IFF Panamá celebrates its fifth edition on April 7-13, 2016. For a North American film journalist, the undisputed value of an international film festival venued in Latin America resides in the festival's local showcase and—in the case of IFF Panamá—its Ibero American Portal, which boasts a particularly robust and diverse selection this year of both festival favorites and introduced works. What follows are Jose Teodoro's festival capsules enhanced with critical overview, where available.
3 Beauties / 3 Bellezas (2014, dir. Carlos Caridad-Montero, Venezuela)—Venezuelan Carlos Caridad-Montero has directed numerous short films prior to making his feature film debut with 3 Beauties (2014). This is the story of Single Mother Perla (Diana Peñalver), who is determined to transform one of her daughters into a beauty queen, going so far as to enforce food restrictions and offer lessons in bulimia. Whimsical on the surface yet incisive in its details, 3 Beauties dissects our obsession with conventions of feminine poise, provoking us to reconsider what it means to be beautiful. Official site. IMDb. Facebook.
600 Miles / 600 Millas (2015, dir. Gabriel Ripstein, Mexico / USA)—American ATF agent Hank Harris (Oscar® winner Tim Roth) is about to make what should be an easy arrest of two inexperienced arms smugglers. But the miscreants surprise Harris and beat him unconscious, and young Arnulfo (Kristyan Ferrer) makes an impulsive decision to take Harris back to Mexico with him. When Harris regains consciousness and convinces Arnulfo that his decision could prove life-threatening for both of them, the men form a tenuous bond as they realize each must trust the other in order to survive. Sustaining a heady level of tension throughout, director Gabriel Ripstein—son of Mexican maestro Arturo Ripstein, whose Bleak Street is also screening at this year's Festival—handles this taut narrative with a perfect balance of sensation and integrity. 600 Miles is a complex and original border drama, one that reminds us how trouble runs both ways, and builds toward a bold, unexpected finale
600 Miles screened in the Panorama section of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival where it won the award for Best First Feature. It was one of fourteen films shortlisted by Mexico to be their submission for the Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards. On September 17, 2015 it was selected to represent Mexico for the Foreign Language Oscar® but it was not nominated. IMDb. Wikipedia.
At Variety, Peter Debruge notes 600 Miles "serves as a comparable corrective to bombastic Hollywood portrayals of south-of-the-border criminal activity." He praises first-timer Gabriel Ripstein's choice "for a less sensational, true-to-life approach" and contextualizes: "600 Miles tackles an issue that's gotten considerably less exposure in the news for the simple fact that Americans don't seem to care that the corruption and violence so widespread in Mexico today is being carried out with weapons manufactured on U.S. soil." At The Hollywood Reporter, Jordan Mintzer's bottom line is that two-hander 600 Miles is a "well-made gunrunning thriller that doesn't quite ignite" with "plenty of guns but few actual shots fired." Jessica Kiang at Indiewire describes it as "a lean, careful, clever tale of divided loyalties and divided territories in the borderlands of Mexico and the U.S." and "a study in liminality, of places, life-stages and mentalities that are trapped between two states, and afforded the protection and security of neither." Dan Fainaru writes at Screen: "If the script isn't always as neat as one would expect, at least the result is satisfactory, thanks to the authoritative presence of Tim Roth (one of the film's executive producers) as an American federal agent tracking arms traffickers, and of upcoming young talent Kristyan Ferrer as an adolescent apprentice in crime, whose conduct alternates between Travis Bickle braggadocio—when he is alone in front of a mirror—and sniveling terror when he is faced with real life."
Alias María (2015, dir. José Luis Rugeles, Colombia)—María (Karen Torres), a 13-year-old guerrilla soldier, is given a mission to complete along with 3 other soldier-kids: bring the commander's newborn baby to safety in a neighboring town. But nobody knows the secret she is hiding: María is pregnant and having a child is forbidden in the guerrilla. During the mission her secret is revealed and she runs away to avoid being forced to abort. Through María's eyes we experience the devastating results of Colombia's armed conflict: towns ravaged by massacres, peasants trapped in the cross-fire, parents who have lost their children, and kids trying to grow up normally amid the carnage. Thanks to a new instinct born inside her, in José Luis Rugeles' Alias María our protagonist will find the strength to look for a new life. Official site. IMDb. Facebook. Central American Premiere.
