Since its inception in 1989, the Palm Springs International Film Festival has made a point of shedding a spotlight on cinema from around the world. In 2013, for example, the festival screened 42 of the 71 movies that were submitted by countries around the world to the Oscars for that year’s best foreign language award. That remains the case this year. The festival, which opens with the Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling drama The Sense of an Ending and closes with Robert De Niro’s The Comedian, will be screening 190 movies from 72 countries.
That means there’s no shortage of Latin American titles making their way to the Sonoran desert this January. We combed through this year’s selections — which includes a rom-com starring Karla Souza, an Argentine drama with Ricardo Darín, and the directing debut from Chilean singer-songwriter Álex Anwandter — to offer you our top Latin American picks. Check them out below.
Palm Springs International Film Festival runs January 2-16, 2017.
Clara (a luminous Sonia Braga) is the last resident of the Aquarius, an classic art deco building built in Recife’s upper-class Boa Viagem Avenue. Despite being offered a good deal for her apartment by developers, this spry 65-year old is not ready to part from the place she’s made her home and where she raised her children. The construction company, which is intent on building a New Aquarius, begins implementing increasingly aggressive methods to get the former music critic to sell. But all this drama creates for Clara is a renewed sense of vigor that pushes her to think back to her life lived and to embrace her her present-day vitality.
A Filipino woman has recently moved to Montreal with her grandmother. A Mexican man has left his indigenous community behind and now lives in Mexico City. A Colombian fisherman in Buenaventura hopes to distance himself from the rural criminal gang life he’s left behind. Three stories of newcomers and immigrants are woven together in this striking multicultural film that tackles (in Mazahua, Tagalog, French, English, and Spanish, no less!) what it means to deal with the violence and loss around you in a foreign land. Colorfully depicting Canada, Mexico, and Colombia, X500 goes global by focusing on the local, immersing audiences in these disparate but ultimately similar stories around the world.
Bellas de Noche
In the 1970s and 1980s, Mexico’s burlesque culture was at its disco-era heyday. The clubs were filled with beautiful women who razzled and dazzled. Decades later, Beauties of the Night introduces us to five of those former showgirls who recount their lives in the spotlight and give us a glimpse of what they’re up to nowadays. Shot over eight years, María José Cuevas’s documentary is a thrilling look at these exotic dancers who continue to search for the love and adoration they got on stage all those years ago.
Nunca vas a estar solo
Based on the real-life attack suffered by one of his fans at the hands of Neo-Nazis, Nunca vas a estar solo is the directorial debut of Chilean pop star Alex Anwandter. At the heart of the story is Pablo, a young boy studying dance with high hopes of becoming a star. He lives with his widowed father and has a girlfriend though he often finds time to sneak out to sleep with a neighbor boy. All that changes when he’s the victim of a homophobic attack which leads his dad to take justice in his own hands.
Sarah is a child of divorce. She shuttles between her father (now living with his new wife) and her mother (living with her lesbian partner). While her father asks her whether she’s been picked on given her mother’s “sexual choice,” she gets warned at school that she may turn out to be gay given that some of her schoolmates believe it to be hereditary. Amidst custody squabbles and coming-of-age revelations, Rara marks a strong debut by Pepa San Martín.
Julia Vargas Weise’s third feature is an ecologically and politically-minded thriller that follows Federica. Only Federica is not a character: she’s an old steam train that’s recruited to remove a number crates that have been discovered and which might contain possibly toxic minerals within them. Led by the type of farcical if threatening stock characters of Latin American law enforcement, the newly dubbed “Death Train” winds its way through the Bolivian altiplano setting off a number of collisions between the state, police, and townspeople around the country.
El ciudadano ilustre
A renowned Argentinean writer—a Nobel Prize winner no less!—gets an invitation to return to his small hometown to receive that year’s “Distinguished Citizen” award. The writer, who has lived abroad for the past few decades yet whose work is all about the small town life he left behind, hasn’t been home since he was a teenager. The homecoming becomes, in Duprat and Cohn’s dark dramedy, a clash of fiction and reality, of parochialism and cosmopolitanism, where it slowly dawns on the writer that everything back home is not as he left nor as he continued to imagine it. Oscar Martínez won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor for his performance as the literary luminary stranded in a farcical world of his own making.
Todo lo demás
How do you set about discovering yourself at sixty-three? This is the question that documentarian Natalia Almada asks us in her first fiction film. With a powerful central performance by Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza, Todo lo demás follows Doña Flor, who mourns the death of her cat as she tries to take solace in the one daily activity that’s always soothed her: swimming. Examining this one seemingly invisible life (at least, that’s how Doña Flor feels at her job as a government clerk,) Almada shows deep empathy for her main character, etching an unforgettable poetic portrait of one women finding herself anew.
Those looking for a straight-up biopic of famed Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, have come to the wrong film. In its place, Pablo Larraín has crafted a meta-poetic treatise on fiction and politics. Ostensibly, we’re being told the story (in first person voiceover narration) of how police officer Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) is trying to capture Neruda (Luis Gnecco), now a wanted man by the state. But with a dreamlike, fragmented shooting style that disorients you from line to line, Larraín is as interested in evoking Neruda’s artistry as he is in crafting a thrilling chase through late ’40s Chilean landscapes.
Everybody Loves Somebody
How to Get Away with Murder star Karla Souza continues her hot streak on the big screen with Everybody Loves Somebody. She plays Clara Barron, a successful OB-GYN living and working in Los Angeles. In true rom-com mode, Clara asks a co-worker to pose as her boyfriend as she heads to a family wedding in Mexico, a choice that may finally push her to let someone into her love life again. Of course, she couldn’t have anticipated that her ex-boyfriend whom she hasn’t seen in a decade would show up unannounced, derailing what would have been a perfect weekend with her family. Helped along by her loving (and hilarious) family, Clara will have to choose between going back to the past or open her heart to new and unexpected possibilities.