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Tag Archives: Fernando Lavanderos

The 33rd Chicago Latino Film Fest – Week Two

The following should appear at Time Out Chicago sometime soon.

What to see during the Chicago Latino Film Fest's second week
The Chicago Latino Film Festival continues through Thursday, May 4. My best bets for the second week are Fernando Lavanderos’ Lost North and Juan Sebastian Mesa’s The Nobodies.The Nobodies is the reason why film fests exist: shot in lo-fi black-and-white digital in one week on a budget of just $2000, this engrossing Colombian drama went on to win the top prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival Critics’ Week, thus ensuring healthy and deserved international distribution. The plotless film follows the lives of five aimless teenage punks in the city of Medellin: they juggle in the streets for money in order to fuel a non-conformist lifestyle revolving around weed, live music, tattoos and graffiti. Writer/director Juan Sebastian Mesa’s first feature may be modest in scope and lacking broader social context but it’s also entirely successful as deft urban portraiture: the naturalistic dialogue and performances (by actors playing loosely fictionalized versions of themselves) are electrifying.

My favorite film at this year’s CLFF is the Chilean road movie Lost North, Fernando Lavanderos’ follow-up to his excellent 2012 feature Things the Way They Are. The plot concerns a young woman named Isabel (Geraldine Neary) abruptly leaving her boyfriend Esteban (Koke Santa Ana), a Santiago-based businessman, and embarking on a spontaneous journey north towards the Chilean-Bolivian border. Isabel sends Esteban short, enigmatic videos from her travels, which impel him to try and find her using only the video evidence as his guide. The film’s clever dual road-trip conceit allows Lavanderos to create a compelling Murnau-like dichotomy between city and country, past and present, and man and woman, but there’s also welcome humor in the characters’ differing attitudes towards “unplugging” and letting go of the modern world: one hilarious scene involves a desperate Esteban calling in sick to work from the road “with hepatitis” in order to justify his absence from the office.

The Nobodies screens on Saturday, April 29 and Monday, May 1. Lost North screens on Sunday, April 30 and Tuesday, May 2. For more information, visit the Chicago Latino Film Fest’s official site.

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Now Playing: Gloria

Gloria
dir. Sebastian Lelio, 2013, Chile

Rating: 8.6

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Now playing at Landmark’s Century Center Theatre in Chicago is Gloria, a terrific 2013 Chilean comedy/drama from the young director Sebastian Lelio. While South American cinema has for decades been tragically — and ironically, given our geographical and linguistic affinities — under-distributed in North America, especially in comparison to its European and Asian counterparts, Gloria has arrived here with a fair amount of positive buzz. Most of the praise has deservedly been centered on the brilliant Paulina Garcia, who won the Best Actress prize at the Berlin International Film Festival where Gloria premiered last year. I was first hipped to Lelio’s movie by the Chilean director Fernando Lavanderos (whom I interviewed shortly afterwards and whose Las Cosas Como Son was one of the best films to play Chicago in 2013 that hardly anyone saw). Lavanderos explained that he and Lelio had worked together years ago on a documentary television show about a family living in the slums of Santiago but when he asked if I was familiar with “Gloria,” I mistakenly assumed he was referring to the 1980 John Cassavetes movie by the same title. “No, no,” Lavanderos said, laughing. “This year was the premiere of Gloria, a Chilean film influenced by Cassavetes.” This threw me when I got around to seeing Lelio’s movie recently; the Cassavetes connection does not seem obvious at first — Lelio eschews the emotional histrionics and harrowing quality associated with the legendary independent American director’s best work and allows his movie to coast by on a good deal of low-key charm instead — but both filmmakers might be said to favor a character-centric cinema that feels unusually and impressively attuned to the emotional textures of everyday life. Like Cassavetes, Lelio trains a patient camera eye on his lead character and audaciously resists taking easy emotional shortcuts. As a result, I found his Gloria to be, well, glorious.

