The 2015 edition of the Cannes Film Festival just wrapped up last weekend. Amongst the red carpets faux pas (no high heels, no service), fancy gowns, and high profile sales — the Latin American pics premiering at the fest got mostly rave reviews and picked up some of the festival’s most important prizes along the way.
Chilean documentarian Marcia Tambutti took home the L’Oeil d’Or prize for Best Documentary for Allende mi abuelo Allende; Santiago Mitre’s second film, La patota, earned him the Critics’ Week prize; and the big winner was Colombia’s La tierra y la sombra with four awards including the Caméra d’Or for Best First Film. Also from Colombia, Ciro Guerra’s El abrazo de la serpiente was awarded the Best Film prize at Directors’ Fortnight. For a complete list of prizes won by Latino filmmakers look here.
Check out the trailers for these 2015 Cannes-premiering films below and keep an eye out for them to (hopefully) hit theaters sometime soon.
Plus, we have an added bonus: the trailer for El Ardor starring Gael Garcia Bernal — after a glamorous premiere at Cannes in 2014, it’s set for a July theatrical release.
Allende mi abuelo Allende
Filmmakers love making documentaries about their families. And who wouldn’t be happy to show the world all the quirks and goofy idiosyncrasies of your gente, plunge into the dark secrets of generations past, or simply turn a camera on your loved ones and let them tell their own stories? But while all of this is no doubt cinematic gold, you’ve got to admit that some families are slightly more extraordinary than others — at least according to the historical record. Like, say, if your grandfather were one of the most important socialist leaders of the 20th century whose mandate was tragically cut short when he killed himself during a CIA-backed military coup.
As the granddaughter of Chilean ex-president Salvador Allende, that’s exactly the situation that first-time director Marcia Tambutti Allende found herself in, and her debut documentary, Allende mi abuelo Allende (Beyond My Grandfather Allende), uses the medium to confront her family’s life-long silence around her abue’s legacy both as a politician and family man. Reminiscent of Natalia Almada’s own essay doc about her despotic great grandfather, El General, Tambutti’s feature seems to stick more to the personal rather than delving into El Chicho’s social and political legacy.
Formally, Allende is structured around a series of interventions, interviews, and archival materials that Tambutti uses to explore the nature of her family’s prolonged silence, and how it relates to the traumatic loss of their patriarch. Along the way, the director reconstructs a personal history of a man who for many is a little more than an idealistic political icon, or an image of resistance in a country still recovering from decades of brutal dictatorship.
But Allende is not a film about Chile, it is a film about silence, trauma, and family taboos, and a document of one family’s therapeutic process of rediscovery. It just so happens the man in question was one of the most important figures in twentieth century Latin American political history.
Allende mi abuelo Allende premiered as part of Director’s Fortnight, Cannes’ non-competitive parallel showcase.
With only two features under his belt, it seems Argentine director Santiago Mitre has dedicated his short career to exploring the distance between idealism and reality. In his critically lauded 2011 debut, El Estudiante, he showed us a naive student politician from the University of Buenos Aires quickly going the way of just about every other politician in the world as his accidental vocation descends into a cynical jockeying for power.
Now his latest feature, La Patota (Paulina), which premiered at the Critics’ Week parallel competition at Cannes, provides a sort of thematic sequel as it follows a bourgeois college graduate from the capital who puts off grad school to teach underprivileged youth in the country’s poor northeast provinces. Soon after arrival, our goodhearted heroine is brutally raped by a group of her own students, and La Patota undertakes an often discomfiting exploration of the aftermath of sexual trauma in which the eponymous Paulina shocks her friends and family by ultimately deciding not to press charges.
Visually Mitre continues with the raw, documentary-style aesthetic that gave El Estudiante its distinctive look, letting a well-crafted screenplay and stellar performances drive along the film, while the handheld cinematography creates a understated, yet disquieting atmosphere. In the short trailer we can appreciate how Mitre and Director of Photography Gustavo Biazzi take full advantage of the region’s lush green vegetation and reddish earth, and composer Nicolás Varchausky’s ambient score effectively creates a sense of tension and looming danger. In the end, Mitre seems to give us a stark, unadorned portrait of a difficult and perennially relevant topic.
Any film nerd knows that for years Argentina has been a perennial force on the international film festival circuit, and if we are to judge by the young career of Santiago Mitre, it won’t be going anywhere soon.
La tierra y la sombra
While Hollywood has seemingly embarked on an endless love affair with flying superheroes, many festival-oriented international art films have gotten slow. Real slow. And that’s fine. I mean, who doesn’t like to trip out to a chilled-out, ambient track from time to time between dembow binges? Sure, anyone who’s spent some time cruising the festival circuit knows that some of these films seem hell-bent on trying your patience, but there is a certain formula that can make it work: pristine, sensitively framed cinematography, and a lush, evocative audio track. It only makes sense that as traditional devices like plot and character development recede into the background, a film’s sensory experience becomes increasingly central. So it’s gotta be done just right.
