From Female Mariachis to Hitchhikers: 7 Must-See Movies at the Mill Valley Film Festival

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Autumn is here, and along with it comes the Mill Valley Film Festival. Organized by the California Film Institute, it is the second largest in the Bay Area, after the San Francisco International Film Festival. From October 2 to 12, more than 100 movies will be shown in San Rafael, Corte Madera, and Mill Valley — all part of Marin County (just north of San Francisco), the place that Sean Penn, Carlos Santana, George Lucas, Metallica, and the recently deceased Robin Williams call home. Now in its 37th year, Spanish-language films have their own section called ¡Viva el cine!, at the MVFF, a showcase of movies from Mexico, Spain, Brazil, and Argentina. Here are our top picks of what to watch. ¡Que viva el cine!


10,000 KM

Long Distance
Director: Carlos Marques-Marcet
Country: Spain
Year: 2014

Alexandra and Sergi live together in Barcelona and they love each other very much. But a job offer for Alex abroad will separate them. Long Distance is the film that Ingmar Bergman would have done in the age of internet. With an impeccable visual style, the first 23 minutes establish the relationship of love and the conflict of separation — masterful minutes of medium shots with the two, long and simple takes. The next hour depicts their long-distance relationship. Through Skype, texting, Facebook or phone calls, the silence and the solitude of a being in front of a computer takes rein, and the relationship gradually decomposes. The film brandishes realistic interpretations of two actors in mostly enclosed spaces and in real time. During the last 20 minutes of the film, when they reunite, the camera gets closer… it is magical. Brilliant debut by Catalan director Carlos Marques-Marcet.


Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados

Living is Easy with Eyes Closed
Director: David Trueba
Country: Spain
Year: 2013

When John Lennon visits Spain to shoot Richard Lester’s film How I Won the War, a teacher who uses Beatles’ lyrics to teach English to children decides to meet him in person. On his way, he picks up hitchhikers, who accompany him on his adventure. Entertaining and fun, it is a feel-good film that takes place in the late 60s, during the last years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship of in Spain, and is full of nods to that historical period. Directed by David Trueba, Living is Easy with Eyes Closed is the Spanish candidate for Best Foreign Language Film this year. In 1994, David’s father Fernando Trueba won Best Foreign Language Film for Belle Epoque, set during the Spanish Civil War.


O lobo atrás da porta

A Wolf at the Door
Director: Fernando Coimbra
Country: Brazil
Year: 2013

A married man has a love affair with a young woman. The affair turns ugly. Based on true events, A Wolf at the Door tells the story of young girl’s kidnapping in Rio de Janeiro. In film noir flashback fashion, the police investigation unravels a ball of passion, half-truths, fear, and desire. A very refined script presents inventive narrative twists — a puzzle of the facts and motivations that slowly build up and keep the viewer’s interest to the end. In the style of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Fatal Attraction, it is an urban noir exquisitely filmed in 16mm by cinematographer Lula Carvalho. Coimbra’s first film, it was awarded at the Miami, Havana, Guadalajara, and San Sebastián film festivals. In the director’s words, “It talks about very basic instincts and very basic emotions that I think every human being has.”


For Those About to Rock: The Story of Rodrigo y Gabriela

Director: Alejandro Franco
Country: Mexico, USA
Year: 2014

The story of the musical duo Rodrigo y Gabriela is like a fairy tale. They began their musical career doing cover songs of Metallica, Megadeth, and Testament in their native Mexico — playing in pizzerias, hotels, and on the street for food and lodge. In 2006, the acoustic guitar duo became an international phenomenon that attracts tens of thousands of people. Their music is difficult to pigeonhole — a mix of rock and classical guitar virtuoso, an instrumental guitar duel that alternates melodic and percussive passages. The documentary, made by music journalist Alejandro Franco, has is not glamorous or extravagant. It is the simple story of two middle-class Mexico City youth that rocked the world and made their dreams come true.


Ciencias naturales

Natural Sciences
Director: Matías Lucchesi
Country: Argentina
Year: 2014

Lila, a teenager who grew up with her mom, feels the need to meet her dad. The girl, rebellious at school, finds in her science teacher an ally for her search. Shot in the municipality of Mina Clavero, west of the province of Cordoba in central Argentina, Natural Sciences is as grim and cold as the landscapes its characters inhabit. But in an honest and simple manner, first time director Matias Lucchesi manages to capture all the warm and strong feelings of the girl. The term “natural sciences” in the title functions as an allegory for the process of transformation the young girl experiences at this juncture of her life. The encounter with her father is shot with great delicacy, the weather-vane that her dad gives her symbolizing the new direction in her life.



Director: Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Country: Spain
Year: 2013

After meeting one night at a party, a guy and a girl decide to spend the night together. The next morning the charm vanishes. Rather than portraying the feelings of the characters and seeking out the empathy of the viewer, Stockholm sticks to its premise and takes an unexpected turn. What begins as a conventional story becomes a nightmare, echoing Michael Haneke’s psychological terror. Driven by agile and fresh dialogue, in real time, and with frontal travelling camera, the film is a tour de force for Aura Garrido and Javier Pereira, its only two actors. It presents two very distinct parts with a polished, unique aesthetic — it goes from warmth and colorful to the pale and cold. Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s first film after working several years in television, it is a very strong debut.


Qué caramba es la vida

Director: Doris Dörrie
Country: Germany
Year: 2014

Enamorados, amantes despechados, cumpleañeros, muertitos… all are serenaded with mariachi music in Mexico. Female mariachis — singing and playing at the Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City, at home with their families, busy with their daily chores — are the protagonists of this documentary. It includes a group of compelling characters who formed the first women’s mariachi group, ‘Las estrellas de México,’ 50 years ago, as well as powerful images of the celebration of Santa Muerte and Day of the Dead in Mexico City. Directed by German filmmaker, producer, and writer Doris Dorrie, it is filmed with the virtue of the distant observer who has earned the trust of her subjects.


The Mill Valley Film Festival runs October 2 – 12. Visit for more info.