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It has become an axiomatic truth that the vast majority of Hollywood movies have no substantial roles to offer actresses over 40. It is therefore heartening to see a new Latin American movie that is focused so intensely on a female character in her early 50s: Paulina Garcia has to carry the movie by appearing, as the resilient title character, in literally every scene. Even more impressive is how Gloria, a divorcee, is not a stereotypical neurotic single woman desperate for midlife romance (though she does briefly find that) but rather an ordinary, smart, sexy, well-adjusted woman who is content to live alone, loves her grown children, works at what looks like a mundane office job, listens to pop music, and spends her free time dancing at her local discotheque. (She is not perfect. We also see that she can be vindictive and even, on occasion, self-destructive.) It is while dancing at the club that Gloria, whose good looks are almost obscured by the unfashionably large frames of her prescription glasses, meets Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), a 60-something gentleman and recent divorcee who picks her up by asking if she’s “always this happy,” a line that makes her erupt into laughter. A passionate affair ensues. (I should point out here that I also found it refreshing to see erotic sex scenes — and nudity — involving actors in their 50s and 60s. The world would be a much healthier place if it were more common to see love scenes featuring actors of diverse ages and body types.) The film’s central conflict eventually emerges from Rodolpho’s commitment issues — specifically Gloria’s annoyance at how he seems to prioritize attending to the needs of his two adult daughters and ex-wife, all of whom he supports financially. But this is, thankfully, also a movie that is in no real hurry to do anything: it does not put its characters through the paces of a formulaic plot, nor does it seem eager to give viewers a familiar set of emotional experiences. Lelio’s camera merely observes Gloria and if audiences have fallen in love with her, that’s likely because Lelio has not insisted that we have to.

gloria

One of my favorite aspects of Gloria is how the film resembles a musical and indeed occasionally seems to threaten turning into one without ever doing so. One of Gloria’s defining characteristics is her love of pop songs and Lelio features more than a few scenes of her singing along to them — sometimes while driving to work and listening to the radio but also, in one exceptionally lovely sequence, while she is waxing her legs at home. These scenes provide two crucial functions: to establish the rhythm of this woman’s life, the routines of which become the rhythm of the movie, and to subtly clue viewers into her emotional state: one of the film’s key sequences features Gloria attending a house party whose revelers engage in an impromptu jam of a song by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Gloria stands apart from the crowd and sings softly along, her voice barely audible. The counterpoint between her and the other party guests reveals her sadness in the fashion of a true movie musical, prompting viewers to reflect upon exactly what in the preceding scenes may have caused her to feel this way. After a muted climax involving revenge that is too good to give away, the film ends with its most energizing sequence: Gloria attends a wedding reception and, after hesitating for a few moments, joins the wedding guests on the dance floor. Her theme song is playing, the Spanish-language version of Umberto Tozzi’s “Gloria” (made famous in the U.S. by Laura Brannigan’s English-language cover). Singing and dancing with more abandon than she has at any other point in the movie, Gloria loses herself in the music and the moment. The meaning is clear: she will survive and she will endure. I was depressed to come home from seeing Gloria and log onto the Internet Movie Database to note that some user reviews referred to it as “boring,” “pointless” and “slow.” Have viewers become so accustomed to formulas and cliches that they cannot see the “point” of a movie in which those qualities are absent? I personally felt I could have watched this woman’s life unfold onscreen forever.

You can view the trailer for Gloria on YouTube below:


Filmmaker Interview: Fernando Lavanderos

One of the highlights of this year’s Chicago Latino Film Festival is the Chilean movie Things the Way They Are (Las Cosas Como Son), the auspicious fiction feature debut of writer/director Fernando Lavanderos. (You can read my capsule review, in which I call it “the reason why film festivals exist,” here.) It is a gripping naturalistic drama about the intersection of three people from vastly different walks of life: Sanna, a twenty-something Norwegian woman, Jeronimo, a thirty-something upper-class Chilean man, and Milton, a working-class Chilean teenager. Things the Way They Are won the main prize in the Latin American section of the prestigious Mar del Plata International Film Festival last November and is now in the process of making the rounds of many more festivals around the globe. I spoke with Lavanderos (who, in addition to being a great filmmaker, is also a heck of a nice guy) at his Chicago hotel yesterday morning, the same day he introduced his first CLFF screening. Things the Way They Are plays for the second and final time tomorrow night with Lavanderos again in attendance for a Q&A. I could not recommend seeing this movie more highly.