In that sense, Colombia’s La tierra y la sombra (Land and Shade) seems to have hit the mark. The film’s paper-thin plot finds an aging farmer returning home to Colombia’s cane-harvesting Caribbean region to care for his ill son–the fields are constantly being burned and the young man has developed an acute lung disease that has made it impossible for him to continue working. Meantime, a secondary plot about labor unrest in the cane fields adds a socio-political dimension to director César Augusto Acevedo’s directorial debut. But, again, all of this is secondary to the film’s patient meditation on faces, landscapes, and the buzzes and chirps that punctuate the thick air of the country’s tropical lowlands.
The trailer gives a good sense of the painterly perfection of La tierra y la sombra‘s cinematography, as well as the authentic, worn faces of the non-professional actors that populate the film’s cast. In all, we’re faced with a soulful slice-of-life from the Colombian countryside driven along by the wistful crooning of Julio Jaramillo’s “Amor se escribe con llanto” and packed to the brim with symbolic imagery evoking themes of death and redemption.
The film premiered last week as part of the Cannes Fest’s Director’s Fortnight, and will doubtless be running a few victory laps through international festivals before general distribution. Keep a look out for this one; just make sure you get in a strong cup of coffee before watching. It’ll be worth it.
El abrazo de la serpiente
Any self-respecting film nerd knows that a movie about the colonization of the Amazon will inevitably find itself held up against Werner Herzog’s 1972 masterpiece Aguirre, the Wrath of God. The German director’s peculiar do or die guerrilla spirit, along with Klaus Kinski’s operatic turn as a megalomaniacal madman in search of a city of gold have made the film an essential point of reference for filmmakers and cinephiles alike (not to mention all the tasty chisme surrounding the production, complete with gunshots and death threats.) But one thing is glaringly absent from Herzog’s parable of European colonization, greed, and the delusional thirst for power: the perspective of the indigenous people who quietly carry the expedition supplies through the rugged jungle terrain, or who menacingly stalk the would-be conquerers from beyond the river’s edge.
So, when critically-acclaimed Colombian director Ciro Guerra was inspired to explore the peculiar culture and history of his country’s sparsely populated Vaupés department, in the Amazon jungle’s northwest fringes, he decided to take Herzog’s legacy head-on. El abrazo de la serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent), which premiered at Cannes’ parallel competition Directors’ Fortnight, follows two scientists and explorers — one American, the other German — as they penetrate deep into the Colombian Amazon, meeting up along the way with a solitary indigenous man who claims to be the last of his tribe.
In a recent interview Guerra admitted that, much like his fellow countrymen, he knew very little about the Amazonian region of Colombia when he set out to make this film, despite the fact that it occupies a huge swath of the national territory. His desire to explore the region’s history in film led him to discover the true story of Richard Evan Schultes and Theodor Koch-Grunburg, the two previously mentioned adventurers, which ultimately laid the foundation for El abrazo de la serpiente.
But unlike Herzog’s Eurocentric vision, the indigenous experience is front and center in Guerra’s feature, a fact we can appreciate in the film’s action-packed black-and-white trailer. Set against the expansive backdrops of the Amazonian lowlands, Guerra captures the natural beauty of the rainforest through impeccable, naturally-lit camera work, as we watch the two explorers immerse themselves into the world of indigenous spirituality. Things come to a head when Spanish monks and rapacious rubber tappers begin to encroach on the native’s way of life, and peaceful coexistence gives way to violence and destruction.
With El abrazo de la serpiente it seems Guerra understands that it’s one thing to show the messianic madness of European conquerers, but an entirely different thing to show the real effects their conquests had on the original inhabitants of the Americas.
Gael García Bernal playing an indigenous Amazonian shaman might sound a little far-fetched — and it is — but apparently that wasn’t enough to stop Argentine director Pablo Fendrik from casting him in his South American take on the Western genre (could we call it a Southern?), El Ardor (The Burning), which premiered out of competition at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and will finally reach U.S. theaters this summer. In the film, GGB plays Kaí, a mysterious jungle-dweller who makes it his mission to rescue a family of tobacco farmers from a group of mercenaries who are hell-bent on taking over their land. Along the way he falls in love with the landowner’s daughter Vania, played by Alicia Braga, and after a few steamy love scenes embarks on a violent quest for justice.
It’s an age old story of justice by the sword (or firearm, rather) and a gunslinging homage to the great Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in the West) that was doubtless made with the international box office in mind. The trailer shows off the film’s tasteful cinematography and high production value, complete with Hollywood-style aerial shots and massive conflagrations that suggest an above-average budget by Argentine standards. And as with any good Spaghetti Western, we are treated to a feast of cocked rifles, intense stares, and breathtaking landscapes, along with a few new additions like molotov cocktails and mystical jaguars.
The Western may be the U.S.’ authentic homegrown genre, but its stories of bloody violence in a land without law point to something so universal to the human condition that you can trade out the stark desert landscapes for dense, green rainforest; the American English for Argentine Spanish, and the vengeance still tastes just as sweet.
El Ardor opens in theaters on July 17, 2015.