Alias Maria screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival where it was respected by the trades for its efforts to expose the plight of child soldiers in Colombia, but criticized for failing to do so in a way that could emotionally resonate with audiences. As Boyd von Hoeij states at The Hollywood Reporter, "[I]ts unusual angle on the ongoing war in Colombia is certainly worthy of attention. But the filmmaker's tendency to pare back his narrative to its barest essentials makes it very hard to identify with anyone, with all of the characters despondent archetypes rather than real people." He adds that Rugeles' approach "comes down to removing practically all references to not only personal lives—which these extremely young guerrillas don't really have anyway, the occasional bout of sex between fighters notwithstanding—but also private thoughts or emotions. The 'cause' does indeed seem to be their only raison d'etre, which might be lifelike but doesn't necessarily make for a good story." Peter Debruge concurs at Variety: "In contrast with numerous recent child-soldier stories, from the manipulative Salvadorian drama Innocent Voices to the entire mini-genre emerging in response to similar issues in Africa (like the Oscar®-nominated short That Wasn't Me), Rugeles opts for an austere art-film style, rather than the more conventionally accessible melodramatic approach that might help the film reach the widest possible international audience. Though informed by research, Diego Vivanco's script withholds much of the essential context viewers need to make sense of its long, wordless stretches, while Rugeles' execution fails to generate the tension that approach requires." In gist, Debruge complains, "this film drags when it should electrify."
The Apostate / El apóstata (2015, dir. Federico Veiroj, Spain / France / Uruguay)—Sleepy eyed madrileño Gonzalo Tamayo (co-scenarist Álvaro Ogalla) is a dreamer. Though well into his 30s, he has no career, no compulsion to complete his studies and no romantic life to speak of. But he has decided on one clear goal, one ambition to animate him with a sense of purpose: to apostatize from the Catholic Church. Will the Church's archaic bureaucracy prove too labyrinthine for our slacker hero to navigate? Imaginative, sexy, and composed of one elegantly rendered image after another, Uruguayan Federico Vieroj's The Apostate is a sophisticated, Iberian spin on the man-child comedy. Official site [sp]. IMDb.
David Hudson has rounded up the Toronto reviews for Fandor's Keyframe Daily. He notes as well that The Apostate won both the FIPRESCI Award and a Jury Special Mention at the 63rd San Sebastian International Film Festival. James Kang offers the most recent reviews at Critics Roundup.
Bleak Street / La calle de la amargura (2015, dir. Arturo Ripstein, México)—Based on a true story: Bleak Street recounts the 2009 accidental deaths of fraternal mini-luchadores at the hands of two female sex workers, Adela (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) and Dora (Nora Velázquez), in a Cuauhtémoc hotel. The latest from Mexican maestro Arturo Ripstein, Bleak Street lures us into Mexico City's gloomy backstreets, fleabag hotels and cramped flats to relay a strange, engrossing tale of desperation and desire. IMDb. Central American Premiere.
At Fandor's Keyframe Daily David Hudson has rounded up Bleak Street's first reviews from Venice. My review timed to the film's San Franciscan theatrical release is on The Evening Class.
The Clan / El Clan (2015, dir. Pablo Trapero, Argentina / Spain)—Torture and extortion manifest in this true story. Based on one of the most shocking stories in the annals of Argentine crime, El Clan is as real as it gets. The latest film from Pablo Trapero (White Elephant) is a grippingly grotesque, ferociously and stylish thriller about the infamous Puccios, a Buenos Aires family whose secret business consists on kidnapping and murder. In El Clan—which had the largest opening weekend of any Argentine film in history—Arquímedes (Argentine superstar Guillermo Francella) hasn't fared well professionally since retiring from the state intelligence service. His solution to financial decline is a radical one: He devises a kidnapping scheme with the help of his eldest son Alejandro (Peter Lanzani), which draws victims from the very social elite that comprises his neighborhood. IMDb. Wikipedia.
