Sunday, August 23, 2009


After thoroughly familiarizing myself with the Masters and Discovery programs—from which I’ll select most of the films I’ll see at the Toronto International—I then apply myself to thematic preoccupations: namely, coverage of cinema from the Global South, starting with Latin America, which is easier said than done, especially these days with funding angling in from multiple sources, many not Latin American. How then to determine exactly what is a Latin American film? Location trumps over language so I am going to immediately disqualify films that are exclusively from Spain and Portugal; but that’s not to dismiss diasporic narratives played out in either of those countries. Films are alphabetically arranged by title, rather than country of origin.

Backyard / El Traspatio (Carlos Carrera, Mexico). Official website (Spanish). Sometime in 1996, a terrifying phenomenon surfaced in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. In this now-infamous city, young women were regularly murdered. Most often, no arrests were made nor charges laid for the killings. This ongoing tragedy remains a painful stain on Mexican history and has been the subject of numerous films, articles and books, including Lourdes Portillo’s 2001 documentary Señorita extraviada (Missing Young Woman), in which Portillo sought to give voice to the many victims and to understand how these awful crimes could take place. In her recent onstage interview with Variety critic John Anderson at the 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival, Portillo detailed the death threats she received after making Señorita extraviada and the effect it had on her. Similar threats were levied at the cast and crew of Backyard, as outlined in Guy Adam’s report to The Independent: "Last year, the makers of … El Traspatio (The Backyard) reported that an actress from Ciudad Juarez, where they were shooting, had found a slaughtered lamb on her doorstep, with a death threat pinned to it. She was replaced, for her own safety. Several other crew members on the film, about local drug murders, reported receiving sinister anonymous phone calls." Director/screenwriter Carrera is perhaps best known for El crimen del Padre Amaro (2002), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. IMDb. YouTube trailer. CWC.

Crab Trap [see
Discovery entry].

The Dirty Saints / Los Santos Sucios (Luis Ortega, Argentina). Luis Ortega’s apocalyptic third feature follows a group of five survivors as they embark on a journey that will force them to face their fears, dreams and longings in their quest for salvation across the Fijman River. As Diana Sanchez writes in her program capsule: "Ortega's approach is anarchic and unexpected. Incorporating influences from Tarkovsky's Stalker, the film likewise transcends science fiction, working as a commentary on humankind's deepest anxieties and questions about our very existence. Ultimately, though, The Dirty Saints is a film about spiritual and physical exodus. Our five travellers decide to cross to the other side of the river, preferring to discover the unknown rather than wait on Earth, in a Godot-like stasis, for nothing to happen and no one to arrive." IMDb. VAN. World Premiere.

Gigante [see
Discovery entry].

Hiroshima (Pablo Stoll, Uruguay/Colombia/ Argentina/Spain). Juan sings in a rock band, but he doesn’t talk much. He also works at a bakery during the night and sleeps most of the day. This is the story of one of his days and what happens when he wakes up. Hiroshima is a silent musical, based on real facts. As Diana Sanchez historicizes in her program capsule: "Hiroshima is Uruguayan director Pablo Stoll's first solo feature. Critically acclaimed for his debut film, 25 Watts, which he followed with the sublime hit Whisky (both co-directed with the late Juan Pablo Rebella), Stoll now returns to filmmaking with a completely different piece: a (mostly) silent musical. …The film displays the talents of an emerging group of filmmakers working in Uruguay today. A number of these artists have cameos in Stoll's film: Adrián Biniez, who presents his debut, Gigante, at the Festival this year; Federico Veiroj, whose film Acné screened here last year; and Manuel Nieto Zas, director of The Dog Pound, which screened two years prior in 2006. These filmmakers gained their early experiences in cinema working on Stoll and Rebella's initial two features, and it's inspiring to see them all participating in Stoll's first independent effort. Stoll is an important name in the flourishing Uruguayan film industry, and his latest film is both a testament to his national cinema's success and a poignant tribute to the late Rebella." VIS. World Premiere.

Hotel Atlantico [see
Discovery entry].

Huacho (Alejandro Fernández Almendras, Chile). On a long day at the end of summer, four members of a southern Chilean peasant family struggle to adapt to the changing world in which they live in, a world where a video game or a new dress can be as precious as a liter of milk or a glass of wine. A new, global world where boundaries between tradition and modernity are fading and values are quickly changing. As Diana Sanchez details in her program capsule: "An apt title for the film, huacho means 'bastard' or 'having no father' but can also mean 'abandoned.' The family members are left behind by a modern way of life that does not include them. Faced with problems like electrical shortages, low wages and discrimination, they work hard just to stay afloat. Rather than intertwine the narratives, Almendras follows the characters one by one throughout their day, showing us the adversity each faces. …Following in the tradition of much of the recent neo-realist cinema from Latin America by directors like Lisandro Alonso and Adrián Caetano, Almendras offers an original and affecting quasi-documentary look at these lives, never falling into sentimentality. The humanity and respect he affords his characters is evident throughout the film, and he gives a voice to so many of those who keep old traditions alive." As reported earlier on The Evening Class, Huacho received completion funds from the Global Film Initiative. Dave Hudson has gathered the Cannes reviews at The Daily @ IFC. IMDb. YouTube trailer. CWC. North American Premiere.

