Film

From Cuban Skaters to Colombian Animation: Must-See Latin American Movies at Miami Film Festival

Lead Photo: 'Matar a Jesus' still courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
'Matar a Jesus' still courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
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Listen, if you’re in Florida, you need a really good excuse to not spend all day soaking up the sun. Thankfully, the Miami Film Festival is as perfect a reason to head indoors while you’re in the Sunshine state as any other. With programs that celebrate the work of local and Latino filmmakers, as well as plenty of parties, culinary events and marquee titles that cater to the city’s bustling nightlife, the 35th edition of the MFF is once again gunning for the title of hippest (shh, don’t tell SXSW) film fest around.

Opening the festival is Jason Reitman’s Tully, which reunites him with his Young Adult collaborators writer Diablo Cody and actress Charlize Theron. Elsewhere, there’ll be tributes to French icon Isabelle Huppert and Spain’s Carlos Saura — and even an entire day dedicated to Argentine star Dolores Fonzi (Paulina, Truman, Plata quemada). While we highly recommend browsing through the entire MFF program to see what strikes your fancy, we’ve chosen a dozen titles that you shouldn’t miss. From Colombian animated family flicks and Mexican projects starring Club de Cuervos’ Luis Gerardo Méndez to docs on Nuyorican basketball players and Cuban skaters, this year’s fest is full of gems ready to be discovered.

The Miami Film Festival runs March 9-18, 2018.

La cordillera

Santiago Mitre

Returning to the political realm after his briskly-paced 2011 debut The Student, Santiago Mitre’s timely third feature, The Summit, explores behind-the-scenes facets of political power and the solitary aspects of the presidential office. Hernán Blanco (an impeccably nuanced performance by Ricardo Darín) faces his first presidential challenge at a South American summit aimed at creating an oil-trade pact for the region. Matters are complicated by backstage family issues that threaten to erode Blanco’s everyman veneer.

France, Spain, Argentina
Drama
Santiago Mitre, Mariano Llinás
Eduardo Castro, Didar Domehri, Agustina Llambi-Campbell, Simón de Santiago, Fernando Bovaira, Fernando Brom, Leticia Cristi, Axel Kuschevatzky, Matías Mosteirín, Hugo Sigman
2017
114

Matar a Jesús

Laura Mora Ortega

Set in Medellin, this pulse-pounding thriller follows a young girl’s attempts to find the sicarios behind her father’s murder. When the local police proves unhelpful she takes matters into her own hands once she spots the guy on a motorcycle who’d shot her father – who’s a teacher and lawyer. Her intent is to enter his world and getting a hold of a gun to enact the revenge she so lusts for. Drawing from director’s Laura Mora Ortega’s own life (like her protagonist, Mora Ortega’s father was killed and she eventually got to face the guy responsible), Matar a Jesus breathes new life into the kind of violence-ridden Medellin stories arthouse audiences are used to, pausing on the moral ambiguity of her characters’ actions instead.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Colombia
Drama
Laura Mora Ortega, Alonso Torres
Diego F. Ramírez, Maja Zimmermann, Juan Pablo García, Alex Zito, Ignacio Rey
2017
95

Sergio & Serguéi

Ernesto Daranas Serrano

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992 had profound repercussions for the state of Cuba — the USSR had been the small island nation’s main economic supporter. It had more personal ramifications for Soviet cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, who was forced to stay in orbit an extra four months while his country went through a bewildering transformation. Intertwining fictionalized personal experiences with historical facts, Cuban filmmaker Ernesto Daranas Serrano’s comedic third feature is a thoughtful, poignant reflection on big events and their effects on ordinary lives. Avid amateur radio operator Sergio (Tomás Cao) is barely able to provide for his mother and young daughter on his meager university professor’s salary. One evening, as he is testing a new radio, he stumbles upon a channel that communicates directly with the Mir space station. Aboard the station, lonely astronaut Sergei (Serguéi in Spanish, played by Héctor Noas) orbits the earth all alone because the funding to bring him back home has run out. These two men, marginalized in their respective ways and mocked by history, develop a friendship that will have profound consequences.

Cuba, Spain
Comedy
Ernesto Daranas Serrano, Marta Daranas Serrano
Joel Ortega, Jaume Roures, Ramón Samada
2017
93

Tiempo Compartido

Sebastián Hofmann

Pedro and Eva arrive at the Vistamar mega-resort to “heal” their lives. Settling into a private villa with their young son, they’re surprised to find another family at the door; a clerical mistake has left them double-booked. The families make do, attending the resort’s time-share seminar and enjoying its pools and activities, and they are catered to by the staff of “leisure experts,” including Andres and Gloria, an estranged, middle-aged couple. While Gloria advances her career, Andres toils in a laundry job, dubious of the resort’s new corporate ownership. As Pedro becomes paranoid that his family is being pried away from him, he and Andres band together to expose the sinister forces at work in the tropical paradise. The film stars Luis Gerardo Méndez (Club de Cuervos), RJ Mitte, Miguel Rodarte, Cassandra Ciangherotti, Montserrat Maranon, and Andrés Almeida.

