The end of the summer is near which means that fall festival season is just around the corner. Prepare yourself for ecstatic critical reviews, glitzy red carpet photo-ops, and plenty of Oscar buzz in the coming months. And, as always, the Toronto International Film Festival leads the way with an enviable roster of films that’ll have us all craving a trip up North.
With films starring the likes of Salma Hayek, Gael García Bernal, Michelle Rodriguez, and Diego Luna, and directed by lauded filmmakers like Alfonso Cuarón, Ciro Guerra, Pablo Trapero, and Sebastián Lelio among others, this year’s TIFF has plenty of US Latino and Latin American talent both in front and behind the camera. We’ve gathered them all up below. Consider it your very own Latino guide to the Canadian festival.
Pájaros de verano
Set in Colombia in the 1970s, right when the demand for marijuana is set to explode, Ciro Guerra’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent ditches the black and white aesthetic of his previous film for the colorful world of the Guajira desert. Yet again, though, he’s set his sights (alongside co-director and producer Cristina Gallego) on a story about the way Colombian history intersects with its indigenous population. Birds of Passage follows an Wayuu indigenous family who takes a leading role in the budding new drug trade, and discovers the perks of wealth and power, but with a violent and tragic downside.
Monsters and Men
One night, in front of a bodega in Brooklyn’s Bed–Stuy neighborhood, Manny Ortega (Anthony Ramos) witnesses a white police officer wrongfully gun down a neighborhood street hustler, and Manny films the incident on his phone. Now he’s faced with a dilemma: release the video and bring unwanted exposure to himself and his family, or keep the video private and be complicit in the injustice? This is the feature film debut of African-American and Puerto Rican director Reinaldo Marcus Green.
Based on the true story of Carlos Eduardo Robledo Puch (aka “El ángel de la muerte”), Luis Ortega’s film tells the story of the most famous serial killer in Argentina’s history. El ángel kicks off the story when Carlitos (Lorenzo Ferro) meets Ramon at his new school. Wanting to impress his new friend, Carlitos will begin the path that’ll make him a thief and a murderer. With his baby face and his blond curls, the young killer became a celebrity when his exploits (which included over 40 thefts and 11 homicides) were exposed and he was captured.
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.
Eve (Gabriela Cartol) works long hours as a maid at a luxurious hotel in Mexico City. A young, single mother who travels far to get to her place of work, Eve has aspirations for the future and hopes that her diligence will get her a coveted spot as the cleaner on an executive floor. She enrolls in the hotel’s adult education program in her quest for a better life but quickly discovers that it’s not necessarily the most hard-working who get noticed for advancement. The Chambermaid, Lila Avilés’s striking debut, employs a quasi-documentary approach as it accompanies Eve on her daily routine. She quietly enters one indistinguishable guest room after another and we are struck by the intimacy behind the act of cleaning a stranger’s mess. The disparity between the guests and those working at the hotel — who often do not have hot water in their own homes — accurately reflects the reality in many Latin American countries.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Tish (KiKi Layne) is only 19 but she’s been forced to grow up fast. She’s pregnant by Fonny, the man she loves. But Fonny is going to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. As the film begins, Tish must break the news to her family, and his. Tish’s mother, played with heartbreaking depth by Regina King, soon must decide how far she will go to secure her daughter’s future. As Fonny, Toronto’s own Stephan James gives a career-best performance of both grit and grace as a young man deeply in love but furious at what has befallen him. From the Oscar-winning director of Moonlight, this adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel by the same name also stars Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal and Emily Rios.
Devastated with heartbreak, a Los Angeles TV weatherman, Sean (Matt Bomer), has an on-air meltdown in the midst of predicting a heat wave. The station insists he take a sabbatical and his friends urge him to find someone to talk to, but Sean opts to swap self-care for home improvement. From a huddle of men seeking day labour outside the hardware store, Sean hires Ernesto (a brilliantly deadpan Alejandro Patiño) to paint his deck. Their initially straightforward business arrangement rapidly extends to strolling and boating excursions during which Sean tells Ernesto all about himself, despite the fact that the two don’t share a common language. In fact, this affluent, white, gay celebrity and this working class, Mexican father of five don’t appear to have much in common at all. Does Sean want a tradesman or a sounding board? And just how much immersion in Sean’s emotional mire can Ernesto be expected to bear?
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.
Veronica (Viola Davis) lives an idyllic life in Chicago, ensconced in the loving arms of her partner, Rawlins (Liam Neeson), and in their luxurious condo. But Rawlins bought that cushy life robbing people. When a job with his gang goes fatally wrong, Veronica’s life falls to pieces. With a local crime lord (Brian Tyree Henry) and his muscle (Daniel Kaluuya) pressing her to pay Rawlins’s debt, Veronica sees only one option: round up the three other women who’ve slept for years next to these seasoned criminals, and make a plan to win their lives back. Adapted from a 1980s-era British TV series by McQueen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, Widows crackles with intelligence. Veronica and the other three widows (Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, and Elizabeth Debicki) become linked by their money trouble, children, and the men that constrain them. A politician running for office on his family’s dynasty, Tom Mulligan (Colin Farrell) exerts a power both within and beyond the law. The result is a big, twisty, satisfying thriller.
