Chilean writer/director Fernando Lavanderos, concerns the strange quasi-romance between Jeronimo, a bearded hipster who runs a boarding house for his father, and Sanna, the young Norwegian woman who comes to stay with him. Jeronimo is largely silent and detached from the world, which clashes with Sanna’s outgoing-ness and idealism. Their differing world-views eventually cause the conflict simmering between them to come to a boil, especially after Sanna attempts to help out Milton, a troubled local teen. Like the Dardenne brothers, Lavanderos is able to dramatize ideological issues in an impressively naturalistic fashion, and the performances he gets from his actors are excellent across the board. Things the Way They Are screens on Wednesday, April 17 and Friday, April 19.
The Towrope / La Sirga (Vega, Colombia, 2012)
This assured feature debut by William Vega centers on a teenage girl, Alicia (Joghis Seudin Arias), who seeks refuge in the home of an estranged uncle in a remote area of Colombia after her parents are murdered and her village burned by guerrillas during a civil war. (Understanding anything about Colombian politics, however, is not a prerequisite to appreciating this film; the war-torn setting is rendered largely in universal terms.) The uncle, Oscar (Julio César Roble), is annoyed by her presence at first, then enlists her to help him renovate his inn, which he vainly hopes will attract tourists. Oscar’s son, Fredy (Heraldo Romero), soon returns after a mysterious absence, and urges Alicia to leave with him. All the while, the violence is getting closer. Though it feels at times like a checklist of elements designed to go over well at international film festivals (war-torn country, child protagonist, liberal-humanist tone), this is a small, well-made film, bolstered by gorgeous footage of the Andes mountains and an evocative performance by Arias, whose expressive face could be that of a silent film actress. A vivid snapshot from a remote corner of the earth that’s well worth a look. The Towrope screens on Friday, April 12 and Monday, April 15.
The World is Ours / El Mundo es Nuestro (Sanchez, Spain, 2012)
Writer/director Alfonso Sanchez crafts a comical Spanish riff on Dog Day Afternoon: two inept criminals, “Bull’s Head” (Sanchez) and “Sneaky” (Alberto López), attempt to rob a Seville bank, only to find their plan thwarted when a third, unrelated bank-robber, Fermin (José Rodríguez Quintos), arrives with explosives strapped to his body. In the ensuing hostage crisis/standoff with police, the criminals air their grievances via social media and become folk heroes in the process. Like John Ford in Stagecoach, Sanchez portrays the “bad guys” sympathetically while showing the bankers and businessman to be the story’s true crooks — but his populist false-dichotomy between the 1% and the rest of us poor slobs is a little too neat for its own good, pushing the material in a direction that grows increasingly predictable. Still, the production values are high and the more formulaic elements are consistently enlivened by the humor. The World Is Ours screens on Saturday, April 13 and Thursday, April 18.
The Zebra / La Cebra (Leon, Mexico, 2011)
Two small-time bandits, Leandro (Jorge Adrián Spíndola) and Odón (Harold Torres), embark on a journey in search of “land and freedom” during the Mexican revolution in this comical and surreal western. They travel by way of a circus zebra they find abandoned at the film’s beginning, which they mistake for a “gringo horse” and everyone else believes is a painted donkey. During their picaresque adventures, they stumble across a host of colorful characters, including three beautiful sirens bathing in a river and a one-eyed guitarist, while opportunistically aligning themselves with both Pancho Villa and Alvaro Obregon. This starts out relatively lighthearted but grows increasingly dark as the story progresses, before ending on a note that daringly compares the Mexico of a hundred years ago with that of the present day. A visually stunning debut by longtime screenwriter Fernando León, The Zebra feels like what might have resulted had Luis Bunuel adapted Homer’s Odyssey and set it in Mexico circa 1915. To borrow a line of dialogue from the film, I found it tastier than beans with lard. The Zebra screens on Friday, April 19 and Sunday, April 21.
My top recommendations for the festival are:
1. Things the Way They Are / Las Cosas Como Son
2. A Love / Un Amor
3. The Zebra / La Cebra
More information, including directions to the venue, ticket info and showtimes, can be found on the official Chicago Latino Film Festival site: http://www.chicagolatinofilmfestival.com