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

Netherlands, Mexico
Drama
Sebastián Hofmann, Julio Chavezmontes
Julio Chavezmontes
2017
96

Las hijas de Abril

Michel Franco

A chilling examination of maternal instincts taken to extremes, the latest from Mexican writer-director Michel Franco (After Lucía) stars Spanish actress Emma Suárez as a woman whose fierce passion and cunning seem drawn equally from Greek tragedy and film noir. Seventeen years old and seven months pregnant, Valeria (Ana Valeria Becerril) appears beatific and content, living with her sister, Clara (Joanna Larequi), in a Puerto Vallarta bungalow and making plans for the future with her boyfriend, Mateo (Enrique Arrizon). Valeria had no plans to inform her estranged mother of her pregnancy, but after a call from Clara, April (Suárez) swoops in to offer abundant support. April is charming, youthful, energetic, and resourceful: an ideal grandmother. Once Valeria’s child is born, however, April’s take-charge attitude assumes terrifying hues.

Mexico
Drama
Michel Franco
Moisés Zonana, Lorenzo Vigas, Michel Franco
2017
103

Cocote

Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias

Dominican filmmaker Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias presents a layered, abstract portrait of his home island in his latest film, Cocote. Using a crime as a starting point, de los Santos Arias explores the lurking violence, corruption, class conflicts, and many opposing cultures and world views co-existing in contemporary Dominican Republic while evoking the avant-garde sensibility of Glauber Rocha. Evangelical Christian Alberto works as a gardener on a wealthy estate in Santo Domingo. When his father is murdered, he returns to the countryside of his childhood for the funeral. There, Alberto clashes with his sister, whose very different beliefs — those practiced by the lower classes on the island, a holdover from pre-colonial times — triggers a tense homecoming. Compounding Alberto’s anxieties, his family expects him to avenge his father’s death.

Qatar, Dominican Republic, Germany, Argentina
Drama
Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias
Fernando Santos Diaz, Lukas Rinner, Christoph Friedel
2017
106

Temporada de caza

Natalia Garagiola

Following his mother’s death, troubled teenager Nahuel (Lautaro Bettoni) spins his grief into acts of fiery aggression—acts that force him to swap his Buenos Aires home for the desolate Patagonian farm belonging to his father Ernesto (German Palacios) and his new family. The situation makes for chilly tensions that only time—and a willingness to truly connect—can thaw. Winner of the Venice Critics’ Week Audience Award, Natalia Garagiola’s feature debut exudes emotional intelligence, particularly with regards to prickly masculine codes. The film benefits enormously from Garagiola’s close attention to her actors: Bettoni’s Nahuel roils with the inner torment of adolescence, while Palacios movingly uncovers the vulnerability underneath Ernesto’s taciturn comportment. Hunting Season may have a gruff exterior, but it’ll hit you in the heart.

Qatar, Germany, France, Argentina, United States
Drama
Natalia Garagiola
Gonzalo Tobal, Matías Roveda, Santiago Gallelli, Benjamin Domenech
2017
105

Amigo Skate, Cuba

Vanesa Wilkey-Escobar

Skateboarding is as much a passion as a leisure activity—but to skate in Cuba requires a level of ardor, we Americans know nothing about. Vanesa Wilkey-Escobar’s debut documentary tracks a transnational effort led by Miami’s own Rene Lecour, founder of Amigo Skate, to get Cuban skaters the gear and space they need. The journey is uphill: the only current skate-park in Havana is built on a drainage ditch and the Cuban government is reluctant to recognize skateboarding—an American invention—as a valid sport. What’s more, negotiating with government officials demands a demonstrative respect for authority that can feel antithetical to those whose credo is founded in skate culture’s outlaw mentality. Filled with thrilling sequences of skate virtuosity, Amigo Skate, Cuba presents a fascinating case of cooperation overcoming culture clash—and a universal portrait of freedom on four little wheels.

