Film

From Danny Trejo to Ricardo Darín: 12 Must-See Movies at the Chicago Latino Film Festival

Lead Photo: 'Murder in the Woods' still courtesy of Chicago Latino Film Festival
'Murder in the Woods' still courtesy of Chicago Latino Film Festival

The poster for the upcoming 34th edition of the Chicago Latino Film Festival speaks volumes. Designed by Jorge Pomareda, the graphic shows a wall (presumably at the US-Mexico border) having been cracked open by a road paved with film. “I used the visual metaphor of a filmstrip breaking through these natural and man-made barriers in order to connect cultures,” he shared. That’s as perfect a message for this long-running film fest as any. Current rhetoric and politics cannot match the power of cinematic storytelling and this year’s CLFF has rounded up a list of programs that hope to build bridges and break down walls. In fact, its Closing Night film (the Ricardo Darín starrer La cordillera) is set at a Latin American summit while its Opening Night event (Raúl Marchand Sánchez’s Broche De Oro: Comienzos) is set to celebrate Puerto Rico in all its glory.

With over 100 films being screened over two weeks, we know it’s hard to see everything. So we’ve come up with a dozen titles that merely scratch the surface of what’s on offer. But whether you’re looking for a Danny Trejo slasher pic, a cross-cultural rom-com, or an animated feminist flick, CLFF has you covered. Check out our top picks below.

Chicago Latino Film Festival runs April 5 – 19, 2018.

1

Nuyorican Básquet

Julio César Torres, Ricardo Olivero Lora

A celebration of cultural confluences on and off the court, Nuyorican Básquet chronicles the dramatic story of the Puerto Rican national basketball team’s participation in the 1979 Pan American Games. Boasting a totally unique approach to the game, the Puerto Rican team had the curious distinction of being composed largely of players born in New York City, which generated questions about the nature of diasporic identity. Regardless of their birthplace, these ferociously talented nuyoricans became a source of fascination and pride for Puerto Rico during a time of high political tensions. Shifting energetically between new interviews with athletes and experts and fantastic archival materials showing off the team’s dazzling technique and teamwork, Nuyorican Básquet is a thrilling, colorful testament to the ability of sports to dissolve boundaries and a loving homage to that magical Puerto Rico-NYC alchemy.

Puerto Rico
Sports, Documentary
Julio César Torres, Ricardo Olivero Lora
Freddie Marrero Alfonso
2017
108

2

Virus Tropical

Santiago Caicedo

Adapted from a graphic novel memoir by Colombian-Ecuadorian cartoonist Paola Gaviria (aka Power Paola), the black and white, Spanish-language animated film features Paola (voiced by María Cecilia Sánchez), an exceptional and independent young girl who grew up between Ecuador and Colombia and is trying to find her place in the world. But growing up in a traditional Colombian family with an estranged priest as a father, a psychic as a mother and two older sisters, gives Paola a unique perspective on life, which shapes her personality. It is reported that this coming-of-age, adult-themed animation contains approximately 5,000 individual drawings created by Gaviria.

Synopsis By: Kiko Martinez
Colombia
Animation
Enrique Lozano
Carolina Barrera Quevedo
2017
97

3

Voices Beyond the Wall: Twelve Poems from the Murder Capital of the World

Brad Coley

Over the last quarter-century, in a bunker-like building in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, 70 girls ranging in age from one to 18 have found refuge from poverty and violence. Our Little Roses is Honduras’ only orphanage for girls. Its charges are looked after by a devoted staff who supply food, shelter, medical attention and nurturing care. The debut documentary from filmmaker Brad Coley is a moving, eye-opening tribute to the courageous work performed at Our Little Roses. Voices Beyond the Wall tracks the long and difficult process of recovering from trauma, healing deep wounds, and preparing for a better future.

Honduras
Documentary
Cassidy Friedman
2016
87

4

La cordillera

Santiago Mitre

Returning to the political realm after his briskly-paced 2011 debut The Student, Santiago Mitre’s timely third feature, The Summit, explores behind-the-scenes facets of political power and the solitary aspects of the presidential office. Hernán Blanco (an impeccably nuanced performance by Ricardo Darín) faces his first presidential challenge at a South American summit aimed at creating an oil-trade pact for the region. Matters are complicated by backstage family issues that threaten to erode Blanco’s everyman veneer.