The Clan was selected to be screened in the main competition section of the 72nd Venice International Film Festival where Trapero won the Silver Lion. At Fandor's Keyframe Daily, David Hudson gathered the reviews from both Venice and Toronto. The film was selected as the Argentine entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards® but was not nominated.
Desierto (2015, dir. Jonás Cuarón, México / USA)—In Jonás Cuarón's unnerving and politically pointed thriller, Desierto, Mexican superstar Gael García Bernal plays Moises, a migrant worker who unexpectedly becomes the de facto leader of a group that's on the run from a seemingly omnipresent sniper called Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). With his truck, long-range rifle and German shepherd trained to terminate its preys, Sam will stop at nothing to keep these foreigners from entering his beloved homeland. The more blood Sam spills on the desert floor the stronger he seems to get, yet in Moises he finds his most elusive target, who is fueled by his moral compass and a strong will to survive. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook. Central American Premiere.
Desierto was shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI Prize. At Fandor's Keyframe Daily, David Hudson grouped together the mixed reviews from Toronto.
Embrace of the Serpent / El Abrazo de la Serpiente (2015, dir. Ciro Guerra, Colombia / Venezuela / Argentina)—Embrace of the Serpent tells two parallel botanical adventure stories, one set in 1909, the other in 1940, both unfolding in an Amazon ravaged by colonialism. Gorgeously photographed in silvery black and white, this elegiac epic surveys a vanishing way of life and the natural world that we neglect at our peril. IMDb. Wikipedia.
Along with its significant Cannes win (where David Hudson scooped up the first reviews for Fandor's Keyframe Daily), Embrace of the Serpent picked up honors at the 2015 Lima Latin American Film Festival (Best Film and a Critics Award) and the 2015 Odessa International Film Festival (Special Jury Mention in the International Competition). The film was selected as the Colombian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards® and made Colombian film history by advancing to the final five. Admittedly my favorite film of 2015, I transcribed actor Brionne Davis's Q&A at the 2015 Mill Valley Film Festival, and seized the opportunity to converse with Guerra at the 2016 Palm Springs International, published thereafter at Cineaste as an online exclusive.
From Afar / Desde allá (2015, dir. Lorenzo Vigas, Venezuela / Mexico)—Lorenzo Vigas' remarkable feature debut, which won the Golden Lion at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, tells the story of an upper-class denture maker (Alfredo Castro) who develops an unlikely friendship with one of the young lower-class men he pays for companionship. Desde allá speaks eloquently to Venezuela's present reality with a narrative that traverses the disparate social classes that comprise the country's capital. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.
At Fandor's Keyframe Daily, David Hudson has aggregated reviews from both Venice and Toronto.
Land and Shade / La tierra y la sombra (2015, dir. César Augusto Acevedo, Colombia)—Astonishingly beautiful and overwhelmingly moving, César Augusto Acevedo's masterful debut concerns a rural family struggling with illness, labor exploitation and longstanding emotional wounds. Returning home many years after having abandoned his family, Alfonso (Haimer Leal) finds that his son, sugarcane worker Gerardo (Edison Raigosa), has fallen gravely ill with a respiratory disease, yet his daughter-in-law (Marleyda Soto) and estranged wife Alicia (Hilda Ruiz) continue to work the local cane fields, slashing and burning crop, a routine—yet highly toxic—part of the annual harvest. The actors give arresting performances, while the use of locations—from the colossal banyan tree to the apocalyptic burning fields—infuse Land and Shade with an air of myth. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.