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MGS: You teach film production. Do you hire your students to work on your films?

FL: (laughing) Yeah, sometimes.

MGS: (laughing) For free, right?

FL: Yeah!

MGS: That’s funny. I’ve actually done that as well. I teach film history.

FL: Whole history? Or you’re specializing in . . .

MGS: Whole history. It’s sort of Intro to Film History – so we start in the silent era and go all the way up to the present day.

FL: Lumiere brothers?

MGS: Yeah, of course! I love their films.

FL: Yeah, I love it too.

MGS: So, the first thing I wanted to say about Things the Way They Are is that I was impressed by how subtle it is. Are you familiar with Robert Bresson?

FL: Yeah.

MGS: He said something I love. He said, “Hide your ideas but don’t hide them so well that the viewer cannot find them.” I thought of that when I saw your film because your film seems to be a commentary on society but when I watched it I was so wrapped up in the drama and the characters that I didn’t really think about what it was “about” until it was over. Was that your intention?

FL: Yes. My intention was to make a film about a simple story of a few characters living together in some . . . not drastic, dramatic action or problems or . . . I don’t know how to say, “heroes dramaticos?”

MGS: Not a heroic story?

FL: Yeah, I like to hide the topics of society, the social problems, things you can think about afterwards. So, yes, I wanted to hide some things, to make the audience to think about, to not put everything clear. At the end it’s like that, you know, it’s so open.

MGS: Yes. The ending is very ambiguous.

FL: Yeah. So the reason is, I like to end with a question, not with morality. I like to make things happen so the audience thinks about that whatever they want to think.

MGS: Right. I loved the ending. It reminds me of Italian Neorealism because, like you say, the ending is open; it’s like the ending of Bicycle Thieves. But also the acting and the dialogue in your film seems very realistic, very natural. Were you influenced by Neorealism at all?

FL: Yeah, I use non-actors and I’m influenced not only by Neorealism but also Iranian films like Kiarostami and maybe, in some kind of way, the first films of Lars Von Trier and Dogme 95. In my first film (Y las Vacas Vuelan), it was a cross of the fiction and documentary and you couldn’t know who is who — who is acting, who is being. It’s a mix of real people that are in a film and they don’t know they are in a film, and there are people that are acting and they are lying to them.

MGS: That sounds very much like Kiarostami. He got his start, of course, making documentaries and he frequently mixes fiction and non-fiction. And you’ve made documentaries as well, yes?

FL: Yeah, I made a feature documentary about children of the streets. And then I made a television documentary show that was a very rough documentary without a narrator. It was only observation. We spent like a month shooting with different kind of families in Santiago. It was a very good experience. I spent like two or three years making that thing. We work together with Sebastian Lelio. You know him? Gloria? Gloria that won the Best Actress Golden Bear (at the Berlin Film Festival)?

MGS: Oh yeah, of course. Cassavetes.

FL: No, no. This year was the premiere of Gloria, a Chilean film influenced by Cassavetes (laughs). The film won the Golden Bear for Best Actress this year. We worked together on that series. So, I like to make documentaries but I like more to make feature (fiction) films that I stole some kind of things of the documentary. You know, Godard say something like, “Every fiction has some things about the documentary and documentary about the fiction.” I cannot say it in English . . .

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MGS: Yeah, I know the quote. (“All great fiction films tend towards documentary, just as all great documentaries tend toward fiction… each word implies a part of the other. And he who opts wholeheartedly for one, necessarily finds the other at the end of his journey.” – ed.)

FL: I believe in that mix and I believe you can make it appear spontaneous in the fiction, make it natural, make it more credible. I work with non-actors and I made a lot of improvisations in the dialogues.

MGS: So the actors in Things the Way They Are are not professionals?

FL: No, neither of them are professional. The main character (Cristobal Palma) is a photographer. It was his very first experience in acting. She (Ragni Orsal Skogsrod) studied acting but she didn’t finish. And, of course, the boy (Isaac Arriagada) is not an actor.

MGS: How did you find her? Was she living in Chile?

FL: No. I made casting by internet. (laughs) I have a friend in Norway. He helps me a lot. And then I start to make interviews by Skype.

MGS: (laughing) She auditioned by Skype?

