Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the San Diego Latino Film Festival is pulling out all the stops. In addition to screening some (actually a lot) of the best Latin American films of the past year that have been making the festival rounds, the fest will feature daily concerts as part of their Sonido Latino 2018 program, the fourth annual Primavera Fashion Show, and the third annual Sabor Latino – Food, Beer and Wine Festival. Which is to say: film lovers are welcome, but there is definitely something for everyone at this 10-day event.
With over 160 films, we know it’s hard to find what to watch. So consider the following titles, our top picks for the fest. Oh, and while we’ve left them out know that the fest is also hosting several anniversary screenings. So if you missed Bajo la misma luna, Y tu mamá también, Cronos or Mosquita y Mari back when they were released, now’s your chance to see them on the big screen, where they belong.
San Diego Latino Film Festival runs March 15-25, 2018.
Argentina’s contradictory prostitution laws — which declare prostitution legal but running a brothel illegal — force many women to the street, placing them in precarious situations. Anahí Berneri’s latest feature, Alanis, portrays three days in the life of a young mother and sex worker who suffers the hypocrisy of the laws that are supposed to protect her. Alanis (Sofía Gala Castaglione) lives with her son Dante (Dante Della Paolera) and an older co-worker in a comfortable apartment where she gets help with her baby while attending to clients. When two inspectors posing as clients break into their apartment, arresting Alanis’ friend, Alanis finds herself on the street, destitute, without even a diaper for Dante. She seeks help from an aunt who offers her and Dante shelter despite disapproving of Alanis’ line of work. But finding clients in the neighborhood is dangerous, as the streets belong to very territorial Dominican workers.
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.
Camino a Marte
Emilia escapes from a hospital to travel through Baja California with her friend Violeta. She’s been getting treatment for a while and it’s clear this may well be her final chance to enjoy her life to the fullest—and truly, nothing is quite as life-affirming as the landscapes and vistas in this Baja road trip. On their way, the two free-spirited best friends stumble onto a man claiming to have come from another planet. As a powerful storm threatens to make landfall and cause utter destruction, this inscrutable young man (played by Club de Cuervos‘ Luis Gerardo Mendez) keeps saying he’s come to Earth in order to witness the end of humanity. Emilia and Violeta think he is crazy, or perhaps just disoriented, but something makes them slowly start to believe him. And soon, concepts of love (which he decries) and humanity start seeming to be more weighted the more this end of the world nonsense starts to feel more real.
This long-awaited adaptation of Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1956 classic of Latin American modernism transports us to a remote corner of 18th-century South America, where a servant of the Spanish crown slowly loses his grip on reality. Written and directed by Lucrecia Martel, the Argentine auteur behind The Holy Girl and The Headless Woman, Zama is that rarest of creative feats: a perfect coupling of literary source material and cinematic sensibility. Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) leads a suspended existence as a sort of upper-tier government clerk in what is now Paraguay. He has not seen his wife and children in years. His relationships with his fellow Europeans are strained due to competition and confusion, while his interactions with the settlement’s Black and Indigenous servants are addled by desire and hostility. Zama’s entire sense of purpose is tied up in the promise that he will soon be delivered to his rightful position in faraway Buenos Aires, but the waiting seems endless. As time passes, Zama’s paranoia and capacity for violence burgeons — while his circumstances become only more precarious.
Matar a Jesús
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.
Donaire y Esplendor
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.
Las hijas de Abril
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.
Fawzia Mirza plays Zaynab, a Pakistani Muslim lawyer who finds inspiration in Lucha Libre wrestling and romance with Alma (Sari Sanchez), the sassy, confident Mexican-American woman who’s winning her heart. Zaynab’s newfound passions challenge her soap-opera—loving mother’s expectations of finding her a husband. This multicultural film’s exploration of relationships, cultural exchanges, and the mother-daughter dynamic will enthrall.
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.
First-time filmmaker Marcelo Caetano gracefully weaves a warm, sensual tale that captures the charm of young working people and the beauty of the changing sexual landscape in Brazil. Carefree Elias works at a textile factory, juggling long shifts with animated nights out and no-strings sexual encounters. As he tries to discern where his future might lead him, Elias learns to take pleasure in the small things in life.
Vietnam, Puerto Rico
As Puerto Rico falls deeper and deeper into an unprecedented crisis, this is Vietnam’s story, a community or barrio located on the coast of Guaynabo fighting an illegal expropriation at the hands of a career politician. Their experience echoes the island’s current struggles with an unparalleled migration, a notion of progress fueled by corruption, crippling economic debt, and displaced poor and middle class families, whose land is being purchased by millionaires.
Amigos del tren
Marcelo, a Bolivian man living in Mexico, dedicates his life to helping migrants from Central America who are traveling North riding on freight trains. Every day he brings food and clothes to the train tracks together with Lucero, a Mexican woman, and Mia, from Bolivia. The three of them are the Amigos del Tren. De aquí somos Film Showcase.
En el séptimo día
Acclaimed director Jim McKay’s first film in over a decade is this timely, compassionate, often humorous look at life in New York as an undocumented Mexican immigrant. José works long hours making bicycle deliveries for a restaurant in Carroll Gardens and spends his days off on the soccer fields of Sunset Park. When his team makes it to the championship, José suddenly finds himself forced to choose between his job and his loyalty to his team. Shot on the streets of Brooklyn, McKay’s film vividly captures the everyday struggles and camaraderie that binds a community together in this universally relevant story of fortitude and dignity.
Based on the story of undefeated two-time World Boxing Champion Edwin Valero, El Inca is a powerhouse biographical drama about talent and charisma, love and ambition, excess and self-destruction. Valero, aka “El Inca,” rose from humble Andean roots to international celebrity by defeating one rival after another — he set a world record by winning his first 18 fights with a first-round knockout. But as Valero’s professional life bloomed, his personal life began to stagger, with insecurities leading to marital infidelities and perilous addiction. These are aspects of Valero’s life that still spark controversy: following a brief, successful theatrical run, the Venezuelan Government removed the film from theaters. El Inca tells of an exhilarating rise, a tragic fall, and the riveting displays of athletic mastery in between.
Gabriel e a montanha
Before entering a prestigious American university, Gabriel Buchmann decides to travel the world for one year, his backpack full of dreams. After ten months on the road, he arrives in Kenya determined to explore the African continent, until he reaches the top of Mount Mulanje, Malawi, his last destination.