Land and Shade screened in the International Critics' Week section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival where it won the France 4 Visionary Award, the SACD Award, the Golden Rail and the Camera D'Or (awarded to a first-time film-maker across the whole festival selection). It also picked up wins at the Lima Latin American Film Festival, and the Mumbai and Thessaloniki Film Festivals. At Variety, Peter Debruge writes: "While mirthless in the extreme, César Acevedo's deliberately paced and distant-feeling debut works its way under audiences' skin, weaving a haunting allegory through painterly compositions, while distinguishing itself as a worthy candidate for that subset of festivals which specializes in arduous cinema." At The Hollywood Reporter, Jordan Mintzer adds: "Capturing much of the action in a series of well-choreographed sequence shots, Acevedo and DP Mateo Guzman provide an array of roving, memorable images, including the opening scene (repeated later with a slight variation) and one involving a horse that’s straight out of an Andrei Tarkovksy movie." At Screen, Fionnuala Halligan notes: "Some of Arcevedo's compositions call to mind The Good Earth, his family captured in almost heroic-profile as the ravages of modern development take their toll. ...Arcevedo is certainly as preoccupied with image as he is content and it is perhaps the individual frames and tableaux which linger on past this resolutely-downbeat, emblematic story."
Magallanes (2015, dir. Salvador del Solar, Perú / Colombia)—Happening inside of a vehicle, Magallanes, the directorial debut of Peruvian actor Salvador del Solar is an atmospheric thriller that tells the story of a terrible secret that comes back to haunt a middle-aged cabbie (Damián Alcázar), a mysterious woman (Magaly Solier) and a senile old man (Federico Luppi) who was once a fearsome colonel during the worst years of the Shining Path insurgency. IMDb. Facebook.
Magallanes screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. At Variety, Scott Tobias deems Magallanes "a quietly gripping Peruvian thriller about old political wounds and the elusive quest for redemption." He adds: "Del Solar makes meaningful associations between this personal story and the history of a country still coming to terms with its fight against the Shining Path and its troubled relationship to indigenous people. In the film's most affecting moment, an anguished Celina reverts to her native Quechua and while neither the characters nor the audience can understand her words, their meaning comes across with startling intensity. It's a communication gap that cannot be bridged." Jonathan Holland's bottom line at The Hollywood Reporter is that Magallanes is a "gripping character study built into a story of potent tragedy."
Much Ado About Nothing / Aquí no ha pasado nada (2016, dir. Alejandro Fernández Almendras, Chile)—Inspired by a real-life incident, this latest drama from Alejandro Fernández Almendras is a meticulously constructed condemnation of a criminal level of classism. Much Ado About Nothing lures us into the laid-back luxury enjoyed by Chile's upper crust, before gradually revealing how privilege insulates these characters from feeling responsibility for their actions. Official site [Spanish]. IMDb. Facebook. Central American Premiere.
Aquí no ha pasado nada had its World Premiere in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at Sundance 2016 and its European Premiere in the Panorama sidebar at the Berlinale 2016. Alejandro Fernández Almendras' previous effort To Kill A Man (2014) won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and his anticipated follow-up Aquí no ha pasado nada purports to be the second installment in an intended trilogy on "justice", this time addressing how the wealthy and influential classes pervert the judicial system towards their own interest at the expense of the middle class.
Based on a true story ripped from recent headlines in Chile, Vicente (Agustín Silva) is a handsome young man from a middle class family who is picked up on a beach by a group of wealthy kids who get drunk and accidentally kill a pedestrian with their car. The driver is the son of an important politician who can't hazard the scandal so he hires an attorney to pin the blame on the presumably innocent Vicente. According to Boyd van Hoeij of The Hollywood Reporter, the film's ominous set-up capsizes into mannered distantiation weakened further by disinterested characterizations. "Why should audiences care about apparently careless people who are falsely accused of anything?" he asks. Peter Debruge concurs at Variety. His review interestingly details the Chilean source case but complains that "the film adopts Vicente's free-floating attitude ... without ever quite getting into the heads of its characters" and without taking "a more overtly moral stand." By choosing to depict tagalong accomplice Vicente as the "victim"—as opposed to the dead pedestrian—Debruge feels Almendras has cynically courted controversy. He concludes: "It can be tough to discern which is harder to take, Almendras' cynicism or his characters' ambivalence."
My Big Night / Mi gran noche (2015, dir. Álex de la Iglesia, Spain)—Renowned actors share the screen in Álex de la Iglesia's My Big Night: Mario Casas, Raphael, Carmen Machi and Santiago Segura, among others. An audacious ensemble comedy brimming also with showbiz satire, the latest from madcap maestro de la Iglesia (Witching & Bitching) recalls the frenetic social panoramas of Fellini, Altman and Almodóvar. My Big Night offers an all-access backstage pass to the taping of a TV variety show in which everything goes spectacularly (and hilariously) wrong. IMDb. Wikipedia. Central American Premiere.
