Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Now that the full line-up has been announced for the 23rd Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) running January 5-16, 2012, I kick off my coverage as I do every year dancing to the beat of a Latin drum. Although PSIFF's national (i.e., regional) focus is "Arabian" cinema this year, 22 "Latin" entries illuminate PSIFF's various sidebars. More than enough to keep my dance card full.


Black Bread / Pa Negre (dir. Agustí Villaronga, Spain, 2010, 108 min)—In the dark days following the Spanish Civil War, a young boy witnesses a brutal murder by mysterious hooded figures. When his own father is accused of the crime, he sets out to exonerate him, but the facts he uncovers in this twisted gothic underworld are far from comforting. As Frako Loden synopsized in her Evening Class capsule for the 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF), "Black Bread . . . shares Fascist villain Sergi López with Guillermo Del Toro's more surreal Pan's Labyrinth, as well as a child protagonist facing evil Franco nationalists in a post-Civil War Catalan forest. The newer film is darker and more austere than its predecessor because the boy has no fantasy universe to flee to when the real world becomes too cruel."

Black Bread—which screened at last year's PSIFF—returns for a one-off encore screening, garlanded since then with awards for Best Actress (Marina Comas) at the 2010 San Sebastian Film Festival, Best Spanish Film at the 2011 Turia Awards, Audience Award for Best Spanish Film at the 2011 Sant Jordi Awards, nine Goyas (including Best Picture and Best Director), 13 Gaudi Awards (also including Best Picture and Best Director) and has been tapped as Spain's official candidate for the foreign language category at the 84th Academy Awards®. Impressive, to say the least. Official website. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook. Twitter.

Introducing his
San Francisco Bay Guardian profile of Agustí Villaronga, Dennis Harvey finds him "a fascinating Spanish director whose new film, Black Bread, is the latest in a career of superbly crafted films almost-commercial enough to gain US release. Yet seldom quite enough. Villaronga's cinema is gorgeously cinematic, often historical, high in strikingly managed melodramatic content, sexually (often homoerotically) charged, frequently tinged by the fantastical, very interested in children's perceptions of adult corruption. He's a middleman between Luis Buñuel and Guillermo del Toro—less abstract than Buñuel, but evidently less accessible than del Toro, even if the ambitious Black Bread possibly got green-lit because in many respects it resembles del Toro's international success Pan's Labyrinth (2006)."

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within / Tropa de Elite: 0 Inimigo Agora E Outro (dir. José Padilha, Brazil, 2010, 115 min)—As officially synopsized: "Wagner Moura returns to portray the most identifiable role of his career as Captain Nascimento, in the sequel to José Padilha's 2008 Golden Bear winner Elite Squad. Nascimento, now ten years older, has risen in his career, having become the commander-in-chief of Rio de Janeiro's BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) and later, a populist choice as the Sub-Secretary of Intelligence. In his new post, Nascimento strengthens BOPE and cripples the drug trade even further to its knees, but soon comes to a sobering realization that upon doing so, he ends up aiding his true enemies: corrupt cops and dirty politicians with major electoral interests. Now, Nascimento's enemies are much more dangerous." Credited as the highest-grossing film of all time in Brazil, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is Brazil's official submission to the foreign language category at the 84th Academy Awards®. Official website. IMDb. Wikipedia.

Variety, Robert Koehler concedes Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is a better movie than the original, "even though Padilha—a filmmaker who remains hard to get a grip on in terms of ideas, content or style—goes in for sensationalism, hyperactivity and obvious dramatics. However, when this Enemy Within settles into key action sequences, such as a stunning nighttime ambush or a daytime battle against Fabio, it becomes wildly entertaining." Koehler cautions, however: "The script by Padilha, Braulio Mantovani and Rodrigo Pimentel once more employs a massive wall of voiceover narration by Rio-based "Elite Squad" Capt. Nascimento (Wagner Moura, again dripping cynicism), explaining not only his internal thought process but also the baroque structures of Rio's criminal and law-enforcement organizations. Though such narration lends the pic a novelistic quality, it can be a turnoff to auds (especially non-Portuguese speakers) unwilling to wade through huge slabs of subtitled text. Indeed, while the v.o. is key to the franchise's local popularity—as is its ripped-from-the-headlines sensibility—it could be the very element that keeps the film from translating well internationally."

The Village Voice, Mark Holcomb likewise warns the film "will test the ideological mettle of law-and-order conservatives and lefty peaceniks alike. That's a virtue, because though Elite Squad 2 . . . plays footsie with both socialism and fascism, it's never easy to peg." Holcomb adds that Padilha's "preference for giddily shot bloodbaths that invite both tongue-clucking and anticipatory drooling will understandably irk hair-splitters."

