“The festival is critical to bringing awareness to cinema from around the world.” That’s director Martin Scorsese talking about the New York Film Festival, whose 57th edition will be premiering his latest feature The Irishman. Joining him are a number of thrilling global titles. The Big Apple fest can always be counted on to have one or two Latin American films and this year is no exception. Moreover, with a spy thriller about Cubans and Cuban Americans in Miami, a documentary about theater programs in Calipatria State maximum-security facility and an Italian doc tracing the history of post-Allende Chilean exiles, there is no shortage of U.S. Latino and Latin American fare coming from directors as varied as Olivier Assayas, Tim Robbins, and Nanni Moretti.
If you’re planning what to watch at this year’s festival, take a look at our exhaustive (if decidedly short) list of all things Latino and Latin American taking over the Upper West Side in the coming weeks.
New York Film Festival runs September 27 – October 11, 2019.
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.
Así habló el cambista
In the mid-1970s, the South American economy drew many crooks and scoundrels to Uruguay. Institutions were bankrupt. The government was run by the military junta. Subversives were shipped to prison. As the Brazilian and Argentine economies bore great risk and eventually bottomed out with currency devaluations, Uruguay seemed like an ideal place to make money disappear. Here, in Montevideo in 1975, we encounter Federico Veiroj’s strangely sympathetic, oddball protagonist, Humberto Brause (Daniel Hendler), who furiously throws himself into the buying and selling of currency, a rapacious endeavor supported by his father-in-law, a veteran in the business of capital flight. It’s not long before Humberto is consumed by his outsized ambition and compulsive drive, trampling over everything and everyone in his path — except his unflappable, tough-as-nails wife, Gudrun (Dolores Fonzi). When he finally assumes the direction of the family business, Humberto accepts a suspicious assignment: laundering the largest sum of money he’s ever seen.
45 Seconds of Laughter
A selected group of incarcerated men at the Calipatria State maximum-security facility have convened for a highly unlikely workshop. In prison they normally segregate themselves by gang or by race, but here they are all mixed together, sitting in a circle. Over the course of several recurring meetings, the men, many of whom have been imprisoned for serious crimes, will take part in a series of acting exercises that enhance bonding and emotional connection, each session closing with the participants bursting into 45 seconds of unbridled, cleansing laughter. The entire endeavor—part of The Prison Project, a remarkable program conducted by the L.A. theater troupe The Actors’ Gang that has proven to cut down recidivism rates—will climax in a final performance inspired by the Commedia dell’arte tradition. In his contemplative, pared down, and wildly engaging documentary, Dead Man Walking director Tim Robbins—who also appears in the film, taking part in the workshop—captures these extraordinary sessions, and introduces us to the individuals fearlessly investigating their own performative natures and the masculine social roles they play.
In the early seventies, the world was watching as Chile democratically elected Socialist leader Salvador Allende. His political ideals and aspirations—among them providing education for all children and distributing land to the nation’s workers—terrified the country’s right-wing, as well as the U.S., who helped orchestrate a military coup that replaced him with dictator Augusto Pinochet. This tragic history has been well documented, but Italian director Nanni Moretti (Caro Diario, Ecce Bombo) adds an angle many viewers may not know about: the efforts of the Italian Embassy to save and relocate citizens targeted by the fascist regime. Told through the testimonies of those who were there, Santiago, Italia is a chilling depiction of living under junta rule and an ultimately inspiring expression of hope amidst dire circumstances.
Born to Be
Soon after New York state passed a 2015 law that health insurance should cover transgender-related care and services, Brazilian director Tania Cypriano and producer Michelle Hayashi began bringing their cameras behind the scenes at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, where this remarkable documentary captures the emotional and physical journey of surgical transitioning. Lending equal narrative weight to the experiences of the center’s groundbreaking surgeon Dr. Jess Ting and those of his diverse group of patients, Born to Be perfectly balances compassionate personal storytelling and fly-on-the-wall vérité. It’s a film of astonishing access—most importantly into the lives, joys, and fears of the people at its center. Among its cast is Bronx native Leiomy Maldonado, an acclaimed dancer and choreographer from New York City’s ballroom scene.
Tracking the paths of several Cuban dissidents from the ’90s on, Wasp Network sheds light on events of enormous consequence to the way we think about terror, the drug trade, and international relations. It also features a stunning ensemble of international stars, including Edgar Ramírez, Oscar winner Penélope Cruz, and Gael García Bernal. In December 1990, airline pilot René González (Ramírez) steals a plane and flees Cuba, which is about to topple into an economic crisis precipitated by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Having abandoned his wife (Cruz) and daughter, René (now based in Miami), he’s regarded as a coward and a traitor, though in letters home he explains that he is fighting for a more just and prosperous Cuba as a member of the activist organization Brothers to the Rescue. Along with fellow exile and pilot Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura), René gradually becomes more aware of the moral compromises the Brothers make to do their work, and the degree to which the CIA is involved in supporting anti-Castro activities.
Winner of the Best Director Award at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival, Los Olvidados is considered one of the most important films of all time for its unapologetically gritty, neo-realist take on the life of delinquent Mexico City street kids. Also worthy of note is its potent mixture of realism with oneiric sequences drawing from Luis Buñuel’s surrealist background.