For its 17th edition, the Havana Film Festival New York is reaching to all corners of Latin America to bring you fascinating mix of critical and box office hits to enjoy this April. Movies from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and the United States will be shown in competition and will be vying for the Havana Star Prize for Best Film.
Gael García Bernal fans should be particularly thrilled to see the Mexican actor in two movies at the festival. You can catch the Golden Globe-winning actor try on an Argentinian accent in the Eva Perón flick, Eva no duerme, and see what he looks like as an animated version of himself in the meta-film Zoom. Of course, this being the Havana Film Festival, you’ll also find plenty of Cuban fare to enjoy, including the aptly titled Cuba Libre about the historic 1898 events which saw the start of U.S. intervention in the Caribbean island, and the contemporary documentary El tren de la línea which offers a snapshot of Cuba today.
With screenings all over the city (including the Bronx!), many with filmmakers in attendance for lively Q&As, HFFNY is a must for any Latino cinephiles in the New York City area. We’ve picked out 10 films you shouldn’t miss, from Ireland’s Cuba-set Oscar entry Viva, which screens as a special presentation, to the box office hit that took the DR by storm last year La Gunguna.
The Havana Film Festival New York runs April 7 – 15, 2016.
Eva no duerme
Eva Perón remains one of the most iconic figures of twentieth century history. When she died in 1952 at the age of 33, an expert anatomist embalmed her so as to leave her looking her best; you could be forgiven for thinking she was merely a sleeping beauty. In Pablo Agüero’s film we see the impact she still has on a country run by the Armed Forces who will stop at nothing to eradicate her image from popular memory.
Set in 1988 in Cuba, the film focuses on the AIDS centers that the government had set up across the island where HIV patients were shipped to under military rule. The title refers to the “companions,” people serving prison sentences who function as wardens to the patients, keeping an eye on them on behalf of the establishment. That’s how Horacio Romero (played by Latin Grammy winner Yotuel Romero), a Cuban boxing champion, who finds himself striking up an unlikely friendship with his assigned patient, Daniel.
Victoria is a young, middle-class woman whose family is going through a serious financial crisis, forcing her to enroll in night classes so that she can finish high school and to take an inconvenient job that leads her to the La Reforma penitentiary. In the prison, Victoria meets Jason, an inmate. As she explores his world behind bars, she begins to question her own limitations and her sense of freedom. Inspired by his father’s documentary on Costa Rican prisons, Tico director Esteban Ramírez takes the same social themes and translates them to the big screen, showing that one doesn’t need to be in prison in order to be a prisoner.
The protagonist of this film is the “Gunguna,” a tiny .22 caliber gun. Turns out, she has quite the stories to tell! According to local lore, she brings bad luck to whoever possesses her and Ernesto Alemany’s sprawling ensemble are here to show you precisely what kinds of catastrophe this gun can bring to people as powerful as arms dealers, and as shady as corrupt police officials. No one is safe in this dark, violent, and at times hilarious narrative that paints a picture of contemporary DR.
Jesus has spent most of his young adult life styling wigs at a drag club in Havana, longing for a purpose other than the pennies he scrapes together in the shadows of his surroundings. When Jesus is offered the chance to perform amongst the other queens, the cruel winds of fate bring his estranged, abusive father back into his life after 15 years. What unfolds is a bittersweet story of pain, regret, and reconciliation. As the two men’s lives violently collide, they are forced to grapple with their conflicting views.
Made in Bangkok
A transgender opera singer from the state of Guanajuato takes on persistent social stigmas and the disapproval of her own family to pursue her dream of self transformation. Mexico-based Argentine director Flavio Florencio follows Morganna from their first encounter in a Mexico City cantina all the way across the world to Thailand, where she undergoes gender reassignment surgery in hopes of finally finding a body fitting for her authentic self.
El cuarto de los huesos
From the Institute of Legal Medicine, El cuarto de los huesos (The Room of Bones) follows several mothers from El Salvador who search for the remains of their children, who disappeared amidst violence in their country. The film is a look at the 20 or more bodies that are received at the morgue on a monthly basis and remain unclaimed – the story of DNA with no name, of bodies that became cadavers for belonging to a rival gang.
It’s telling that Santiago Mitre’s film is alternately known as La patota and Paulina — one title underscores the group of assailants and therefore the crime (gang rape), while the other focuses on the victim, a schoolteacher played by Dolores Fonzi. Instead of seeking revenge or court-provided justice, Paulina seemingly wants to understand her attackers. This infuriates her father, who is actually a judge and would love nothing more than to see the rapists’ heads on a platter, or at least to throw their asses in jail. Mitre struggles a bit with his subject matter, but Fonzi’s strong performance holds the film together. Paulina screened at the Munich Film Festival, and won the Nespresso Grand Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Grab a pencil and paper and imagine your ideal man. Start drawing the shape of his face, then fill in the hair, eyes, nose; now move down to the arms and torso. Is he starting to look like Gael García Bernal? That’s the premise of a new film by Brazilian director Pedro Morelli, who is perhaps best known for his previous father-son directorial outing, Entre Nós. In Zoom, the artist in question is a young lady who happens to work at a sex doll factory and moonlights as a comic book artist. When she’s disappointed by a breast augmentation surgery and her boyfriend’s reaction to her new bosom, she starts doodling her way to her ideal man, bestowing him with some exceptionally large loins before erasing and reducing them to a minuscule stump. In the cartoon world that Gael García Bernal’s character inhabits, this sudden and unexplained reduction in his manly vigor sets off a creative crisis just as he is filming his latest feature.
Papa Hemingway in Cuba
The first feature-length Hollywood film to shoot on location in Cuba since the 1959 revolution, Papa: Hemingway in Cuba is the true-life story of a young journalist who finds a father figure in legendary author Ernest Hemingway. Their relationship began in the late 1950’s when Ed Myers, then a junior reporter at The Miami Herald, wrote a fan letter to his idol. Myers thought he was being pranked when the larger than life Hemingway phoned the newsroom a week later, inviting him to Havana.