A youth-centric Latino vibe infused this year’s prestigious Berlin Film Festival, which just closed Sunday, as Latin American filmmakers garnered awards and worldwide distribution while the festival showcased young talent and fresh new visions. First up, Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios, the recipient of this tweet:
Gana #Güeros de Alonso Ruiz Palacios mejor opera prima en Berlín. Epa chingonería! Felicidades a Tenoch, Ilse, Damian, Gibrán y al Alonsoooo
— Gael Garcia Bernal (@GaelGarciaB) February 15, 2014
Ruizpalacios won the award for first feature with his film Güeros, a title that touches upon the ever present, if often unspoken, issue of skin color and privilege in Latino culture. But the film’s true focus is youth, its burgeoning energy, and where to put it. A group of students at Mexico’s UNAM are in the midst of a long running striking against the University, but fellow student Tomas and his band of friends decide to strike against the strike, using it as an excuse, or inspiration, to set out on a road trip, a pilgrimage to find fresh inspiration from a legendary Mexican rock star who has long since faded from view. Also riffing its title, Güeros’ black-and-white photography nods to a history of cinematographic depictions of youth in the city, running the gamut from Bunuel’s Los Olvidados, to the French New Wave, Jaramusch’s Stranger Than Paradise, and more recently and closer to home, Fernando Eimbcke’s Temporada de Patos (Duck Season).
Yet another Mexican film, presented in Berlin’s Generation Plus section, harnesses the power of music and youth: Samuel Kishi Leopo’s Somos Mari Pepa, a grungy tale that perhaps takes up where the Sex Pistols’ “No Future” left off. The future in question depends on whether an upcoming Battle of the Bandas will propel four bandmates to get it together, maybe write a decent second song, and pursue their musical dreams, or whether teenage apathy abetted by a stolen guitar leaves them to languish. The film’s leads, nonprofessional actors, were plucked from filmmaker Kishi Leopo’s neighborhood in Guadalajara, and their unstudied presence, alternately awkward and charming, gangly and graceful, along with handheld shooting lend the films a Larry Clark/Harmonie Korine vibe while crafting its own unique milieu. Capturing the oddly complementary thrills and boredom of an era where the term “garage band” did not refer to a software program and as an homage to DIY egg carton soundproofing, this film is a fresh antidote to a jaded musical now.
Berlin’s Teddy, its trailblazing award for Queer filmmaking that was presciently launched with an award to then young upstart Pedro Almodóvar in 1987, this year went to Brazil’s Hoje eu quero voltar sozinho (The Way He Looks). Filmmaker Daniel Ribeiro also melds music and nascent sexuality in this film, (particularly as seen in the clip below), a coming of age story in which the impact of music and sound is underscored by the fact that the 15-year-old lead Leo is blind, and is in the midst of discovering feelings for his friend Gabriel. The film creates a nuanced, evanescent feel of adolescence and longing, managing to steer clear of sappy depictions of “disability” or overly determined notions of “difference.” It gentl prods and challenges our interpretations and assumptions.
Rounding out the Latino presence at Berlin was Brazilian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz’s Praia do Futuro (“Future Beach”), in competition for Berlin’s Golden Bear prize, and picked up for international theatrical distribution by The Match Factory as well as by HBO Latin America. The film centers on the story of a Brazilian lifeguard who saves a German man from drowning, falling in love with him and abruptly leaving his life in Brazil to follow him to Berlin. Years later, the lifeguard’s younger brother sets out to Germany to find his adored older brother and confront his sudden disappearance from their lives. Aïnouz’s style, minimalistic in narrative but rich in a visually and auditory lush scope, finds its perfect mate in this impressionistic road journey that spans oceans and continents, beaches to autobahns, but where the greatest discovery is perhaps interior. All in all, the Berlin Film Festival presented an inspired journey through Latino filmmaking now.