Latin American cinephiles had good reason to be freaked out after the 2015 Cannes Film Festival’s official press conference a few weeks back. After being dominated by Latin American films for going on half a decade, the venerable festival revealed that there would be only one Latin American feature in their entire 2015 competition. Pérate. There must be some kinda of mistake here. And indeed, there kind of was. By the end of the week the festival had tacked a few more films from the region on to their Official Competition and the secondary Un Certain Regard competition, leaving the global film nerds relieved, if not a bit confused.
When subsequent announcements for parallel competitions like Director’s Fortnight and Critics Week threw a few more features in the mix from Argentina, Colombia, and Chile the universe seemed to once again be properly aligned, and unsurprisingly, the films have done exceptionally well with international criticism, picking up some of the festival’s most important prizes along the way.
So, in case you weren’t jaunting around the French Riviera last week with an all access pass, here’s a roundup of reviews from this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
*Spoiler Alert: They (mostly) liked ’em.
Director: Michel Franco
A hospice nurse played by Tim Roth accompanies several patients in their dying moments as he wrestles with the traumatic loss of his own son and the rift it created within his family.
“Compared with Franco’s understandably divisive past work, in which the line between sympathy and sadism is far more ambiguous, ‘Chronic’ represents a straightforwardly sensitive portrayal of a subject with many intriguing moral dimensions to consider.”
El abrazo de la serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent)
Director: Ciro Guerra
Country: Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina
Based on historical events, two scientists and explorers — one American, the other German —penetrate deep into the Colombian Amazon, meeting up along the way with a solitary indigenous man who claims to be the last of his tribe. As they delve deeper into the mysterious world of the indigenous Amazonians, the explorers encounter rubber tappers, messianic Catholic monks, and other signs of imminent destruction.
“If the film runs a tad too long, especially in its second half, Embrace of the Serpent is still an absorbing account of indigenous tribes facing up to colonial incursions, revealing how Westerners are in many ways far behind the native peoples they conquer.”
La Patota (Paulina)
Director: Santiago Mitre
Country: Argentina, Brazil, France
A bourgeois college graduate from the capital puts off grad school to teach underprivileged youth in the country’s poor northeast provinces. Soon after her arrival, our goodhearted heroine is brutally raped by a group of her own students, and La Patota undertakes an often discomfiting exploration of the aftermath of sexual trauma in which the eponymous Paulina shocks her friends and family by ultimately deciding not to press charges.
“Driven by a powerfully internalized performance from Dolores Fonzi as the title character, Paulina eschews straightforward answers in favor of questioning observation… This is a tough film, easier to admire than fully embrace, but its seriousness of purpose and disdain for banal melodrama make it quite arresting.”
Las Elegidas (The Chosen Ones)
Director: David Pablos
The film follows the story of adolescent Ulises, whose sincere love for his girlfriend Sofía is complicated when his father forces him to join the family business. As Ulises reluctantly enters the sordid world of human trafficking and forced prostitution alongside his older brother, he is compelled to exploit his deep bond with Sofía in order to make her his first victim.
“This is a handsomely shot feature about an important topic that starts off strong but that, like the director’s debut feature, The Life After, becomes less engaging as it enters its final reels.”
Director: Jorge Luis Rugeles
Country: Colombia, Argentina
An adolescent guerrillera trudges through the dense Colombian jungle, charged with the mission of transporting the secret newborn child of her commander out of the war zone and into safety. Along the way she must hide her own pregnancy to avoid a forced abortion at the hands of her insurgent army.
“Its unusual angle on the ongoing war in Colombia is certainly worthy of attention, but the filmmaker’s tendency to pare back his narrative to its barest essentials makes it very hard to identify with anyone, with all of the characters despondent archetypes rather than real people.”
Allende mi abuelo Allende (Beyond My Grandfather Allende)
Director: Marcia Tambutti Allende
Country: Chile, Mexico
The granddaughter of Chilean ex-president Salvador Allende confronts her family’s life-long silence around her abuelo’s legacy both as a politician and family man. Allende is structured around a series of interventions, interviews, and archival materials that Tambutti uses to explore the nature of her family’s prolonged silence, and how it relates to the traumatic loss of their patriarch.
“We see and hear plenty of the director, but she comes across more like a nosy child than an eloquent narrator, making it hard to imagine non-festival audiences being patient enough to wade through what feels like an overly invasive home video.”
La tierra y la sombra (Land and Shade)
Director: César Augusto Acevedo
Country: Colombia, France, Netherlands
An aging farmer returns home to Colombia’s cane-harvesting Caribbean region to care for his ill son — the fields are constantly being burned and the young man has developed an acute lung disease that has made it impossible for him to continue working. Meanwhile, a secondary plot about labor unrest in the cane fields adds a socio-political dimension to César Augusto Acevedo’s directorial debut.