The Hummingbird Project
Jesse Eisenberg and an almost unrecognizable Alexander Skarsgård play cousins Vincent and Anton Zalesky in Academy Award–nominated director Kim Nguyen’s The Hummingbird Project. Determined to create a more efficient way of transmitting information between stock exchanges, the cousins scheme to lay fibre-optic cable from Kansas City to New York, gaining them and their clients crucial seconds in order to trounce their competitors. Vincent — the force behind the scheme — is a frantic dreamer who pursues his ideas with zealot-like intensity while promising everyone the moon. Anton is the brains, a socially awkward data wiz with few friends besides Vincent. Both end up in the crosshairs of their ruthless former employer Eva Torres (Salma Hayek), a Wall Street lion willing to devour anyone unlucky enough to get in her way. Unfortunately, Anton hasn’t entirely figured out how to make the cable connection fast enough to warrant the expense. As time runs out, Vincent’s claims of grandeur get progressively wilder.
The Kindergarten Teacher
Stuck in Staten Island, married to a kind but oblivious husband, and living with kids that mostly ignore her, 40-year-old Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) plods through her days teaching kindergarten with growing numbness. Her one source of joy is an evening poetry class across the bay in Lower Manhattan. But one day everything changes—Lisa discovers that a five-year-old boy in her class may be the poet she can only dream of being. She becomes fascinated. Could this child be a prodigy? A Mozart? Fascination turns to obsession as Lisa pushes boundaries to protect the boy from a banal life she knows too well. In a harrowing climax, Lisa risks her career, her family, and her freedom to nurture his genius and possibly tap into her own. The pic also stars Rosa Salazar and Gael García Bernal.
Based on his own film Gloria (which starred Chilean actress Paulina García) the award-winning director Sebastián Lelio tackles Gloria Bell with new leading lady Julianne Moore. Gloria adores her adult children (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius), but she’s interested in being more than a grandmother. She loves to spend her evenings dancing in singles clubs, hoping to meet Mr. Right. It all seems to be falling into place when she meets the recently divorced Arnold (John Turturro), who falls for her bright smile and sees the beauty behind her oversized glasses. But Arnold’s ex-wife and grown-up daughters have an unhealthy hold on him, and it seems he doesn’t know how to let go of the past – or his incessantly ringing mobile phone. Drawing dazzling energy from his new cast and locations, Lelio follows Gloria as she navigates midlife romance and figures out what she truly wants.
Sisters Mia (Gusman) and Eugenia (Bejo) have spent much of their adult lives living on different continents, yet they retain a rare, almost disconcerting, intimacy. When their father suffers a stroke and slips into a coma, Eugenia leaves her Paris home and returns to La Quietud, the family finca in rural Argentina where Mia still resides with their mother, Esmeralda (La Ciénaga‘s inimitable Graciela Borges). The alarm caused by their father’s affliction is alleviated by the announcement that Eugenia is pregnant, yet tensions shadow the reunion nonetheless. Mia and Esmeralda get into heated arguments over seemingly petty matters, family business matters demand attention, and both sisters re-entangle themselves in dormant love affairs. The façade of quietude won’t be sustained. La Quietud chronicles a collision of old grievances and long-held secrets.
Juan and Ester (director Carlos Reygadas and his wife, Natalia López) live on their remote cattle ranch with their children. It’s a very calm, private existence — one they both want to protect. The couple has until now enjoyed an open relationship but when Ester falls in love with an American horse trainer (Phil Burgers) who works in the area, she stops sharing details of her affair with Juan. He begins compulsively spying on his wife. The pain of not being in control forces him to question their relationship and he loses himself in turbid, jealous emotions. It’s fascinating when you realize that the director is effectively filming himself secretly watching his real wife’s affair. Gorgeously shot, the film ruminates on life at the ranch, the joy of seeing the children grow up outside, and the beauty and the mess our lives can so quickly become. Through this raw exploration of a couple at a moment of crisis, Reygadas creates a story that is somehow both quotidian yet epic in scope.
Abby (Olivia Wilde) is a New York graduate student. Her boyfriend, Will (Oscar Isaac), loves her deeply, but the depth of his commitment overwhelms her sometimes. What’s his story? Their circle includes Annette Bening and Mandy Patinkin as parents who have their own stories to live out. And Antonio Banderas and Laia Costa do remarkable work when the action leaps to Spain. As we meet each character, we learn more about their interwoven narratives: between lovers, between children and parents, between America and Europe and even between past and present. Abby studies unreliable narrators in fiction but as she notes in one scene, “Life itself is the ultimate unreliable narrator.”