Jean Charles (Henrique Goldman, Brazil/United Kingdom). This is the tragic true story of Jean Charles de Menezes, the innocent Brazilian shot dead by British police in 2005 at the height of the London terrorist alerts. As Diana Sanchez writes in her program capsule: "Goldman quietly captures the struggles and small victories of this vibrant transplanted community. Jean Charles is at once a powerful portrait of tragedy and a celebration of one family's quest to persevere in his memory." IMDb. YouTube trailer. CWC.

Northless [see
Discovery entry].

Presumed Guilty / Presunto culpable (Roberto Hernández & Geoffrey Smith, Mexico). Presumed Guilty narrates the story of José Antonio Zúñiga Rodriguez, nicknamed Toño, who was mistakenly accused of murder and condemned to 20 years in jail for being poor and in the wrong place at the wrong time. His case would have been one of many unfortunate stories, but lawyers Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete decided to get involved and publicize the injustice. As Diana Sanchez explains in her program notes: "Turning the lens on a dysfunctional legal system, Hernández and Smith show just how difficult it is to achieve any sort of justice. At a time when there is a strong push for the death penalty in Mexico, Presumed Guilty is important not only as a document of the system's flaws but as a vehicle for change." IMDb. RTR.

Rabia (Sebastián Cordero, Spain/Colombia). Rabia is a romantic thriller about a construction worker on the run for killing his foreman who hides in the mansion where his girlfriend works as a housekeeper. As Diana Sanchez writes in her program capsule: "Rabia is an incisive commentary on the frustration of Latin Americans living in Spain. Victims of racism and paternalism, they must endure humiliation in order to keep their jobs, send money home and attain a better future. Often robbed of dignity, many are forced to live like José María—hidden, the unwanted other in Spanish daily life." Cordero adapted his script for Rabia from the eponymous novel by Argentine writer Sergio Bizzio, whose short story "Cinismo" was the basis for XXY (2007). IMDb. CWC. World Premiere.

The Secret in Their Eyes / El Secreto de sus ojos (Juan José Campanella, Argentina/Spain). Official website (Spanish); includes trailer. Benjamín Espósito, a secretary of a court in Buenos Aires, is about to retire and decides to write a novel based on a case that deeply affected him 30 years ago. Espósito’s tale crosses Argentina’s turbulent years during the 1970s, when nothing was necessarily what it seemed to be. As Diana Sanchez writes in her program capsule: "Campanella's tightly paced feature pairs smart dialogue with powerful, moving performances. [Ricardo] Darín and [Soledad] Villamil, two of Argentina's best actors, bring an electric sense of unspoken longing to their scenes together, an intimacy of mutual suppression." IMDb. SP. International Premiere.

La Soga [see
Discovery entry].

To the Sea / Alamar (Pedro González-Rubio, Mexico). Before their inevitable farewell, a young Mexican man and his half Italian son, Natan, embark on an epic journey to the second-largest coral reef on the planet. VIS. World Premiere.

The Wind Journeys / Los viajes del viento (Ciro Guerra, Colombia). Official website synopsis: "Ignacio Carrillo traveled all his life throughout the villages and regions of northern Colombia, carrying music and traditional songs on his accordion, a legendary instrument that is said to be cursed, because it once belonged to the devil. As he became older, he got married and settled with his wife in a small town, leaving his nomadic life behind. When she suddenly dies, he decides to make one last journey to the Northern edge of the country, to return the accordion to the man who gave it to him, his teacher and mentor, so he will never play it again. On the way, he is joined by Fermín, a teenager who dreams of becoming a juglar like Ignacio, and to travel all around playing the accordion like he did. Tired of his loneliness, Ignacio accepts to be accompanied, and together they start the journey from Majagual, Sucre, to Taroa, beyond the Guajira desert, finding on the way the enormous diversity of the Caribbean culture and surviving all kinds of adventures. Ignacio will try to convince Fermín to take a different path in his life, having learned that his only led to solitude and sadness, but he will have to face the fact that destiny has different plans for him and his pupil." As Diana Sanchez writes in her program capsule: "This road movie, viewed from atop a donkey's back, is a story of passion. …Heartfelt without ever becoming sentimental, The Wind Journeys has a pure and honest simplicity that makes it wonderfully compelling." At The Daily @ IFC, David Hudson has monitored the critical wake from Cannes, where The Wind Journeys participated in the Un Certain Regard section. Wikipedia. IMDb. YouTube trailer. CWC. North American Premiere.

08/24/09 UPDATE: At indieWIRE, Eugene Hernandez has dispatched from Montevideo regarding the current status of Uruguayan film and the distribution of Latin American film in general. It's a sobering read, which has bolstered my decision to focus on Latin American fare at Toronto even more.