The Chicago International Film Festival is in its 50th year, an anniversary that it’s seen fit to celebrate pretty much all year long, with retrospective screenings in theater and on television. Every year, CIFF organizers scour the globe for world-class cinema, and 2014’s offerings are not wanting for talent. Festival films include works from established directors Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu and Liv Ullmann, as well as rising stars like Matías Piñeiro. Latino directors snagged no less than twenty spots, and we’ve put together a list of “must views” for our compadres in Chicago.
Ventos de Agosto
Brazil’s tropical coastline provides the stunning backdrop to documentary director Mascaro’s first dramatic film, which unfurls as a series of revealing accounts in the lives of Shirley and her boyfriend Jeison. When the latter finds a human skull while dive-fishing, it sets in motion a meditative sashay through themes of life and death, most poetically summed up by an elderly man: “Those who die here don’t end up in heaven or hell. They end up in the sea.” It is just one moment that captures the relationship between people and their environment, with the inevitability of death returning us to the elements from which we emerge. A mesmerizing and beautiful portrait of our place in the greater order of things.
There’s no denying that Stockholm is a good-looking movie, from the slick cinematography to the choice of actors (Spanish faves Javier Pereira and Aura Garrido). The lead characters, simply called “He” and “She,” engage in some heavy flirtation and surface-skimming revelations throughout the first act of the film. It’s only after they both appear to have gotten what they wanted that we begin to see who they really are. Some of the narrative choices early on distract rather than compel, but the morning-after sequence is a course correction.
El Patrón, radiografia de un crimen
Documentary maker Sebastián Schindel called on his cinema vérité roots while working on his fiction film debut, The Boss: Anatomy of a Crime. He spent years researching the meat business in Argentina and was inspired by a real-life murder. The resulting drama is not hard to swallow, especially in its examination of the almost feudal relationship between farmhand and landowner.
Tierra en la lengua
Silvio (Jairo Salcedo) is a rural landowner who won’t go gently into that good night—instead, he tries to wrangle his nietos into killing him. He first offers them a substantial inheritance, but when they still refuse, he goes back to doing what he does best various types of abuse. The film delves into the cycle of violence, including the systemic kind seen in counterrevolutionary actions by the Colombian government.
Eco de la montaña
Though his work has traveled from mountain peaks in Mexico to subways in Paris, Santos de la Torre lives in relative obscurity among his native Wixáritari (or Huichol) people. Director Nicolás Echevarría contrasts the spirituality of de la Torre’s work with the more earthly concerns of the modern world barging-not-creeping into the Huichol’s homeland. Echo of the Mountain is a tale as complex as the artist’s intricately beaded murals for which he is best known.
Relocos y repasados
There’s a distinct Cheech and Chong vibe in High Five. It’s a comedy of errors — if you consider doing multiple drugs in lieu of studying for your finals an error. Although college seniors Elias (Joaquin Tome) and Andres (Santiago Quintans) should be studying so they can graduate, they decide to call a few friends over to partake in a huge supply of illegal drugs they find. But when drugs like LSD get thrown into the mix, along with ecstasy, coke, and Special K, anything can happen in this chaotic comedy adventure by first-time feature director/writer Manuel Facal. But real life creeps back in when one student’s grandmother dies.
Hotel Nueva Isla
A retired Cuban civil servant, Jorge, lives in exile (possibly self-imposed) at the once-grand Hotel Nueva Isla. Jorge’s health has deteriorated—its decline mirrored by the hotel’s crumbling structure—but he is braced by the notion of a treasure hunt: he hopes to find valuables left behind by the hotel’s owners, who fled after the revolution. Hotel Nueva Isla is a poignant look at the life of a man trying to hold on to a bygone way of life.
La princesa de Francia
The Princess of France has certainly been making the festival rounds. It’s the latest in Argentino Matías Piñero’s trilogy of Shakespearean updates (or “The Shakepereads”), and borrows the plot of “Love’s Labour Lost.” Though his playwright protagonist Victor is male, it’s the five female characters, women from Victor’s life and his work, who leave the greatest impression.
Domingo, our protagonist, is a simple family man who might strain against the trappings of his average life if he were actually aware of them. One unhappy accident changes everything: he murders his secretary after mistaking her for a burglar. Domingo realizes he feels more guilt over his lack of remorse than for causing her death, and this sends him on a violent, self-destructive path in a desperate attempt to get back to “normal.”
Dólares de arena
The Dominican feature Dólares de arena (Sand Dollars), by husband-wife directing duo Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas, features none other than Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie and a brilliant actress in her own right) as an elderly French tourist who falls in love with a young Dominican woman and makes plans to move her back to France. Not your typical story of tropical romance told through the eyes of a white foreigner, this film is equally interested in exploring the predicament of the young Dominican woman, played by Yanet Mojica, and the shady power dynamics that may be at work.
Pink Noise is a late-in-life love story set against the backdrop of rolling blackouts in Barranquilla, Colombia. Carmen is a hotel receptionist who is teaching herself English in preparation for a dream trip to the United States; Luis is a repairman who doesn’t have many aspirations at all. They’re brought together on a stormy night, when one of the blackouts takes out Carmen’s tape recorder. Before long, their once tentative romance reawakens dormant desires, and they wonder whether they are still equipped to handle let alone pursue them.
Hoje eu quero voltar sozinho
Brazil’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 2015 Academy Awards, this dramatic romance stars Ghilherme Lobo as Leonardo, a blind teenager who wants to study abroad but has one big obstacle, his overprotective mother. When new kid Gabriel shows up at school, drawing the attraction of both he and his best girlfriend, Leonardo’s world is turned upside down. A jubilant portrait of young gay love, this assured debut feature tenderly parses the terrain of growing up different in more ways than one. The film won two major awards at the Berlin International Film Festival this year and has been screened across the world at a number of LGBT film festivals, including L.A. Outfest and the Lesbian and Gay Film Festivals in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto.
Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu helmed this black comedy about a washed up Hollywood actor who tries to launch a comeback via the “legitimate theater.” Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a former action star who once wowed fictional audiences as Birdman. He takes his talents to Broadway in the hopes that he can establish himself as an artist, and not just an actor.