Film

From Deported Veterans to Grieving Siblings: 7 Must-See Latino Movies at AFI Fest

Lead Photo: Courtesy of TIFF
Courtesy of TIFF
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With a program that includes 142 titles (with 80 features among them), of which 51% are directed by women, this year’s AFI Fest will be repping 52 countries amid a roster of films featuring the likes of Sônia Braga, Anthony Hopkins, Samuel L. Jackson and recent Oscar winner Olivia Colman. Billed as a world-class event showcasing the best films from across the globe to audiences in Los Angeles, the eight-day festival presents not just screenings but panels and conversations featuring both master filmmakers and new voices.

Here’s a fest where you can get a preview screening of the new season of The Crown alongside a documentary about deported veterans and a black-and-white drama in Spanish and Quechua. And as if that alone wasn’t exciting enough, AFI Summit, which will happen concurrently, will also include a conversation between Eva Longoria and Stacy Smith, founder of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, about the alarming lack of representation of Latinos in film both behind and in front of the camera — and address a solutions-driven path forward.

In case you need some guidance in deciding what to catch during the starry fest, take a look at these ace US Latino and Latin American projects below, all of which deserve to be seen on the biggest screen you can find.

AFI Fest runs November 14 – 21, 2019.

1

The Two Popes

Fernando Meirelles

The Catholic Church’s papacy is a singular institution, with unique demands placed on the men who would see themselves elevated to it. This decade saw one of the Church’s most important moments of transition, but news reports can fail in the face of such enormous, complex change. The Two Popes takes us beyond TV images of smoke rising from the Vatican chimney into the hearts, minds, and actions of those charged with leading over a billion faithful. Directed by Brazil’s Oscar-nominated Fernando Meirelles (City of God), and starring two acting legends in Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, this insightful story ushers us behind gilded doors to watch the once and future Popes grapple with faith and religious leadership in a rapidly changing world. The year is 2013. Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) could not be a less conventional candidate for the papacy. Dodging pomp at every turn, he prefers walking or biking to limousines. He likes to tango and watch soccer with ordinary people. In an amusing early scene, we hear him whistling “Dancing Queen” in the Vatican men’s room. Most importantly, he believes it is the church’s obligation to respond to the shifting needs of its followers — which makes him the opposite of Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins), who regards any change as a perilous compromise to the church’s integrity. Nevertheless, Benedict realizes that momentum is building for Bergoglio to succeed him, so the two men meet, break bread, and engage in a debate that reveals much about their respective pasts and divergent visions for the future.

Italy, United Kingdom, Argentina, United States
Drama
Anthony McCarten
Dan Lin, Jonathan Eirich, Tracey Seaward
2019
125

2

Bacurau

Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho

Bacurau is a wild, weird, and politically charged revisionist Western. Set in the near future, the film follows Teresa (Bárbara Colen), who comes home to Bacurau, a village in Brazil’s semiarid sertão, to attend her mother’s funeral. Upon her arrival, Teresa immediately observes signs that Bacurau is in dire straits. Basic amenities are in short supply, cellphone coverage is fading, and the truck that brings potable water arrives riddled with bullet holes. It soon becomes apparent that the government has forsaken the village completely. Not only has Bacurau been literally erased from the map, but its citizens have also been sold as prey for a safari of bloodthirsty foreign hunters. Their leader is played by cult-cinema legend Udo Kier. As the killers close in, the villagers prepare a formidable organized resistance, with a locally sourced psychotropic drug as their secret weapon.

Brazil
Western
Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho
Saïd Ben Saïd, Michel Merkt, Emilie Lesclaux
2019
132

3

Ready for War

Andrew Renzi

Thousands of immigrants in the United States enlist in the military, expecting an expedited path to citizenship. But the reality is more complicated. After fulfilling their service, thousands are estimated to have been deported. (The enforcement agency known as ICE won’t divulge the exact number.) Something even more sinister awaits on the other side of the border, where drug cartels convert the U.S.-trained soldiers into mercenaries. Ready for War profiles three veterans living different stages of this lethal cycle. Miguel Perez grew up in Chicago and did two tours of duty in Afghanistan, where he suffered a traumatic brain injury. Back in the U.S., he was arrested for a nonviolent drug charge and deported away from his parents and children in Chicago to Mexico, where he has no support. Hector Barajas suffered a similar fate. The former U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Specialist was deported in 2004 and dedicates himself to running the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana. Lastly, there is the masked “El Vet,” a soldier ejected by the U.S. whose strongest job prospect was to become a killer for the cartels. Director Andrew Renzi and producer Nick Boak embed themselves into the lives of these veterans and their families. We also meet the community of lawyers, activists, and politicians struggling to find justice. At a time when U.S. deportations have become ubiquitous and desensitizing, Ready for War has the power to bring a fresh perspective.