United States
Documentary
Vanesa Wilkey-Escobar
Chris Wedding and Vanesa Wilkey- Escobar
2018
72

Latinegras: The Journey of Self-Love Through an AfroLatina Lens

Omilani Alarcón

“Identity is a journey.” This first-person documentary follows Miami-based artist, scholar and filmmaker Omilani Alarcón’s on journey of self-actualization through history and heritage in both her native Puerto Rico and the continental US. Filled with candid, lively interviews with women of both Latin American and African descent, Latinegras offers empowerment through knowledge and solidarity. Drawing inspiration from icons like Celia Cruz and Afro-Peruvian poet Victoria Santa Cruz, Alarcón examines the slow but steady evolution of latinegra representation in popular culture, while reminding us of the dark legacy of slavery and the problematic etymologies of terms like “mulatto” or “Creole.” Latinegras is a celebration of cultural complexity and the importance self-love, prompting each of us to look deep into ourselves and discover what it is that makes beautiful.

United States
Documentary
2018
55

El libro de Lila

Marcela Rincón

The border that divides storybooks from everyday life dissolves in Colombian writer-director Marcela Rincón González’s marvelous animated adventure about a very special girl trying to find her way home. Lila is a character from a children’s book who accidentally winds up caught in the world of her readers. The only person who can help Lila return to her rightful place is Ramón, the book’s owner, but he’s grown up now, has stopped reading and, most problematic of all, has lost his sense of wonder. Lila and her new pal Manuela are determined to convince Ramón of Lila’s plight, but in order to retrieve Lila’s book they must traverse the treacherous Desert of Lost Memories. Lila’s Book is a tale of faith, memory and mystery, moving between worlds to discover the beauty of friendship and the comforts of coming home.

Uruguay, Colombia
Fantasy, Animation
Marcela Rincón
Maritza Rincón
2017
76

Donaire y Esplendor

Arturo Montenegro

A joyously irreverent rom-com that plunges us headlong into the collective madness of Carnaval, this second feature from Panamanian writer-director Arturo Montenegro (The Cheque) might be thought of as Romeo & Juliet with fireworks, plumage and some seriously ribald humor. The devastatingly handsome Esplendor and the irrepressibly adorable Donaire (social-media megastars Patrick Vollert and Gaby Garrido) first meet at the airport, having just returned from their respective journeys abroad. Denizens of Las Tablas, he lives on Calle Arriba, she on Calle Abajo, a geographical detail that pits their families in hostile opposition. But Carnaval is coming, elaborate celebrations are being organized, monarchs will be crowned, and such wild festivities have a way of sprouting romance in the most unlikely circumstances.

Panama
Romantic Comedy
Arturo Montenegro
Dilva Barriga
2017
96

Nuyorican Básquet

Julio César Torres, Ricardo Olivero Lora

A celebration of cultural confluences on and off the court, Nuyorican Básquet chronicles the dramatic story of the Puerto Rican national basketball team’s participation in the 1979 Pan American Games. Boasting a totally unique approach to the game, the Puerto Rican team had the curious distinction of being composed largely of players born in New York City, which generated questions about the nature of diasporic identity. Regardless of their birthplace, these ferociously talented nuyoricans became a source of fascination and pride for Puerto Rico during a time of high political tensions. Shifting energetically between new interviews with athletes and experts and fantastic archival materials showing off the team’s dazzling technique and teamwork, Nuyorican Básquet is a thrilling, colorful testament to the ability of sports to dissolve boundaries and a loving homage to that magical Puerto Rico-NYC alchemy.

Puerto Rico
Sports, Documentary
Julio César Torres, Ricardo Olivero Lora
Freddie Marrero Alfonso
2017
108

Make Love Great Again

Aaron Agrasanchez

Mexican-born director Aaron Agrasanchez’s second feature is a pointed comedy about transnational lovers in a dangerous time. Set in Miami during the Trump ascendancy, Make Love Great Again pits adorable newlyweds Chris and Natalie against a pair of unduly suspicious federal agents charged with approving the verity of their marriage. Chris is American, Natalie’s a Mexican in the US on a student visa; their nuptials can grant her that coveted permanent residency—but only if their love story seems credible. Darting between fun and tumultuous flashbacks and the unnerving weirdness of Chris and Natalie being interrogated about their intimacy, Make Love Great Again is about how sometimes you need to lie in order to tell the truth—and how, with a little luck and tenacity, love trumps all.

United States
Romance, Drama
Shane Kinsler
Shane Kinsler, Eduardo Prado, Alex Agrasanchez, Tom Musca, Jay Hemrajani
2017
98

Cuban Food Stories

Asori Soto

Diverse cuisine is rarely counted among the cultural phenomena for which Cuba is celebrated; popular notions of Cuba as a placed defined by deprivation doesn’t help. A richly comprehensive remedy for this misperception, Cuban Food Stories visits every province in the country to sample a culinary legacy grounded in so much more than rice and beans.

Cuba, United States
Asori Soto
Asori Soto
2018
81