Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Along with my previously-posted entries on the Argentine film Carancho (1, 2) and the Peruvian entries October and Undertow, the 2011 edition of the Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) is rich with representative entries from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and Venezuela, which I'll explore alphabetically by title.

Hermano (Marcel Rasquin, Venezuela)—Situated in PSIFF's Awards Buzz sidebar as Venezuela's official submission to the Foreign Language category of the 2011 Academy Awards®, Hermano scored multiple honors when it premiered at the 2010 Moscow International Film Festival, including Grand Prix for Best Film, Critics Choice for Best Film, and Audience Choice for Best Film. It went on to win the Cinelatino Audience Award for Best Feature at its North American premiere at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival and the Special Jury Prize for Opera Prima (First Film) at the 32nd edition of the Havana Film Festival.

As synopsized by PSIFF: "Two brothers who grew up playing soccer in the dirt fields of their barrio, have their prayers answered when a scout gives them the opportunity to try out with the Caracas Football Club. Daniel, the striker, dreams of being a professional player, but Julio's more pragmatic goals of providing for the family lead him down a darker path. As the details of their lives unfold through the simple act of baking a cake, a raucous party or rooftop romance, we see the sinister undercurrents that threaten to derail everything they hope for, and the bonds of family pushed to the limit. Venezuela's entry for Best Foreign Film tells a bittersweet tale of a brother's love and loyalty being put to the test. With fast-paced, exhilarating action, director Marcel Rasquin captures the raw talent of the young hopeful players, and demonstrates the unifying power of team sports played in a vacant lot."

At Variety, Dennis Harvey notes that Rasquin's engaging first feature "escapes cliché by dint of unpretentious presentation and winning perfs." Also reported at Variety, Music Box Films has recently picked up U.S. rights for Hermano and plan a spring release. Latino Weekly Review acknowledges that soccer is an international sport beloved worldwide and praises Hermano for showing how the power of the sport—as played in vacant lots throughout the world—serves "to unify and create peace even as the darker forces of human survival are played out with every movement of the ball and its agile players." Official website [Spanish]. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

Life of Fish, The / La vida de los Peces (Matías Bize, Chile)—In the Awards Buzz sidebar as Chile's official submission to the Oscars®, The Life of Fish likewise boasts its U.S. premiere at PSIFF. Andrés (Santiago Cabrera) is 33 and has been living for 10 years in Berlin, where he works as a travel writer. When he returns to his native Chile on holiday, at a friend's birthday party he rediscovers the world he left behind, including his old love, Beatriz (Blanca Lewin). Director Matías Bize explains: "My idea was to tell the story as simply as possible and follow Andrés through his process. I wanted to tell the story in an emotional way, using the camera to penetrate deeply into the characters. The dialogue is very important in this film, but in some cases, what is not said—the silences and looks—are even more important." Taking that cue, PSIFF synopsizes: "It is not what the characters say so much as what they don't say. Their smallest gestures speak volumes. Their collective pain is never fully articulated but is all-pervasive. The weight of missed opportunities leaps off the screen making you question your own."

At Variety,
Boyd von Hoeij appears to have the best handle on why Bize's latest effort is his most accessible. Though he's quick to characterize The Life Of Fish as a "slow-burning yakfest", he nonetheless finds it "loquacious and ultimately poignant" and discerns that it represents "an impressive leap forward" for Bize whose "by now familiar Linklater-esque approach finally feels like a solid fit for the material, with both the mise-en-scène and the screenplay ... less claustrophobic and inward-looking than usual. ...Real-time pacing is thankfully accomplished through artfully edited sequences rather than endlessly long takes, and the naturally acted dialogue is what will keep auds hooked." He concludes, "The strong suit of Fish is that it focuses not on possible things in the future or concrete ones in the past, but the nebulous notion of what might have been." Official website [Spanish]. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

Lope (Andrucha Waddington, Brazil / Spain)—Seeing its North American premiere in PSIFF's Modern Masters sidebar, Lope serves as a romantic introduction to the passionate life of Spanish playwright Lope de Vega. The young poet returns to Madrid from war and gets his foot in the door of Madrid's most important theatre troupe—quickly charming his boss's daughter. His childhood friend, Isabel de Urbina, also falls under the spell of his poems. So much seduction eventually brings misfortune and he must flee Madrid. Says Waddington: "The screenplay and subject fascinated me: a young man becoming an artist. Plus, it's set when Spain was the center of the world."

David Hudson rounded up the Screen and Variety reviews from Lope's world premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, where I too caught the film and found its most intriguing image to be that of Lope de Vega's staging of the conquest of the Americas. For me, this was a reflexive moment: a historical theatrical reenactment within a historical cinematic reenactment. It made me wonder at what point the "contemporary" would raise its relevant head? Perhaps within such historical reenactments, it could rightfully be said that the modern motivations of the characters bridge their historicities into the contemporary? El Séptima Arte has an image gallery, the trailer (in Spanish), and a second gallery that includes a music video of Jorge Drexler's title theme. IMDb.