Barely 20 years old, Dolores Dreier (Lali Espósito), has spent the last two years hiding from the outside world under the ever-watchful eyes of her parents. Dolores suddenly finds herself as the only suspect in her best friend’s murder; she’s the last person to see her alive before her brutal death. Under intrusive media scrutiny, and facing accusations from the general public and the speculation of friends and family, Dolores is feeling hollowed out and drained from the experience. At first reading like a criminal procedural, Gonzalo Tobal’s accomplished second feature Acusada (The Accused) develops into a reflection on the way our society processes true-life crime stories.
Belmonte (Gonzalo Delgado) is preparing for an upcoming exhibition of his work at Montevideo’s National Museum. His paintings are sensual, fantastical, and at times colorful, yet all have a melancholic undertone. A divorced dad, Belmonte has of late been more obsessed with his relationship with his young daughter, Celeste, than with his work, especially as Celeste’s mom is about to have a baby with her new partner.
Lucrecia (Mercedes Morán) and Pedro (Gustavo Garzón), psychoanalysts both, have been together many years. With their two children nearing adulthood, the couple has decided to re-evaluate their marriage and declare themselves separated. Sort of. The family takes a road trip to Florianópolis, the Brazilian island city where Lucrecia and Pedro once enjoyed an idyllic getaway. They rent a cottage from another middle-aged husband and wife who are also, as it happens, on the verge of a split. Between bouts of swimming, eating, drinking, and karaoke, opportunities arise for adults and adolescents alike to find sex or romance or both. As Lucrecia’s birthday approaches, however, these carefree days prompt deeper questions about the roles we play, the love we share, and the possibilities life still offers.
Les routes en février
Still mourning the death of her father, Sarah travels from Montreal to a sleepy village in rural Uruguay to visit her paternal grandmother, Magda. Over a decade ago, Sarah and her parents left Uruguay and never returned. Driven by childhood memories, she hopes to renew her relationship with Magda and with her home country. But as soon as Sarah arrives, a quiet unease forms. Magda doesn’t understand why her son never returned to see her and must now live with the fact that he never will. The tension comes as a surprise to Sarah, who must face the distance between herself, her family, and her country of origin in addition to her grief.
La Flor is the ultimate film fleuve: a decade of production, four actors, three continents, six chapters, 14 hours. A remarkable and mad-capped feat of — and statement about — narrative, Mariano Llinás’ film is a singular achievement in Latin American cinema and one of the year’s most compulsively watchable and exuberantly epic films. A film of interlocking and disparate episodes (with helpful instructions provided onscreen by the filmmaker), La Flor is propelled by the charisma and dexterous talent of its four leads — Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa, and Laura Paredes — who reinvent themselves in each of the film’s chapters, each wonderously realized and taking up a completely different genre and style. They variously play scientists in a mock B-movie about cursed mummies, inhabit the world of pop music in a telenovela-esque melodrama, embody actors playing Canadian Mounties in one of the film’s many meta-diversions, jet set as spies in an international espionage thriller, and more.
Set on the Oaxacan coast, Andrea Bussman’s latest feature is one part mediation on myth and one part avant-garde ghost story. The film’s narrator encounters a number of people, all of them storytellers, who describe a past that refuses to go away. Ghosts and witches abound and almost every location has a secret history. The stories — populated by thieves, grifters, and unwary people who indulge in esoteric affairs — frequently include a handsome man who seduces almost everyone into making deals that invariably end in disappointment. He’s an emblem for our own incurable addiction to narrative and the meaning we want to impose on what we experience.
El viaje extraordinario de Celeste García
A compassionate and candid woman with an endless curiosity for life, Celeste (Maria Isabel Diaz) is a retired and widowed teacher living a tranquil, unadventurous existence in Havana. Her part-time job at the planetarium keeps her busy, but she goes home to a careless adult son who ignores her, and her selfish sister visits only when she is looking for something. One day, the government announces the surprising news that aliens have been living on Earth and that these unusual guests are now returning the favour by inviting humans to their world. Celeste had always thought that her “Russian” neighbour Pauline was eccentric — she now realizes her friend was truly from another planet. While people rush to put their names forward to be selected in an extraterrestrial lottery, Celeste discovers that Pauline has left her a personal invitation. To everyone’s surprise, she agrees to accept.
In the busy streets of San Jose, Costa Rica, a motorcycle courier comes to the realization that things don’t happen out of nowhere. Surrounded by his coworkers and in the midst of big layoffs, Mancha will have to decide between his careless existence on the streets or life on a small island without his bike but in the company of his girlfriend, the only person that seems to understand him.
