Thursday, December 17, 2009


Yesterday's announcement of nearly half the line-up for the 21st annual Palm Springs International Film Festival (January 7-17, 2010) (PSIFF10)—including the Opening and Closing Night Galas (Michael Hoffman's The Last Station and Daniel Adams' The Lightkeepers, respectively), three additional Gala Screenings, four Special Representations, ten films selected for the Modern Masters sidebar, and multiple World, North American and U.S. premieres—reveal a pulsing Latinbeat with featured films from Spain, Mexico and South America.

Backyard / El Traspatio (Mexico, 2009, 122 min.)—This chilling thriller from Carlos Carrera, the director of The Crime of Father Amaro (El crimen del Padre Amaro, 2002) dramatizes the tragic true story of border town Juárez, Mexico, where since the mid-90s thousands of women have gone missing or turned up as sun-burnt corpses in the desert. Can new police captain Blanca Bravo (Ana de la Reguera) stop the savagery? Programmed in PSIFF10's Modern Masters sidebar, Backyard is Mexico's submission to the Foreign Language category of the 2010 Academy Awards®. Official Spanish website. IMDb. YouTube trailer.

Bad Day to Go Fishing / Mal día para pescar (Uruguay/Spain, 2009, 110 min.)—A droll dark comedy that plays out like a classic Western crossed with the decidedly modern sensibilities of filmmakers such as Jim Jarmusch or Aki Kaurismäki, this quirky tale pits a scamming hustler and his wrestler sidekick against the inhabitants of a small Uruguayan town, circa 1961. Directed by Álvaro Brechner, Bad Day to Go Fishing is Uruguay's submission to the Foreign Language category of the 2010 Academy Awards® and boasts its US Premiere at PSIFF10.

The film secured tepid responses from the three main trades when it participated in the Critics Week at Cannes 2009. At
Variety, Jordan Mintzer puns that Bad Day to Go Fishing "casts its line into unusual waters but doesn't yield an entirely convincing catch." Mintzer describes Brechner's debut as "ambitious" but says the film "is something like a retro The Wrestler by way of the Coen brothers or Mexican helmer Arturo Ripstein, with sharp production values and a fair share of pulp fatalism. Yet the cartoonish characters and overstretched running time turn a potentially engaging narrative into a mere curiosity." At Screen, Dan Frainu complains that Brechner's "attempt at deadpan satire … lacks the necessary pace, wit or humor to sustain its lofty ambitions." At The Hollywood Reporter, Jon Frosch states that, though the film is "briskly paced, nicely lensed and engagingly quirky in parts", it "lacks the tonal confidence and sense of purpose it needs to leave a lasting impression" and comes off "vaguely inconsequential and superficial." All three bemoan that this Uruguayan entry did not match up to the originality of its 2003 Un Certain Regard prize-winning predecessor Whisky. IMDb.

Chamaco (Mexico/USA/Canada, 2009, 97 min.)—Abner is trapped in the rough life of Mexico City. His escape? Boxing. Dr. Frank Irwin (Martin Sheen) and his son Jimmy, a pro boxer, come together to teach Abner that the heart fuels the punches we throw in life. Directed by Miguel Necoechea, Chamaco sees its US Premiere at PSIFF10.

Dawson, Island 10 / Dawson, Isla 10 (Chile/Brazil/ Venezuela)—After the 1973 coup that deposed Allende and brought Pinochet to power in Chile, the former members of his cabinet are imprisoned on Dawson Island, the world's southern-most concentration camp. Veteran filmmaker Miguel Littin follows the ordeal of these men who are determined to survive and provide history with their testimony. Variety's Boyd von Hoeij gave the film a favorable review when it had its International Premiere at the Rome Film Festival (press notes in PDF format). At Global Post, however, Pascale Bonnefoy criticized that "the movie sometimes consciously sacrifices accuracy to dramatic license, offering viewers a trade-off: exposure to this period of history at the expense of the historical record." Boasting its US premiere in PSIFF10's Modern Masters sidebar, Dawson, Island 10 is Chile's submission to the Foreign Language category of the 2010 Academy Awards®. IMDb.

Dzi Croquettes (Brazil, 2009, 95 min.)Dzi Croquettes is a revealing documentary about a Brazilian dance and theater group resembling an all-male, 1970s version of the Ziegfeld Follies. Banned by the ruling military dictatorship, they used their empowering sexuality to revolutionize the gay movement worldwide. Winner of the Audience awards for Best Documentary at both the Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo International Film Festivals. Co-directed by Tatiana Issa and Raphael Alvarez, Dzi Croquettes will have its North American Premiere at PSIFF10. Official Brazilian website. IMDb. Vimeo trailer.

Huacho (Chile/France, 2009, 90 min.)—Alejandro Fernández Almendras' debut feature Huacho is a poignant but unsentimental look at the harsh life of the rural population in southern Chile. Following a small peasant family through its day, we are privy to the hardships they bear but also to their indomitable resilience and resourcefulness. I wrote this one up for The Evening Class from the Toronto International and am glad to see it now has its US Premiere at PSIFF10.

A Matter of Principles / Cuestión de principios (Argentina, 2009, 110 min.)—A man with seemingly unwavering ethics is challenged by his new boss, who believes everyone has a price and is willing to prove it. In Rodrigo Grande's Capra-esque tale no one leaves unscathed when principles and pragmatism collide. North American Premiere. Official Argentine Website. IMDb.

Paulista (Brazil, 2009, 83 min.)—From award-winning director Roberto Moreira, Paulista is the story of three young people in search of love amid the frantic pace of São Paulo. What will a relationship unearth of their unspoken past, and can they dare hope for a happy future? World Premiere.

Plan B (Argentina, 2009, 103 min.)—When conniving Bruno gets dumped by his girlfriend he decides to win her back by hook or by crook. Since she is happy with new boyfriend Pablo, Bruno devises another plan to get him out of the way in Marco Berger's clever, witty comedy. US Premiere.

Rabia (Spain/Colombia, 2009, 89 min.)—Sebastián Cordero's gripping social thriller concerns two immigrants: a short-tempered construction worker and a live-in maid eking out a livelihood in Spain. A few weeks into their passionate relationship a tragic accident forces him to hide in her attic. Unbeknownst to her he becomes a menacing ghost-like dweller in the house. US Premiere. IMDb.

Weekend (Chile, 2009, 85 min.)—Patricio wants time alone with Francisca while she tries to forget her recent heartbreak. Sofia, a sexy hitchhiker, just wants a little distraction on her aimless journey. In a beautiful beach house on the Chilean coast, three twentysomethings are about to get much more than they expected. Director: Joaquín Mora. North American Premiere.
Official website. IMDb.

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