Lula, The Son of Brazil / Lula, O Filho do Brasil (Fábio Barreto, Brazil)—Whether the Brazilian biopic Lope is more swashbucking than Lula, Brazil's official submission to the Academy Awards®, remains to be seen. The most expensive Brazilian film ever made upon its release, Lula chronicles the arduous journey of a penniless child of the slums to a man on the brink of greatness. Adapted from Denise Paraná's biography of the same name, Lula is a sweeping tribute to Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva, who rose from the poverty of northeastern Brazil to the presidency of the fifth most populous nation in the world. Robert Koehler's Variety review is respectful of this lavishly-staged "prole to power story", though he criticizes the screenplay as succumbing "to many of the most unfortunate narrative tendencies of biopics, including a proclivity for piling on incident after incident as a substitute for real character insight." Perhaps more importantly, the film "fails to powerfully dramatize the ruthlessness workers and anti-government forces would face over the next two decades, perhaps ironically buttressing claims by political foes who dismiss the pic as mere pro-Lula propaganda." Official website [Portuguese]. IMDb. Wikipedia.

My Life With Carlos / Mi vida con Carlos (Germán Berger-Hertz, Chile)—As synopsized at PSIFF, "My Life with Carlos is the journey of a son in search of the memory of his assassinated father. More than 30 years of silence are broken when Chilean-born Germán Berger-Hertz starts to piece together the puzzle of his father's life. In 1973, when Berger-Hertz was only a year old, his father was brutally killed under the newly installed Pinochet regime. Berger revisits the legacy of the man he never knew and the regime that devastated the country. This lyrical and personal documentary combines the emotions of an intimate melodrama with thriller-like tension. Berger weaves his first person narration with beautifully shot scenes, candid interviews, and chilling videos of Pinochet-era violence. In a country where the past remains mostly in the shadows, his exploration of how the pain of injustice permeates not only his family but also the fabric of the country transforms his work in a cathartic and ultimately healing experience for everyone involved." Official website. IMDb. Facebook.

Of Love and Other Demons / Del Amor y Otros Demonios (Hilda Hidalgo, Costa Rica / Colombia)—Situated within PSIFF's Awards Buzz sidebar as Costa Rica's official foreign language submission to the Academy Awards®, Hilda Hidalgo's debut feature is a masterful interpretation of Gabriel García Márquez's powerful and moving novel. As synopsized by PSIFF: "Her dreamlike landscapes are a luscious counterpoint to the narrative backdrop of the smothering restraint of the inquisition." At Variety, Andrew Barker praises: "In her startlingly assured debut, Of Love and Other Demons, Costa Rican writer-director Hilda Hidalgo has seemingly unlocked the key to translating the cerebral sensuality of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's writing into film, providing one of the few screen adaptations worthy of the Colombian novelist's source material. She's aided immensely in this effort by two impeccable lead performances and painterly cinematography, but the seemingly casual mastery of difficult narrative rhythms is all her own." Official website [Spanish]. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

Puzzle / Rompecabezas (Natalia Smirnoff, Argentina)—Nominated for the Golden Bear at the 2010 Berlinale, Natalia Smirnoff's debut feature figures its way into the World Cinema Now sidebar at PSIFF 2011. Its central premise of a housewife quietly asserting her independence through a passion for solving puzzles instantly reminded me of Queen to Play from last year's PSIFF line-up. At The Flickering Wall, Jorge Mourinha writes: "Sensible, charming character study that effortlessly overcomes its slight narrative through attentive performances and handling." At Phil On Film, Philip Concannon observes: "Having given one of the best performances of the past year in Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman, María Onetto displays a different side to her character in Puzzle, giving a warm and thoroughly engaging turn as bored housewife María del Carmen. ... Natalia Smirnoff's charming debut film is a gentle drama about a repressed woman gradually blossoming in the most unexpected manner, and her screenplay is full of perceptive, witty touches." Official website [Spanish]. IMDb. Wikipedia.

Square Meter / Metro Cuadrado (Nayra Ilic, Chile)—As indicated earlier, Square Meter sees its North American premiere in PSIFF's
New Voices / New Visions sidebar. Francisca and Andres settle into their love nest, their pasts continue to intrude upon the idyllic situation they both had envisioned—the baggage they cannot shed much like the boxes they seem unable to unpack. As further synopsized by PSIFF: "In this extremely capable and self-assured work, Ilic does not shy away from letting the actors have their moment. There is a simplicity in the way quiet moments and awkward silences are captured, allowing audiences the rare treat of understanding what the characters are thinking without their having to say a word." IMDb.

Waste Land (Lucy Walker, Brazil)Recently shortlisted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's for Best Documentary Feature, Waste Land has won numerous awards on the festival circuit, kicking off with Best World Cinema Documentary at Sundance 2010. As synopsized by PSIFF, Waste Land is "an up-close-and-personal look at one of the world's leading visual artists—the magnetically charismatic Vik Muniz—as well as a community portrait of the catadores—pickers of recyclable materials at the Jardim Gramacho landfill. The film tracks a three-year collaboration between the Brazilian-born Muniz, and several catadores. Under his direction, they recreate giant photographic images of themselves out of garbage. The project yields surprising results—both as finished works of art and as a potentially life-changing experience for the catadores. Visually dazzling, the film—aided by Moby's deeply resonant soundtrack—packs a powerful emotional punch." If the External Reviews at IMDb don't satisfy you, David Hudson has rounded up some choice reviews at MUBI. Official website. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

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