The Film Society of Lincoln Center is opening 2016 with a new showcase of contemporary Latin American cinema co-presented with Cinema Tropical titled Neighboring Scenes. New York City has long been seen as the film capital of the world and that’s in no small part to the sheer number of movies, domestic and international, that one can watch on any given day. Latin American films, in particular, are becoming staples of independent cinemas in the city. In a year that saw high profile films like The 33, Wild Tales, and The Second Mother have solid box office results, it’s exciting to see this type of programming which spotlights the strong work across the continent.
“It’s been some years since Latin American cinema ‘reemerged,’” said Programmer-at-Large Rachael Rakes. “Now, as the output from countries like Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil continues to be some of the most compelling and engaged cinema today, new scenes are establishing themselves all across the map, showcasing fresh talent and ideas, and challenging the notion of an identifiable contemporary Latin American cinema. We’re pleased to highlight a few of the most impressive recent films from the region.”
Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico are all represented in the varied list of movies which run the gamut from black-and-white excursions into the seedy world of dwarf wrestling in Mexico City to documentaries about artistic colonies in Cali and include several features submitted by their respective countries for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Neighboring Scenes: New Latin American Cinema runs January 7 – 10, 2016 at the Walter Reade Theater.
Special offer for Remezcla readers: Save $3 on tickets to all films in Neighboring Scenes – tickets just $11! To redeem, select the “affiliate” ticket option when purchasing online here.
Director Pablo Larraín’s previous films examined life in Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship, and here he takes aim at another oppressive force: the Catholic Church. The Club has four members, all priests, who live together in a Church-sponsored home to “purge” themselves of their sins, which include child molestation and kidnapping. With a retired nun to look after them, the men seem willing to live out their days in contrite seclusion. But their penitence is interrupted with the arrival of a crisis counselor, Father Garcia. The Club took home the Jury Grand Prix at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, and was selected to represent Chile for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Oscars, but did not receive a nomination.
Filmed almost entirely in the Kaqchikel dialect spoken in Guatemala’s coffee-growing highlands, Ixcanul dramatizes the story of María, a young Mayan woman who is promised to the coffee plantation foreman, despite her desire for a lowly coffee cutter named Pepe. Dreaming of absconding with Pepe to a romanticized vision of the United States, María eventually has the encounter with modernity she so yearned for, but not for the reasons she had hoped. In addition to the impressive naturalistic performances from the film’s non-professional cast, Ixcanul’s visuals are extremely powerful, with radiant bronze skin tones, textured interiors, and the requisite breathtaking landscapes.
Shot in black and white, Naishat’s film is set in 1835 and uses Argentina’s vast pampas to tell the story of a paramilitary group modeled on Confederacy-era dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas’s group Mazorca. Pablo Cedrón plays the unhinged leader with great relish, crafting a portrait of a country in lawless chaos as his men plunder nearby villagers and hope to start a new political movement.
Biologist-turned-filmmaker Pablo Chavarría Gutiérrez doesn’t much care to offer a simple narrative to his latest film. Instead, he seems more interested in offering up a day in the life of his protagonist, who we’ll see cooking, napping, painting, and wandering around his home as he awaits, what we know, is a very important date. This is observational cinema at its purest.
María Alché’s short film begins simply enough with an evening in with the family. Soon though, after two siblings go out to a party, the film becomes a surrealist fantasy set in an abandoned theme park that still houses a large statue of the Jonathan Swift character that gives the film its title.
La calle de la amargura
Arturo Ripstein’s latest film is set in the seedy streets of El Defectuoso. Shot in lurid black and white, the film feels Lynchian in spirit focusing on the low life characters that populate Mexico’s capital. Aptly titled, the film follows two prostitutes who hope to solve their personal and financial problems by drugging and robbing two dwarf twins who work as professional luchadores.
El escarabajo de oro o Victorias Hamnd
This meta-comedy about filmmaking is equal parts Argo and Charlie Kaufman with a blend of Jorge Luis Borges. It follows an Argentine-Swedish co-production in Buenos Aires shooting a biopic of the 19th-century realist author and proto-feminist Victoria Benedictsson. What looks initially like a making of drama soon becomes a treasure-hunting chase that borrows its plot from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story (The Gold Bug) once an actor discovers a map detailing the location of a gold treasure. To further muddle the plot, the filmmakers set out to change their own film so as to make it about the 19th-century politician Leandro N. Alem, hoping to have an excuse to move the shooting closer to where the treasure is allegedly buried.
Rosenfeld’s film focuses on the most earnest of dreams a Brazilian young man: that of becoming a professional soccer player. Junior (Ariclenes Barroso) works nights at a warehouse alongside his friend Bento (Sergio Malheiros), and despite Junior’s training, he’s devastated when it is his talented friend who’s signed to a professional team. This, coupled with the news that his girlfriend is pregnant, make Aspirantes a film about dashed dreams and grim realities.
Todo comenzó por el fin
As electric and eclectic as the Cali Group itself, Luis Ospina’s self-portrait documentary is also a document of the 70s and 80s artistic collective that revolutionized art, cinema, and literature during Colombia’s most dangerous decades. Making the film more urgent? The fact that Ospina was diagnosed with cancer mid-way through, which, as he acknowledges, means the contents of the film — whether he lived or died — needed to be reshaped to make that personal journey aptly collide with the history he was tracing. This portrait of “Caliwood” is as irreverent and thoughtful as Ospina himself, serving as a chronicle of both an artistic manifesto and a national mood that forever changed Colombian cinema.
A getaway to the resort town of Villa Gesell by a young couple takes a turn when Mar’s mother arrives, putting into relief the many relationship issues between Mar and his girlfriend Eli. Sotomayor’s dialogue crackles with the wit of the Argentine tongue and further broadens the low-key drama when lightning strikes (quite literally) and our leads have a car to disappear.
La tierra y la sombra
This Camera d’Or winning film is a visually stunning look at the Valle del Cauca region of Colombia, home to the country’s many sugar plantations. Alfonso (Haimer Leal) returns to his hometown to take care of his son Geraldo (Edison Raigosa), who suffers from a mysterious ailment related to the harsh farming techniques now being used around them. Through his story, Acevedo paints a portrait of family, nature, and nation.
Un monstruo de mil cabezas
True to its tagline — “A wounded animal doesn’t cry, it bites” — Rodrigo Plá’s film is a sleek thriller that shows the lengths to which a wife will go to get her husband fair treatment within a health care system that favors only profit gains. Armed with a gun, Sonia (Jana Raluy) takes matters into her own hands, digging herself into an ever-growing dark hole from which she soon realizes, she cannot escape.