Film

From Dance Battles to Superheroes: 10 Must-See Latino Movies at Palm Springs International Film Festival

Lead Photo: 'Somos calentura' still courtesy of Epic Pictures
'Somos calentura' still courtesy of Epic Pictures

There is, perhaps, no better way to spend one’s days in the desert landscape that is Palm Springs than in a pool. But if you must come up with alternate plans to weather the dry heat, a movie theater works just as well. Especially when you have a chance to catch one of the over 200 films from 78 countries that make up the annual Palm Springs International Film Festival. Now in its 30th year and with a roster that includes high-profile projects starring the likes of Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Rami Malek, and Julianne Moore, the 2019 edition of the fest proves why it’s one of the biggest film festivals in North America.

In addition to its slew of screenings, the fest is also known for its Film Awards Gala. The starry event celebrates the best of the year in film. For its 2019 edition, Palm Springs will welcome, among others, Alfonso Cuarón (recipient of the Sonny Bono Visionary Award, Roma), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Ensemble Performance Award, Mary Poppins Returns) and Regina King (Chairman’s Award, If Beale Street Could Talk).

So if you’re itching to find solace in a nearby movie theater and are in need of some helpful suggestions, find below our top picks for this year’s fest. Whether you’re in the mood to catch some art documentaries, see some of Latin America’s most-talked about LGBT films, or simply enjoy a thrilling US Latino film about a Chicano superhero, the Palm Springs International Film Festival has you covered.

Palm Springs Film Festival runs January 3-13, 2019.

Perfectos desconocidos

Manolo Caro

With an openly rebellious teen daughter and careers that have grown stale, plastic surgeon Antonio and his psychologist wife Eva know that their marriage has seen better days. Hoping to take a small break from the tedium, the couple invite their closest friends – passionate pair Ana and Mario; stressed-out parents Ernesto and Flora; and Pepe, whose mysterious new girlfriend always seems to be too busy to meet the gang – to a dinner party to watch the lunar eclipse. But when Eva suggests placing their smartphones on the table to prove no one is hiding anything from their partner, their little parlor game slowly takes the party into a tense, unsteady place. As the moon grows blood red, the crowd spills its secrets and couples reach their breaking point in this smart, juicy, and delirious new comedy from director Manolo Caro, creator of Netflix’s The House of Flowers.

Mexico
Filippo Bologna, Paolo Costella
Manolo Caro, Miguel Mier, Rodrigo Sebastian Gonzalez, Maria Jose Cordova, Rafael Ley
2018
104

Botero

Don Millar

Generally acknowledged as the world’s most popular living artist, the paintings and sculptures of Fernando Botero grace major institutions, private collections, and public spaces all around the globe, and yet little is known about the notoriously private artist himself. This comprehensive, beautifully photographed documentary delves deeply into the dramatic events that shaped Botero’s character, groundbreaking vision, and ambitions. Using numerous interviews with family, art experts, and some skeptics, the filmmakers traveled to 10 cities around the world, showcasing the relationship between the artist and his vast international fan base. Most compelling, however, are the insights into his process and his search for grace in a tumultuous world. Smart, vivacious, and elegant, Botero will satisfy any fan of this remarkable artist and undoubtedly earn him numerous new ones.

Monaco, China, Italy, Canada, Colombia, France, United States
Documentary
Don Millar, Hart Snider
Eric Hogan, Joe Tucker
2018
84

Home + Away

Matt Ogens

Many of the students who attend Bowie High School in El Paso, Texas, have an unusual commute to school: over the bridge and across the border that separates their school from their homes in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. For many of these students, sports represent one possible route to a better life: Erik, a soccer player, dreams of playing professionally; Shyanne, one of the school’s best wrestlers, sees the Army as a way to get to college but begins to rethink her course in the current political climate; and Francisco, a hard throwing pitcher and third baseman whose father isn’t allowed into the United States, plays each game with that absence in the back of his mind. Matt Ogens’ observational documentary Home + Away follows each of these students as they navigate academics and athletic competition, while also contending with language barriers, a school in need of greater funding, and familial strife, during the their final years at Bowie.

United States
Documentary
Nathaniel Greene, Todd Makurath, Luke Ricci, Matt Ogens, Nina Chaudry
2018
83

Roma

Alfonso Cuarón

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) works as a live-in maid and nanny for an upper-middle-class family in Mexico City’s Roma district. When the family patriarch departs for an unusually protracted business trip, his wife Sofia (Marina de Tavira) is left at home. Inhabiting a role somewhere between family member and employee, Cleo helps Sofia and the kids through a period of difficulty, just as she is dumped by her self-absorbed boyfriend when he discovers she is pregnant. As both women face the possibility of single motherhood, it’s obvious that their disparate levels of social status will differently impact their possible futures. Roma subtly explores these ethnic and class divisions with a potent sense of emotional intimacy and historical acuteness.

