Each year, a select group of Latin American filmmakers gets a glamorous global platform to show off their latest cinematic concoctions in the form of the Cannes Film Festival. Last year’s Mediterranean cinefiesta brought us none other than the Oscar-nominated arthouse phenomenon El abrazo de la serpiente, while previous editions have consecrated directors ranging from Glauber Rocha to Alejandro González Iñárritu and Carlos Reygadas.
After wrapping up this past weekend, it was clear that this year’s edition had brought us yet another crop of unforgettable films from established masters and up-and-comers alike. Though unfortunately, this time around the jury wasn’t particularly partial to Latin America’s offerings, opting instead to award the festival’s top prizes to films from the UK and Canada. But as is often the case, international critics weren’t entirely in agreement with the festival’s decisions, with many openly booing the announcement of this year’s winners.
We can assume at least some of them would have opted to award a Latin American film, especially given the glowing reviews some of them received from the world’s top critics. Others, of course, weren’t so highly regarded, but festivals are always a mixed bag, so it’s to be expected. Here’s a rundown of what some of the critics had to say about the Latin American films that played at the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival.
Poesía sin fin
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Country: Chile, Japan, France
The latest head trip from Chile’s cinematic mystic continues the autobiographical exploration he began in 2013’s The Dance of Reality. Poesía sin fin finds Jodorowsky’s fictional alter-ego moving from the provinces to the big city of Santiago, where he falls in with a group of eccentric poets and artists, provoking the ire of his conservative and homophobic father.
“This gloriously assembled work… basically functions as a primer on the philosophy of the 87-year-old artist, complete with a king-sized helping of poetic touches and the usual visual fetishes that make his work so instantly recognizable.”
Director: Palo Larraín
Larraín follows up last year’s Berlin-winning El Club with a another exploration into Chile’s tumultous history, Neruda play like an anti-biopic of the famed poet-turned-communist politician. Taking as its point of departure the 18 months Neruda spent on the lam from anti-communist government forces before absconding from Argentina, Larraín presents us with a fictional detective figure played by Gael García Bernal and gleefully blurs the lines between fact and fiction.
“[Neruda represents] the director at his stunning best with a work of such cleverness and beauty, alongside such power, that it’s hard to know how to parcel out praise: script, cinematography, art direction and performances all vie for kudos and awards, though the film’s placement in Directors’ Fortnight rather than competition at Cannes is a major head-scratcher.”
Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho
An older woman played by Sonia Braga must confront the greedy developers that seek to turn the elegant Art Deco building she’s called home for the better part of her life into high-end condos. The result is a meditation on aging and Brazil’s seemingly insatiable desire to destroy the past in the name of progress.
“This endearing old-age drama works best as an earnest and colorful character study, even if it doesn’t really break any new cinematic ground.”
Director: Eryk Rocha
A film essay and cinematic homage to the revolutionary film movement that came out of Brazil in the 1960s. Throughout, Rocha employs the very language that his father– founding figure Glauber Rocha–used to revolutionize cinematic language and bring Brazil’s cinema “closer to its reality.”
“What results is a documentary that one tends to experience rather than understand — which is something that a director like Glauber Rocha probably would have preferred, even if it leaves the rest of us wanting to know more.”
La larga noche de Francisco Sanctis
Director: Francisco Márquez and Andrea Testa
Francisco Santis is an apolitical family man during the dark years of Argentina’s military dictatorship. When he unintentionally finds out that the military are looking for two individuals, he has a crisis of conscience as he wrestles with his desire to keep his hands clean, and the necessity of doing the right thing.
“Directors Márquez and Testa keep the story simmering just below the surface in this small but effective film.”
Hands of Stone
Director: Jonathan Jakubowicz
Country: USA, Panama
Featuring marquee names from Robert De Niro and Edgar Ramírez down to Usher, Rubén Blades, and even John Turturro, Hands of Stone dramatizes the humble origins and standout career of the former world title-holder from his upbringing in the slums of Panama City to his well documented rivalry with “Sugar” Ray Leonard. Consistently ranked as one of the greatest boxers of all time, Durán finally ended his 34-year professional professional career back in 2002, at the ripe age of 50.
“‘Hands of Stone’ gets the job done, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that you’re watching a routinely conceived, rather generic boxing flick. It’s utterly competent, yet it makes Duran’s story seem a little so-what?”