The reviews are rolling in from the Berlin International Film Festival, and Latin American cinema is once again making waves. From the experimental “Forum” section, to the “Panorama” showcase and, of course, the festival’s prestigious Official Competition, Nuestra América is front and center this year as a hotbed of global cinematic production. With reactions ranging from glowing to lukewarm, here’s what some top critics had to say.
Director: Jayro Bustamante
Country: Guatemala, France
María, a young Mayan girl, is arranged to marry the foreman of a coffee plantation, but instead gives herself to Pepe, a lowly coffee picker with dreams of crossing over to the United States. When she becomes pregnant with Pepe’s child, María’s fantasies of leaving her village life behind are finally realized, but not in the way she imagined.
“What emerges, finally, is a film that gives an urgent, original voice to a people too frequently marginalized in both movies and society at large.”
El Club (The Club)
Director: Pablo Larraín
Returning to the darker, more uncomfortable territory of earlier films like Tony Manero, Larraín’s fifth feature explores life at a sort of clandestine retirement home for scandal-plagued priests, swept under the rug by a church hierarchy intent on avoiding controversy. Things are thrown off balance when a victim of sexual abuse living in the nearby town recognizes a new addition to the club.
“A bold, blunt, yet clinically intelligent film that provokes as much for its dark humor as for its righteous outrage, it’s all at once a gripping thriller, an incendiary social critique and a mordant moral fable.”
La Maldad (Evilness)
Director: Joshua Gil
A 81-year-old man on the outskirts of Mexico City engages in meandering conversations with a friend and makes brief hospital visit, revealing that he is dying of cancer. Things are complicated when he packs a .22 into his bag and heads into Mexico City.
“An experimental narrative whose transfixing aesthetics compensate for an almost nonexistent story, Evilness (La Maldad) marks a promising if enigmatic feature debut from cinematographer turned director Joshua Gil.”
El botón de nácar (The Pearl Button)
Director: Patricio Guzmán
A philosophical essay-film in the vein of Guzmán’s previous doc, Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light), El botón de nácar once again follows Guzmán on a meandering journey through history, science and spirituality as he reflects on indigenous genocide in Chile, the legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship and a vaporous, extraterrestrial nebula that was recently found to hold 120 million times the water in the Earth’s oceans. This time, rather than the desert, Guzmán takes the ocean as his object of contemplation.
“This is a masterful instance of the free-flowing essayistic mode that’s becoming increasingly prevalent in certain types of contemporary documentary. “The Pearl Button” is a vivid, essential portal to understanding not only the heritage of a nation, but also the art of nonfiction cinema.”
600 Millas (600 Miles)
Director: Gabriel Ripstein
This tense, socially-minded thriller follows a pair of low-level gun runners who smuggle weapons across the U.S. border, unaware that they are being tailed by the ATF. When a poorly-planned maneuver by an ATF agent played by Tim Roth goes awry, he finds himself tied up in the back of an SUV and heading deeper and deeper into Mexico.
“Authenticity isn’t enough to seal a narrative that feels too thin in the end, even if strong performances help sustain a contracted 85-min running time.”