Tito e os Pássaros
Tito loves helping his scientist dad, Rufus, with his inventions; Tito’s mom, though, always a skeptic, worries that something will go terribly wrong while the two are experimenting. When Rufus’s latest invention, a machine that can understand birds, starts smoking and sparking, Tito is injured and his mom decides that, for Tito’s safety, they should live apart. Years later, people start falling ill and the epidemic begins to spread: the cause, Tito determines, is fear. Recalling his father’s research, Tito knows that the cure must be in understanding birdsong. In order to save others, Tito must resist falling victim to his own fear. Relying on his friends, Sarah and Buiú, he sets out to find his father and complete the research before it’s too late. Created using oil painting, digital drawing, and graphic animation, Tito and the Birds is brought to life through richly textured and vibrant images that add to the storytelling. It’s like every background is its own character.
Tarde para morir joven
It is the summer of 1990. As Chile returns to democracy after 17 years of dictatorship, a small network of previously urban families have decided to return to rural living, constructing their new community at the foot of the Andes. While the adults busy themselves with such essentials as electricity and plumbing, the children run free on a vast playground of woods and rivers. Sixteen-year-old Sofia, meanwhile, struggles with challenges of a more internal nature. Her father is withdrawn, while her mother, a popular musician, is largely absent, though she promises to visit the encampment for its imminent New Year’s Eve celebrations. Clearly adored by Lucas, a sensitive boy her age, Sofia has her sights set on Ignacio, a charismatic young man with a motorbike on which Sofia dreams of being swept off to some place far from this. With its sun-kissed images and magnificent ensemble cast, Too Late to Die Young immerses us in this experiment in communal renewal.
Fleeing gang violence and in fear for his life, 12-year-old Oscar makes the harrowing decision to leave his family and his home in Honduras. Taking only a few belongings in a knapsack and the scribbled phone number for an uncle he’s only met twice, he piles into the back of a truck in hopes of a better life. Oscar’s journey is cut short when he’s spotted by a drone and taken in by border control. From first exposure, his introduction to the United States is both complicated and hostile and things do not improve when he reaches the immigrant detention facility, better known as the icebox. At night, he lies awake shivering under his space blanket, wondering how long it will be before he’ll have his case heard before a judge. Though surrounded by kids in similarly dire circumstances, his isolation is palpable. Based on his award-winning short film of the same name, director Daniel Sawka creates an intimate portrait set in an exposed environment where schoolyard antics play out between barbed wire. At the heart of this story is a child’s innate desire for permanence and human connection in a society where the very concept of home is in constant flux.
Las niñas bien
Sofia (Ilse Salas) and Fernando (Flavio Medina) have it all — money, status, beautiful houses, servants. Fernando has inherited all his wealth, acquired by his father with the help of his uncle Javier. At dinner one night, Javier announces he is stepping aside. There are a few dark clouds on the horizon: their American business associates have backed out of a deal, and the President of Mexico has just appeared on television with ominous news about the economy. Initially, their world remains untroubled. Sofia watches with slight hauteur as two new arrivistes, a young woman and her rather gauche husband, try to enter her social circle. But gradually cracks appear in Sofia and Fernando’s manicured lives, as the social and economic order starts to shift around them. Alejandra Márquez Abella captures all of the interplay with complete assurance. Her film is perfectly cast, beautifully framed, and carefully observed – décor, clothes, setting. Nothing is out of place in this insightful, quasi-tragic look at a time that has many parallels in the present
It begins quietly enough in a Cincinnati library on a winter’s day. Stuart (Emilio Estevez) and Myra (Jena Malone) do their best to manage the daily assortment of knowledge seekers, loiterers, and homeless people who frequent their branch. It’s freezing outside. As closing time draws near, Jackson (The Wire‘s Michael K. Williams) sparks an act of civil disobedience among his fellow library patrons who have nowhere to sleep. They refuse to leave, defying first the entreaties of the library staff, then a local political operative (Christian Slater), and soon a team of riot police led by Detective Ramstead (Alec Baldwin), a hard-charging crisis negotiator. Outside, a TV reporter (Gabrielle Union) juices up the story for the wider world. Jacob Vargas (Sons of Anarchy, Selena) plays the role of Ernesto. With this terrific cast, Emilio Estevez’s film lays out the conflicts between rights and responsibilities, empathy, and authority.
A Star is Born
Hollywood’s most enduring story of love and ambition gets a glorious reinvention in Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born. Drawing deep on the pleasures audiences previously discovered in the 1937, 1954, and 1976 versions, Cooper brings the narrative right up to the present. He takes on the role of the fame-weary star himself and, for the ingénue with megawatt potential, he crafts a perfect big-screen role for Lady Gaga. Joining the two A-listers are Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliot, and Anthony Ramos, who plays Ally’s (Gaga) best friend.