France, Spain, Argentina
Drama
Santiago Mitre, Mariano Llinás
Eduardo Castro, Didar Domehri, Agustina Llambi-Campbell, Simón de Santiago, Fernando Bovaira, Fernando Brom, Leticia Cristi, Matías Mosteirín, Hugo Sigman, Axel Kuschevatzky
2017
114

5

As boas maneiras

Marco Dutra, Juliana Rojas

Bathed in the blue hues of full moonlit nights, this Brazilian werewolf horror film follows Clara, a nurse from the outskirts of São Paulo who takes a job as a nanny for a well-to-do pregnant young woman. What starts as a regular caretaker gig soon takes a turn for the weird when the woman’s odd cravings for red meat and late-night sleepwalking strolls reveal that there may be something unnatural about her pregnancy. Eerie and shot with a lurid formalism that makes it all the scarier (São Paulo’s nights have looked more frightening), Good Manners delivers on its chills and thrills.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
France, Brazil
Fantasy, Horror
Marco Dutra, Juliana Rojas
2017
135

6

El Inca

Ignacio Castillo Cottin

Based on the story of undefeated two-time World Boxing Champion Edwin Valero, El Inca is a powerhouse biographical drama about talent and charisma, love and ambition, excess and self-destruction. Valero, aka “El Inca,” rose from humble Andean roots to international celebrity by defeating one rival after another — he set a world record by winning his first 18 fights with a first-round knockout. But as Valero’s professional life bloomed, his personal life began to stagger, with insecurities leading to marital infidelities and perilous addiction. These are aspects of Valero’s life that still spark controversy: following a brief, successful theatrical run, the Venezuelan Government removed the film from theaters. El Inca tells of an exhilarating rise, a tragic fall, and the riveting displays of athletic mastery in between.

Venezuela
Biopic
Ignacio Castillo Cottin, Ada Hernández
Nathalie Sar-Shalom
2016
128

7

Broche de Oro: Comienzos

Raúl Marchand Sánchez

Find out how the naughty trio of Rafael, Pablo and Anselmo became best friends in this hilarious and touching prequel to Puerto Rico’s box office smash hit, Broche de Oro. Rafael (Jacobo Morales) reluctantly accepts to be sent to a nursing home by his son after his wife’s death. There he meets Pablo (Diego de la Texera), a man with delusions of being a Don Juan, and hypochondriac Anselmo (a riotous turn from Adrián García). With the help of a trio of women nicknamed “The Greeks” (Charytín Goyco, Georgina Borri y Noelia Crespo), they liven up what would otherwise be a routinary existence. The rare prequel that works as a stand-alone story, Broche de Oro: Beginnings far surpasses the original in its wit and poignancy.

Puerto Rico
Comedy
Raúl Marchand Sánchez
Frances Lausell, Joe Ramos
2017
87

8

La novia del desierto

Cecilia Atán, Valeria Pivato

Paulina García (Gloria, Little Men) delivers another warm and sympathetic performance in Cecilia Atán’s and Valeria Pivato’s feature debut. García plays Teresa, a woman who has worked all her life as a live-in maid for a Buenos Aires family who is left adrift after the family sells their house. On her way to a new job in a distant town, Teresa loses her bags with all her belongings. She searches for them with the help of traveling salesman El Gringo and ends up finding love and her own potential.

Chile, Argentina
Drama
2017
78

9

Atrás hay relámpagos

Julio Hernández Cordón

Nothing gives best friends Sole and Ana greater pleasure than riding their BMX bikes all over the city and executing stunts with them with friends Frank, Gato and Lou. Sole’s and Ana’s friendship is put to the test when both girls find some old cars and a body in Sole’s grandmother’s garden. Julio Hernández Cordón’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed I Promise You Anarchy is another powerful verité-like portrait of carefree, alienated youth.

Costa Rica
Drama
Julio Hernández Cordón
Adriana Alvarez, Natalia Arias, Julio Hernández Cordón, Amaya Izquierdo
2017
87

10

En algún lugar

Tadeo Garcia

Social worker Abel and auto mechanic Diego have waited for too long to fall in love with the right partner; not even Diego’s undocumented status can stop a relationship that was meant to be. But when word reaches Diego that his mother is dying, Abel resolves to be his partner in the truest sense of the word, accompanying him back to Mexico even though Diego will not be guaranteed re-entry to the country. What starts as a tender love story turns into a harrowing tale as both try to figure a way to cross back.

United States
Drama
Tadeo Garcia
Michael J. Sanow, Aric Jackson
2017
112

11

Murder in the Woods

Luis Iga

Danny Trejo stars in this slasher tale written by Chicago writer Yelyna Leon and directed by Mexican filmmaker Luis Iga about a group of Latino teens who, in the grand tradition of the Friday the 13th series, decide to spend a weekend in a mysterious cabin in the woods. Unbeknownst to them, the cabin was the site of an apparent murder-suicide more than a decade ago and soon things, and bodies, begin to go bump in the night.

United States
Horror
Yelyna De Leon
2017
88

12

American Curious

Gabylu Lara

Jordan Belfi (Grey’s Anatomy, Entourage), Ana Claudia Talancón and Isela Vega star in this romantic comedy about a Chicago-based stand-up comedian, David Green, who finds out that the Mexican biological mother he never knew has passed away and left him a restaurant in Mexico City. David travels to Mexico where, with the help of Sol, the restaurant’s chef, he embarks on a journey in search of his roots and the secret recipe for a soup created by his mother.

Mexico
Romantic Comedy, Comedy
Ricardo Aguado, Gabylu Lara
Monica Vargas Celis, Leonardo Zimbrón
2017
85