Latin American Films, Springtime in New York

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The arrival of spring in New York means that my tolerance for the tight and revealing sartorial decisions of ill-advised pedestrians needs to increase. But being the antisocial, non-conformist kind, it usually runs dry pretty early in the game; one of my coping strategies is to take refuge in dark rooms where my eyes are safe from the presence of chichos and muffin tops — if shunning questionable attire is wrong, I never, ever, ever want to be right.

Great timing, since two film festivals ( the Tribeca Film Festival and the Havana Film Festival) are descending upon Manhattan, with a barely decent share of Latin American films in their rosters. Not only that, but the newly Oscar-winning film El Secreto de sus ojos is opening in theatres. Here are my 10 muffin-top-less recommended films from both the aforementioned festivals and other regular runs.

Adrián Biniez, Uruguay (2009)

In this quirky-and-slightly-less-creepy version of One Hour Photo and Following, nerdy supermarket night guard Jara falls in love with Julia, a cleaning woman he’s only seen through a security camera. At first he follows her movements at work, but his crush soon escalates to I’ll-follow-you-to-the-movies-and-the-beach-and-even-on-a-date-with-another-guy proportions. This account of the meeting of two lonely hearts was nominated for a Golden Berlin Bear and a Goya for the best Spanish-language foreign film, and won the Horizons Award at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.

Part of the Havana Film Festival New York.
Friday, April 23 at 5:00 p.m. | $10 | Director’s Guild of America Theater (110 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019)

Alejandro Fernández Almendras, Chile (2009)

First-time director Alejandro Fernández Almendras paints a portrait of veritable rural hardship via the day-to-day life of a peasant family in his native Chile. His documentary-influenced eye follows grandparents Clemira and Comelio, their daughter Alejandra and her young son Manuel individually, dissecting their coping mechanisms for low wages, discrimination and seeing the fruits of their hard work cut by the triviality of an electrical shortage. The film won the Grand Coral for First Work at the Havana Film Festival.

Part of the Havana Film Festival New York.
April 21 at 4:30 p.m. and April 22 at 9:15 p.m. | $10 | Quad Cinema (34 West 13th Street, New York, NY 10011)

Crónicas chilangas
Carlos Enderle, México (2009)

In this monument to intertwined wackiness, there’s El Jairo, a schizophrenic who thinks his calling is to battle approaching aliens. There’s Claudia, a seemingly normal woman with socially threatening levels of porno consumption. There’s Juvencio, an aging man concerned with the future of his quadriplegic daughter, bound to be alone after he and his wife pass away. And then there’s the plot thread that allows their paths to cross, with hilarity understandingly ensuing.

Part of the Havana Film Festival New York.
April 17 at 4:45 p.m. and April 19 at 3:00 p.m. | $10 | Quad Cinema (34 West 13th Street, New York, NY 10011)

Alejo Moguillansky, Argentina (2009)

In this absurdist comedy, a woman is desperately seeking her husband, the inexplicably wayward Castro. In this grainy, screwball-comedy-meets-film-noir flick, one character matter-of-factedly states “¿Por qué sos un ser tan necio y tan bruto?” Another scene includes a deadpan dialogue between two women that marches to the beat of, “10 por ciento.” “12 y medio.” “Bueno, no sé regatear.” “Yo tampoco.” I’m sold.

Parf of the Havana Film Festival New York.
April 17 at 3:00 p.m. | $10 | Quad Cinema (34 West 13th Street, New York, NY 10011)

Aquel rebaño azul
Guillermo Gómez-Álvarez, Puerto Rico (2009)

The genesis of this documentary is a 2007 cell phone video capturing blatant police brutality in Puerto Rico. Although excessive use (and abuse) of authority is an open secret in the island, this documentary marks one of the first times it’s discussed and analyzed on film. Backed by the Puerto Rico Civil Rights Commission, Aquel rebaño azul intertwines real videos with eyewitness accounts.

Nuevo Cine at El Museo del Barrio
May 5 at 6:30 p.m. | GRATIS! | 1230 Fifth Avenue (at 104th Street), New York NY 10029

El secreto de sus ojos
Juan José Campanella, Argentina (2009)

The overt reason why I’m recommending this flick is because it just took home the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The covert reason why I’m recommending this film is because I’d watch anything with Ricardo Darín in it. But on to the plot: This is a thriller where a retired lawyer goes over a cold case of rape, murder and false conviction that happened 25 years ago but he still can’t shake off. The most breathtaking part? The lawyer is Ricardo Darín. SPOILER ALERT: He is awesome.

Regular run at the Angelika Film Center

Opens on April 16 | $12 | 18 West Houston Street, New York, NY 10012

Um lugar ao sol
Gabriel Mascaro, Brazil (2009)

Status and ostracizing tendencies play a big role in the Brazilian urban landscape. In this documentary, titled High-Rise for English-speaking audiences, nine penthouse owners from Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Recife reveal their views on social inequality, the fight for space and luxury in their cities, and the power that money begets.

La sangre y la lluvia
Jorge Navas, Colombia (2009)

The underworld of Bogota is the setting for this neo-noir slice of crude life. When his brother is murdered by a gang, Jorge decides to go Black Mamba on them. An accident brings him closer to Ángela, a lonely yet attractive manic pixie girl he had met a while before on the bloody and rainy nights of the city. Rawr.

Part of the Tribeca Film Festival.
April 28 at 6:30 p.m., April 29 at 8:30 p.m., April 30 at 9:45 p.m. and May 1 at 3:30 p.m. | $12 | Village East Cinema (189 Second Avenue, New York, NY, 10003)

Elvis and Madona
Marcelo Laffitte, Brazil (2008)

I’ve been looking for a Hedwig and The Angry Inch methadone-like fix, and I’ll take whatever I can get. The comedic story of grunt worker (and tomboy) Elvis and dragalicious queen Madona might just do: The former needs some direction, the latter needs funding for her stage show. When the two get together, it’s twu wuv.

Part of the Tribeca Film Festival.
April 24 at 3:45 p.m. | $12 | Village East Cinema (189 Second Avenue, New York, NY, 10003)
April 27 at 10:00 p.m. and April 30 at 3:00 p.m. | $12 | Clearview Chelsea Cinema (260 West 23rd Street, New York, NY 10011)

The Sentimental Engine Slayer
Omar Rodríguez López, Mexico/United States (2009)

I’m not even going to lie: I swallow a little of my own vomit every time I’m forced to watch a border movie, but this one has The Mars Volta seal of approval. The director, writer and star of coming-of-age drama The Sentimental Engine Slayer (Really? That title makes Dave Eggers happy) is Volta guitarist and mastermind Omar Rodríguez López. That’s enough to put me on a seat.

Part of the Tribeca Film Festival.
April 22 at 10:30 p.m., April 23 at 10:30 p.m., April 25 at 9:30 p.m. and April 27 at 5:45 p.m. | $12 | Village East Cinema (189 Second Avenue, New York, NY, 10003)

Image: Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil in a scene from El secreto de sus ojos