My Big Night had its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is where Variety's Ben Kenigsberg reviewed it: "The hapless advance filming of a New Year's special is complicated by a squashed extra, an assassination plot, blackmail, riots, raging libidos, ghastly ego trips and, of course, a few song-and-dance numbers in My Big Night, an enjoyably antic farce that’s built to spill over—and largely delivers on its party-hardy promise. ...but while this breathless ensembler may be too campy for some tastes, it is also a feat of elegant construction that could draw viewers who once flocked to early, transgressive Almodóvar, provided they're in a frivolous mood. ...The pervasive flippancy makes it easy to overlook the tightness of the film's construction (the script was written by de la Iglesia and regular collaborator Jorge Guerricaechevarria). Editor Domingo Gonzalez maintains clarity and a rapid pace while cutting among the surfeit of storylines. The supersaturated palette, tacky outfits, and glitzy set—a character in itself—are essential to the show."
Jonathan Holland's assessment at The Hollywood Reporter is considerably more qualified in its enthusiasm: "The days of film makers pretending that fiction can outdo reality may be long gone, but this madcap comedy—and yes, it's basically old-fashioned enough to deserve that moniker—shows that de la Iglesia seems prepared to give it one last shot with this yarn about the struggle to film a New Year TV special. If you wanted to get serious about My Big Night, you'd say that it was a 60s-inspired, Fellini-esque record of the night that old-style variety performance, swollen by its own audience-seeking successes, finally blew up. But My Big Night doesn't want you to get serious. It wants you to sit back and enjoy the ride, and mostly you will, if overblown kitsch, hammerhead subtlety and gags are your thing. What’s frustrating is not the film itself, but its director: de la Iglesia seems permanently blighted by a boyish restlessness which so far has prevented him from slowing down and taking stock to make the special film he’s capable of." Holland's bottom line? My Big Night is "vertiginous, vacuous, dated fun."
No Filter / Sin Filtro (2016, dir. Nicolás López, Chile)—Pía (Paz Bascuñán) is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown: everyday life is crushing Pía's soul. The stress is manifesting in chest pains. But a mysterious acupuncturist removes Pía's filter, and suddenly a lifetime of repressive instincts vanish. It's time for Pía to air her grievances, tell it like it is, let loose her aggression—and quite possibly change her life. IMDb. International Premiere.
Retribution / El desconocido (2015, dir. Dani de la Torre, Spain / France)—Revenge threatens Luis Tosar in a fight against a madman's ticking clock. Drifting from the vast desert to a claustrophobic automobile, Dani de la Torre's high-octane thriller tells the story of a family that, while trapped in their car, are forced to contend with the seemingly impossible demands of a lunatic extortionist, who threatens to blow up a bomb placed under their seats. A perfect vehicle for Spanish superstar Luis Tosar, Retribution will keep you on the edge of your seat—and make you terrified to leave it. IMDb. Latin American Premiere.
Retribution screened in the Venice Days section of the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, where David Hudson rounded up the reviews for Fandor's Keyframe Daily.
Road to La Paz / Camino a La Paz (2016, dir. Francisco Varone, Argentina)—Argentinian-born Francisco Varone's Road to La Paz covers some 2,000 miles, building a bridge between characters 40 years apart in age and worlds apart in lifestyle. Sebastián (Rodrigo de la Serna) is a shaggy, unemployed, 35-year-old porteño. All he has is his band, his father's old Peugeot and his wife Jazmín (Elisa Carricajo). Otherwise, he seems completely aimless. Yet his life takes a new direction when elderly and ailing Jalil (Ernesto Suarez) hires Sebastián to drive him all the way from Buenos Aires to La Paz, on his way to Mecca. This gentle and wise road film explores those rare intersections in life when we receive the opportunity to become a better version of ourselves by better understanding someone else. IMDb.
