From Simon Bolivar to Salseros: 8 Must-See Movies at the Chicago Latino Film Festival

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Every spring in Chicago (well, for the last three decades or so), the Second City gets a taste of Latin American cinema courtesy of the Chicago Latino Film Festival. Moviegoers from all over will brave the April showers for one of the city’s premier film festivals, which has also spawned an accompanying poster contest, music festival, and outdoor film screening series.

The Chicago Latino Film Festival runs from April 9 – 23 and features over 100 feature-length and short films from all over Latin America, as well as the United States, Spain, and Portugal. Presented by the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago, CLFF is now in its 31st year but shows no signs of slowing down in its efforts to bring the best of Latin@ and Latino American-helmed films to local audiences. This year’s program promises a balance of “genre films (thrillers, documentary, dramas, science-fiction, romantic and dark comedies), films that were box-office hits in their respective countries and films that were critically acclaimed in the festival circuit,” according to longtime festival director Pepe Vargas. There are also special segments that highlight women filmmakers, movies about LGBTQ people and the issues they confront, and even films about the twilight years.

The opening night gala, “Night of Venezuela,” will feature a screening of The Liberator, the Simón Bolívar biopic that landed on the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar short list earlier this year. (You should check out our interviews with director Alberto Arvelo and Bolivar portrayer Édgar Ramírez to get primed.) The two-week event will conclude on April 23 with Ciudad Delirio, a Colombia/Spain joint venture by Chus Gutiérrez; this comedy is loaded with fantastic salsa performances (dance and musical), and features a legion of dancers that would rival any Bollywood film.

Now, while it pains us to narrow down our viewings let alone recommendations, we’ve taken a stab at it anyway. Check out our list of must-sees below. Or, if you prefer to fly solo, you can make your picks via the complete festival schedule.


En el último trago

Jack Zagha Kababie

In a film that proves there is life (and even road trips) after 80, three valiant viejitos venture to Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato to carry out their dearly departed friend’s last wish — to donate an original song to the José Alfredo Jiménez Museum. Though they literally ride into the sunset multiple times, the friends actually find a renewed sense of possibility in their travels.

Synopsis By: Danette Chavez
Jack Zagha Kababie, Yossy Zagha Kababie, David Desola
Jack Zagha Kababie


El Codo del Diablo

Ernesto Jara Vargas, Antonio Jara Vargas

On December 19, 1948, five Costa Rican citizens and one Nicaraguan who were members of the local Communist Party were kidnapped by army officials and taken to a river bend — El Codo del Diablo — where they were summarily shot and dumped into the river. El Codo del Diablo approaches the history of the massacre through a variety of techniques, employing reenactments, interviews, and archival materials that are pieced together with a poetic eye and stylistic flair that offer up both a personal and historical vision of the events, and makes the incident more tangible than ever before.

Synopsis By: Andrew S. Vargas
Guatemala, Costa Rica
Ernesto Jara Vargas, Antonio Jara Vargas
Ernesto Jara Vargas, Alejo Crisóstomo


Romance policial

Jorge Durán

Antonio, the protagonist of this 2013 Brazilian-Chilean joint venture, is an aspiring novelist with a bad case of writer’s block. He heads to the famed Atacama Desert in search of inspiration for his next story, but soon finds himself the unwitting villain in a murder-mystery not of his design. Things are further complicated by the arrival of Florence, a woman who might be more mirage than human.

Synopsis By: Danette Chavez

Chile, Brazil
Gisela Camara, Pedro Rossi


Vestido de novia

Marilyn Solaya

For her first narrative film, documentary-maker Marilyn Solaya tells a story rooted in her country’s history: a married couple, Ernesto and Rosa Elena, finds their relationship splintering in the middle of the 1994 Maleconazo Freedom Uprising (or Cuban Resistance Day). It’s a day of reckoning for the country and for Rosa Elena; as her fellow Cubanos take to the streets to protest the overbearing Communist government, Rosa Elena struggles against the constraints of the gender binary.

Synopsis By: Danette Chavez
Cuba, Spain
Marily Solaya
Carlos de la Huerta


Luna de cigarras

Jorge Diaz de Bedoya

Lots of cinematic crime capers end up tagged as “Tarantinoesque,” but as one of Cicada Moon’s characters points out, “Everyone has their style.” He’s actually talking about the Brasiguayo, a drug kingpin in Paraguay who’s not to be trifled with. When he is double-crossed by both an outsider (the “Yankee”) and his right-hand man (Gatillo), a game of cat and mouse ensues, complete with hilarious one-liners, on the streets of Asuncion.

Synopsis By: Danette Chavez
Nathan Christopher Haase, Jorge Diaz de Bedoya
Hector Duarte, Nathan Christopher Haase, Jorge Diaz de Bedoya


Desastres Naturales

Bernardo Quesney

Natural Disasters is a low-budget, over-the-top classroom farce that echoes Chile’s recent student uprisings. A group of high school students is whipped into a revolutionary fervor when their beloved teacher, Raquel, is unexpectedly forced into early retirement. Doors are barricaded, fire extinguishers are discharged and a general state of pandemonium ensues. Featuring a cast of archetypal characters including “The teacher with theatrical inclinations” and “The dictatorial school principal”, it a film both deeply Chilean and broadly universal in its sendup of high school culture.

Synopsis By: Andrew S. Vargas
Bernardo Quesney, Pedro Peirano
Bernardo Quesney, Eugenio Ramírez


The Hand That Feeds

Robin Blotnick, Rachel Lears

The Hand That Feeds is a thought-provoking and relevant film that ought to make viewers think twice about how they spend their money. Amid the Macs, crusty bagels, and caramel lattes on Manhattan’s Upper East Side café scene, a struggle is taking place. Immigrant workers organize themselves to fight a culture of exploitation and mistreatment that gives them zero rights and only slightly more in wages. Due to their undocumented status, they have come up against a brick wall in previous attempts to improve conditions, but this time, their determination builds into a popular movement that draws on the wider community, the courts, and Occupy Wall Street protestors.

Synopsis By: Nick MacWilliam
United States
Patricia Benabe


O lobo atrás da porta

Fernando Coimbra

After a child is abducted three people are questioned at the police station: Sylvia (Fabiula Nascimento) and Bernardo (Milhem Cortaz), the parents of the victim, and Rosa (Leandra Leal) the main suspect of the kidnapping and plus, Bernardo’s mistress. All three of them make contradictory statements and slowly they take us to the darkest desires, lies and perversities of the relationships between these three troubled characters.

Fernando Coimbra
Debora Ivanov, Gabriel Lacerda, Caio Gullane