FL: Yeah, yeah. In Skype I act with her.

MGS: So you read the script with her?

FL: No, no. Not the script. It was acting different things. Just to know a little bit how is the performance. And then I ask her to shoot a thing that I write, like a very short, short film. But not to make it so accomplished, but to see her acting . . .

MGS: Like an audition tape?

FL: Yeah. And she shoot it there in Norway. It was very good. So finally we were together. The only problem was she didn’t speak Spanish. (laughs) So she said she can learn it in very few months, like four or five months. And she learn it in that time. She started classes from zero because she didn’t speak nothing of Spanish, and came to Chile speaking quite well to be a foreigner that is just in the country. And she arrived like one and a half months before the film so she can continue learning there. Of course, we made huge amount of rehearsals, different kind of rehearsals, so she started to take to the language.

MGS: That’s amazing. It seems like how you made the movie kind of mirrors what the movie’s about.

FL: Yeah, because they are three people that come from very different worlds. The boy (Arriagada), I found him in workshops that I made in the school of the working class. So, for him, to be in this movie was very unique, very special. So he came to this world that was the movie. And, sharing with her (Skogsrod) and with him (Palma), the interactions were just like the movie. Also, I prevent the boy to meet with Cristobal, the actor. The first time they meet, it’s in the film.

MGS: The first time they met in person was on camera?

FL: On camera, yeah. (laughs)

MGS: Wow. Now I want to go back and watch it again. (laughs) It seemed like the characters almost represented different ideas: Sanna wanted to help solve social problems in Chile but Jernonimo was very detached and didn’t want to become involved. Was it important to you that she was European? Was that a commentary on globalization?

FL: Yeah, yeah. It was important to me that she came from Europe. Jeronimo is a mix. We are a mix. The Spanish people got here, to that territory, and the Indian people were there. And we, growing up, follow models that came from the first world. And this girl came from the other side of the earth. The first world, they are coming to Latin America, coming to the “wild side.” Some people have the intentions that they can make some things (better). But the other side is that they don’t have the experience to be there.

MGS: Right.

FL: So I wanted to make these three worlds – he (Jeronimo) is a mix, the boy (Milton) is totally the descendant of the Indian people, like 300 or 400 years ago . . . And now it’s the same thing: the working class follow the upper class that is the colony that is making the rules. So I think they are three separate worlds. Now in the world is globalization; okay, let’s take three characters without judging them and saying “okay she is like very idealistic and so naïve . . .” No, she is making the things she believes and it’s very good. There is a scene in the film where Jeronimo said “So you think we need more Nordic young girls to save us?” But she is saying like “Okay, you prefer to do nothing?” There’s not a solution. It’s not like “Okay, she’s right” or “he’s right” . . .

MGS: Nobody’s right.

FL: Nobody’s right, yeah.

MGS: Your film is mostly serious but there were a few moments in the film where I laughed. I loved the scene where Jeronimo sees Sanna, in his yard, wearing a bikini and then you cut to him presenting her with a new light for her room. It was so funny to me that he just wanted an excuse to talk to her. Is humor important to you?

FL: (laughs) Yeah, it’s very important. I love the humor. I wanted, in everything that I tried to make, to be some irony things of life. But it’s the kind of documentary things. Like they appear, some things, they are so funny sometimes. For example, in the dinner scene when the boy makes some comments that are very funny, like, “So you don’t like to leave the house alone?” (laughs) He (Arriagada) had some intentions, I talk a lot with him, so he knows more or less what he’s going to achieve but he’s very smart to make those comments appear in those places. It’s more the documentary way. It’s funny because it’s spontaneous.

MGS: It’s funny in a way that real life is funny.

FL: Yeah.

MGS: Well, thank you so much for talking to me and good luck with your screenings.

FL: Thank you. It was very nice conversation.

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Ticket info and directions to the theater for tomorrow night’s screening can be found here:

http://chicagolatinofilmfestival.org/film/things-the-way-they-are/.


2013 Chicago Latino Film Festival Preview Pt. 2

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)
Rating: 8.4

lascosas

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)
Rating: 7.0

sirga

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)
Rating: 5.5

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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)
Rating: 7.4

zebra

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


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