At The Hollywood Reporter, Jonathan Holland guides that "what's interesting here is that it's the passenger, and not the places, which impact most on our hero, on a journey which could be taking place almost anywhere. ...Though both de la Serna and Suarez are strong in their roles, with de la Serna's eyes seeming to express constant yearning, it's the relationship between them that really counts, and they're rarely seen outside it." At Twitch, Todd Brown enthuses: "Varone's script is littered with moments of gentle humor and he allows the relationship between his characters to grow naturally, the road doubling as a pathway to maturity for Sebastian as he slowly learns to shift his focus away from himself and on to larger issues. ...Quietly funny, deeply empathic, laced with exotic imagery, Road To La Paz is a remarkably strong and assured debut from a very talented filmmaker, one who is hopefully just at the beginning of his own road."
The Second Mother / Que horas ela volta (2015, dir. Anna Muylaert, Brazil)—In a dynamic common to many Latin American households, after so many years of looking after Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), devoted São Paulo housekeeper and nanny Val (Regina Casé) has become a kind of second mother to this boy now on the cusp of manhood. This wry comedy of manners from Brazilian writer-director Anna Muylaert follows a housekeeper and nanny who becomes so good at mothering her employer's family that she winds up neglecting her own. The Second Mother is a big-hearted exploration of class difference, family and the search for one's place in the world. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia.
The Second Mother premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, won the Audience Award at the Berlinale's Panorama Section, and was later released theatrically in Brazil August 2015. The film received critical praise in and outside Brazil and was selected as the Brazilian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards®. Variety's Geoff Berkshire chracterizes The Second Mother as "the sort of savvy, socially conscious crowdpleaser that occupies a rare middle ground between genteel and intellectual world cinema." At The Hollywood Reporter, Boyd van Hoeij praises: "This densely layered yet almost fast paced-feeling drama ... passes not only the Bechdel test with flying colors but dissects with both chilling precision and humor such matters as class differences, real mothers vs. caretakers and whether privilege and one's own station are things that can be questioned or changed." His bottom line? "Beautifully written and acted with precision, this film's a winner."
Semana Santa (2015, dir. Alejandra Márquez, Mexico)—Dali (Anajosé Aldrete) hopes that holidaying at one of Mexico's idyllic beaches will provide a respite from her woes, but the resort in which she means to stay with her eight-year-old son (Esteban Ávila) and new handsome beau (Tenoch Huerta) has seen better days—and being crammed into a small room together only helps to draw everyone inward. Brimming with moments of sorrow and grief, as well as humor and tenderness, Mexican Alejandra Márquez Abella's fiction feature debut is a memorable evocation of the confluence of longing, hope and memory; Semana Santa immerses us in the mysteries of the human heart. IMDb. Facebook. Central American Premiere.
Semana Santa screened in the Discovery section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival where Harry Windsor dispatched to The Hollywood Reporter: "Márquez Abella demonstrates a deft, economical, sense of storytelling."
Trailer SEMANA SANTA from alejandra márquez abella on Vimeo.
Spy Time / Anacleto: Agente secreto (2015, dir. Javier Ruiz Caldera, Spain)—Even worse than a party gone south, what could go wrong when a wide-eyed teenager has to help his father, a secret agent (secret even to his own son), save himself from a revengeful criminal? The latest from Spanish director Javier Ruiz Caldera (Ghost Graduation) finds a secret agent father (Imanol Arias) teaming up with his slacker son (Quim Gutiérrez) to fend off a powerful criminal bent on revenge. A giddily entertaining fusion of high-tension 007 tropes with tender moments of intergenerational bonding, Spy Time will have you exploding with laughter. IMDb. Central American Premiere.
Strange Days / Días extraños (2015, dir. Juan Sebastián Quebrada, Argentina / Colombia)—Colombian Juan Sebastián Quebrada's striking debut follows a young couple adrift in a strange city with nothing to do but wander, party, fight, fornicate and try to make ends meet. Having moved from Colombia to Buenos Aires, the couple is young enough to amuse themselves with the slightest novelty or act of transgression, but aimlessness has a way of poisoning a relationship. Photographed in an exquisitely graded black and white, Strange Days captures the allure and menace of misspent youth—as well as the promise of its redemption. IMDb. Central American Premiere.