United States
Documentary
Jason Shrier, Anthony Gonzalez, Nick Boak, Kerstin Emhoff, Andrew Renzi
2019
90

4

Los sonámbulos

Paula Hernández

Tracking the tandem voyages of a mother and daughter into charged emotional terrain, the latest from Argentine director Paula Hernández examines the ways desire and expectation clash when familial pressures push women to their limits. Luisa (Érica Rivas) has conceded to yet another summer holiday at her husband’s family cottage, but she worries about their daughter, Ana (Ornella D’elía), whom she’s discovered sleepwalking naked in their home. Smart, beautiful, and increasingly moody, Ana is in the throes of puberty but looks older — enough to draw the attention of her flirtatious cousin Alejo (Rafael Federman). While Ana negotiates the space between herself and Alejo, Luisa struggles to find sufficient breathing room in her marriage. She projects an air of contentment, but inside she’s yearning for change. With three generations of extended family surrounding them, both Luisa and Ana search for private spaces where they can reorient themselves. Neither wants to make a scene, but they also don’t want to feel as though they’re passing through life unconsciously. As secrets are exposed and the demands on them fail to relent, Luisa and Ana will each be forced to fully vent their frustrations.

Uruguay, Argentina
Drama
Paula Hernández
Paula Hernández, Juan Pablo Miller
2019
107

5

Maternal

Maura Delpero

Teenage mothers, Lu and Fati, live in a Catholic residence called Hogar in Buenos Aires with their children. Fati is pregnant with her second child after being raped and can’t go back home. One day Lu leaves the shelter to live with her boyfriend, abandoning her young daughter, Nina. When Sister Paola arrives to take her final vows, she is tasked with caring for Nina, bringing up her unresolved feelings of joy towards motherhood as she grows attached to the girl. The three women’s outlooks on the maternal experience transform as their lives intertwine in their protective, yet isolated, home. Known for her nonfiction filmmaking, director Maura Delpero brings her stylistic approach to the drama, creating a contemplative, striking and complex portrait of womanhood and love.

Italy
Maura Delpero
Gregorio Paonessa, Alessandro Amato, Luigi Chimienti, Marta Donzelli, Nicolás Avruj, Diego Lerman
2019
91

6

Canción sin nombre

Melina Léon

Inspired by actual events in 1988 Peru, Georgina is a 20-year-old indigenous woman whose newborn is kidnapped in a child-trafficking scheme where itinerant medical centers recruit impoverished pregnant women on the promise of cost-free childbirth services. Discouraged after repeated attempts to engage the police, Georgina persuades a journalist to investigate, bring the kidnappers to justice and return the children to their parents. For each, personal crises overshadow a heightening economic and political upheaval. An astoundingly assured debut from Melina León, Canción sin nombre is photographed by Tarde para morir jóven’s Inti Briones with meticulously composed black and white cinematography that imparts a richness of texture and a luminescent glow, seeing an exquisite beauty in even the bleakest of realities.

Peru, Chile, Spain, United States
Drama
Melina Léon, Michael J. White
Inti Briones, Melina Léon, Michael J. White
2019
97

7

Los miembros de la familia

Mateo Bendesky

After the death of their mother, siblings Gilda and Lucas reluctantly return to their quiet coastal hometown to scatter her remains in the ocean. After the announcement of a nationwide bus strike, they are unable to make the quick retreat they had hoped for. The two occupy a space heavy with emptiness, memories and regret and, with this sudden and unexpected reunion, they find boredom more readily surmountable than grief and difficult conversations are just out of reach. Passing time until the strike ends, Lucas develops a crush on a local fitness obsessive while Gilda sends nude photos to her boyfriend in Buenos Aires. In this poetic sophomore feature from Argentinian Mateo Bendesky, coming-of-age, sexual awakening and navigating adult relationships with family members becomes a whimsical affair, both frightening and magical.

Argentina
Drama
Mateo Bendesky
Agustina Costa Varsi, Mateo Bendesky, Diego Dubcovsky
2019
85