Mexico
Drama
Alfonso Cuarón
Gabriela Rodriguez, Alfonso Cuaron, Nicolás Celis
2018
135

Museo

Alonso Ruizpalacios

Set in 1985, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ follow-up to Güeros stars Gael García Bernal as part of a group of criminals who break into the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City to extract 140 pre-Hispanic pieces from their showcases. While based on the real life heist that shocked the art world back in the 80s, Ruizpalacios has made it clear he’s taken some artistic license, going beyond mere changing the names of those involved to evoke something closer to what Terence Malick achieved with Badlands in terms of a film that’s both real and fictional at the same time.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Mexico
Crime, Drama
Manuel Alcalá, alonso ruizpalacios
Manuel Alcalá, Alberto Muffelmann, Ramiro Ruiz, Gerardo Gatica
2018
90

Las herederas

Marcelo Martinessi

Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) are a middle aged lesbian couple living in present day Asunción, Paraguay. Descendants of Paraguayan aristocracy, the women have enjoyed a silver spoon lifestyle together for thirty years. When the couple is abruptly hit by financial hardship, they scramble to find work and auction off their respective heirlooms—silver spoons included—to stay afloat. When Chiquita is imprisoned for her fraudulent side hustle, Chela begins working as a taxi driver, gradually building new relationships and autonomy for the first time in her life. Each caged—one by a gutted lovenest, the other by razor wire—an irremediable distance grows between the two women. Set in writer-director Marcelo Martinessi’s hometown, The Heiresses embraces minimal dialogue, a twilight palette, and unconventional beauty to tell a melancholy yet satisfying story of new beginnings.

Norway, Paraguay, Germany, Uruguay, France, Brazil
Drama
Marcelo Martinessi
Sebastián Peña Escobar, Marcelo Martinessi
2018
98

Carlos Almaraz: Playing With Fire

Elsa Flores Almaraz, Richard Montoya

This stunning documentary explores the brief, rich, and contradictory life of the artist Carlos Almaraz: a Chicano activist, sexual outlaw, and visionary painter whose images of his longtime home of Los Angeles are as iconic as those of David Hockney and Edward Ruscha. Almaraz was just 48 when he died of complications of AIDS, but he packed many lifetimes of accomplishments into those intense years. In the 1960s, Almaraz lost himself in New York, exploring the outer limits of his homoerotic desires and nearly drinking himself to death. After returning to L.A. in the 1970s, he reinvented himself as an activist Chicano artist, working alongside Cesar Chavez and joining the heralded artist collective Los Four. In his final transformation, as a married man and father, Almaraz turned to more personal, visionary art; his canvases exploded with color and a near mystical energy. Playing With Fire is an intimate portrait that pays tribute to Almaraz’s genius without glossing over his demons and contradictions.

United States
Richard Montoya
Mark Roberts
2018
71

El Chicano

Ben Hernandez Bray

Growing up in East LA, twin brothers Diego and Pedro (Raúl Castillo) always knew they had each other, from goofing off on bikes to spying in on parties. As adults, Diego became a police officer looking out for the streets he used to play on, while Pedro turned to a life of crime. When clues start connecting Pedro’s death to a case Diego is working on, the mysterious vigilante figure of their youth—“El Chicano”—returns, drawing Diego in deeper than he ever expected. Director Ben Hernandez Bray puts his skills with action and authenticity to good use, balancing adrenaline-filled beats with moments of emotional connection. Writers Bray and Joe Carnahan offer up a socio-political allegory within the framework of the superhero genre, taking advantage of audience’s familiarity with what they see in the movies and what they see in the news.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjsA5Wq3UWo

United States
Crime, Drama
Joe Carnahan, Ben Hernandez Bray
Joe Carnahan, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Frank Grillo
2018
142

Somos calentura

Jorge Navas

Once a bustling center of international trade, the Colombian port city of Buenaventura has long since fallen on hard times. The docks have grown quiet, residents hustle to make ends meet, and the drug trade is king, giving Buenaventura the designation of being the nation’s deadliest city. For lifelong friends Harvey, Freddy, Baby and Caleñito, opportunities to get ahead are few and far between, but when their dance crew Buenaventura Mon Amour hits the stage, they are undisputed kings. But after Harvey’s desperate attempt to improve the lives of his young family ends in disaster, he soon feels the pull of quick money as a courier for dangerous local drug kingpin Ribok. When a major dance competition comes to town, with its badly needed cash prize, Harvey and the crew must navigate between the pull of the streets and the power of dance in this fresh, exciting film — with jaw-dropping dance battles that have to be seen to be believed — from director Jorge Navas.

Colombia
Steven Grisales, Diego Vivanco
Steven Grisales
2018
104

Tinta bruta

Filipe Matzembacher, Marcio Reolon

Online, Pedro smears neon paint across his body for pay-per-view voyeurs hungry for his webcam erotica. IRL, he rarely sees the sun or speaks to another soul in Porto Alegre. After catching word of a rival ripping off his rainbow-colored act, he ventures from the shadows to settle their score — but finds an unlikely new friend in the process. This Berlinale Teddy Award winner conjures a dark, sensual atmosphere of alienation and discovery.

Brazil
Drama
Filipe Matzembacher, Marcio Reolon
Filipe Matzembacher, Marcio Reolon
2018
118