The Thin Yellow Line / La delgada línea amarilla (2015, dir. Celso R. García, Mexico)—After Toño (Damián Alcázar, also starring in Magallanes) is fired from the junkyard where he served as watchman for 11 years, he runs into a colleague from his old days in roadwork and leaps at his offer to supervise a small crew and paint the center line along 120 miles of desert highway. The Thin Yellow Line follows Toño and his men—a former circus stagehand, a trucker with failing eyesight, an ex-con, and a sullen teenager saving up to go to the US—for two weeks as they fulfill their duty despite numerous obstacles, infighting and horrendous dangers. Supported by a formidable producing team that includes Guillermo Del Toro, Mexican writer-director Celso R. García's heartfelt debut offers us a rare glimpse into the lives of hardworking factotums, men who do what they need to just to get by, who withstand ordinary tragedies as best they can, who take pride in fleeting triumphs, and who ultimately find comfort in acts of sharing, solidarity and the satisfaction of a job well-done. IMDb.
The Thin Yellow Line had its World Premiere at the Guadalajara Film Festival where it nabbed the audience award and several other kudos. "As in the best road movies," Alissa Simon writes at Variety, "the journey of the workers changes their way of seeing and understanding life. For them and us, the line they paint comes to symbolize the thin line between right and wrong, laughter and tears, and life and death." John DeFore opines at The Hollywood Reporter: "As straightforward in its action as in its conceit, the film hits very familiar beats but does so in unusually credible fashion, thanks in part to the moral gravity of taciturn leading man Damián Alcázar." At Screen, Lee Marshall adds: "Moments of melancholic truth, drama and comedy are coaxed out of the contrast between ordinary people and a big landscape, and working-class male emotional reticence drives a plot that dips lightly into a series of slowly revealed back stories."
Truman / Una Sonrisa a la Vida (2015, dir. Cesc Gay, Spain / Argentina)—The latest from Spanish director Cesc Gay (A Gun in Each Hand) stars Ricardo Darín and Javier Cámara as old pals meeting for what will surely be the last time. Truman is a tender, honest portrayal of a man facing mortality, and of the companionship that sustains him in this most trying of times. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.
Truman screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and in the Official Section of the 2015 San Sebastián International Film Festival, where it was awarded the Silver Shell for Best Actor for Ricardo Darín and Javier Cámara. It won five Goya Awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Ricardo Darín) and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Cámara). Variety's Joe Leydon describes Truman as "wise, wistful and well-observed" and "by turns amusing and affecting." Jonathan Holland at The Hollywood Reporter considers Truman to be "Gay’s most emotionally direct work to date, thoroughly shedding the clever-cleverness of some of his earlier work, and also his most accessible—a clean-lined, sensitively-written and beautifully played two-hander that tackles complex issues in a refreshingly straightforward, downbeat way."
The Violin Teacher (2015, dir. Sergio Machado, Brazil)—Having blown an audition for the city's prestigious symphony orchestra on account of nerves, violinist Laerte (Lázaro Ramos) finds himself saddled with a gig teaching music at a public school in the São Paolo shantytown of Heliopolis. Laerte is Afro-Brazilian, and his professional demeanor earned him the nickname "Obama Junior" from his pupils. The students can't read music, and most have little experience handling instruments, much less mastering their potential. Laerte might be able to teach some of these kids to believe in the power of classical music, but can he teach them to believe in themselves? Drawing upon a finely tuned screenplay whose authors include Marcelo Gomes (director of IFF '13's Once Upon a Time Was I, Verônica), director Sérgio Machado orchestrates The Violin Teacher's various motifs into a harmonious whole, a film at once tense and truly inspiring: sometimes having one person who really believes in you can clear the path toward a brighter future. IMDb. Latin American Premiere.
Variety's Guy Lodge describes The Violin Teacher as "a familiar but affecting Brazilian tale of classical music's healing urban power." At Screen, Allan Hunter asserts: "The Violin Teacher (Heliopolis) treads a well-worn path but does so with enough polish and sincerity to make its redemptive tale hard to resist."