Slant, Diego Costa observes: "Brazilsploitation films frequently offer very little besides the Schadenfreude spectacle of aesthetic slickness mapped onto the darkness of expendably chiseled Brazilian limbs. The new aesthetics of hunger if you will—bigger, faster, and gleaming. But if international audiences can get their fix of outsourced hyper-masculinity gone lethally berserk, the kind of homoerotic frisson that must be displaced onto the Other, director José Padilha gives us more than just favela pornography. An impeccable exposition of the structures of Brazilian power in which the gun is the necessary phallic prosthesis that guarantees existential visibility for the socially castrated classes and the 'democratic' vote is the ultimate market commodity (sold to the highest bidder), Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is pure pedagogic bliss."

Jose & Pilar (dir. Miguel Gonçalves Mendes, Portugal, 2010, 117 min)—PSIFF's website mistakenly attributes this documentary to Brazil but it is actually Portugal's official submission to the foreign language category at the 84th Academy Awards®. Notwithstanding, as officially synopsized, this documentary "is a deeply moving story about love, loss and literature. It follows the days of José Saramago, the Nobel-laureate Portuguese novelist, and his wife, Pilar del Río. The film shows their whirlwind life of international travel, his passion for completing his last masterpiece, The Elephant's Journey and how their love quietly sustains them throughout. José and Pilar reveals the hidden Saramago, unravels any preconceived notions about him, and proves that genius and simplicity are indeed compatible. It is a funny and touching portrait on the endurance of the artistic spirit. A glimpse into the life of one of the greatest creators of the 20th century, it shows us that, as Saramago says, 'There is always another way to say everything.' " Official website. IMDb. Wikipedia.

As Jonathan Holland notes at
Variety, the highs and lows of Gonçalves' documentary portrait "are so carefully constructed that at times it feels like fiction, shuttling easily and with a surprising level of intimacy between Saramago the public persona and Saramago the private man. Indirectly raising some interesting metaphysical questions, it remains firmly grounded in its narrative." At The Hollywood Reporter, Deborah Young finds the documentary "long, repetitive but intermittently engrossing."

Miss Bala (dir. Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico, 2011, 113 min)Miss Bala premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. The film has been selected as the Mexican entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards®. It tells the story of a young woman clinging on to her dream to become a beauty contest queen in a Mexico dominated by organized crime. Official website. IMDb. Wikipedia.

Patagonia (dir. Marc Evans, Argentina, 2010, 118 min)—Per Wikipedia, "Patagonia is a 2010 drama film about different Welsh and Argentine people connected to Y Wladfa, the Welsh settlement in Patagonia, Argentina. The film stars several well-known Welsh actors including Matthew Rhys, Nia Roberts, and the singer Duffy. Directed by Welsh director Marc Evans, it premièred at the Seattle International Film Festival on 10 June 2010 and had its U.K. première in Wales on 8 March 2011 in Cardiff. It was selected as the British entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards®." Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

Variety, Dennis Harvey observes: "Offbeat even beyond its standing as perhaps the first feature co-production between its two co-producing nations, Patagonia unspools two parallel narratives connected only by a historical anomaly—the boatload of poor Welsh settlers who reached remotest Argentina in 1865, establishing a unique, still-extant cross-cultural corner of the desert there. While its separate parts may not quite add up, they complement each other quite pleasingly. . . . Evans nimbly cuts between the two unhurried threads, which form a nice textural contrast in d.p. Robbie Ryan's lensing of the disparate landscapes—one all lush, verdant hills, the other rich in desert hues. Jumping back and forth also helps balance out stories that might have seemed insubstantial if each stood alone."

Little White Lies, Adam Woodward adds: "Patagonia is spiced with moments of intense passion and melodrama—as well as humor in the chance romance that blossoms between Alejandro [Nahuel Pérez Biscayart] and a vivacious Cardiff girl (Duffy)—but the core ingredient is the metaphorical kinship that exists between our two female protagonists. Each place and character, though distinctively and intimately rendered, comes together in absolute alchemical harmony."

Rumble of the Stones / El rumor de las piedras (dir. Alejandro Bellame Palacios, Venezuela, 2011, 101 min)—As director Palacios has synopsized at IMDb: "Delia is a young woman who survived a river-flood ten years ago among her mother and her two sons. They have been forced to live in a poor neighborhood of Caracas. She works hard trying to rebuild their lives, but she soon discovers that her sons, William (17) and Santiago (11) are exposed to the violent and dangerous environment they live in. And Raiza, the grandmother, is the living image of hopelessness. The four characters will show us that the hope of reconstruction is possible, because the force of love, despite all, keeps them united." The film has been selected as the Venezuelan entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards®. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook. U.S. Premiere.

Variety, Jonathan Holland writes: "A single mom's struggles to raise her family in adverse circumstances are brought to vivid dramatic life in Rumble of the Stones, a social drama that bravely aims to fuse a realistic study of Venezuelan life to a crowd-pleasing dramatic structure." Cognizant of the film's weaknesses, Holland nonetheless asserts that Rumble of the Stones "looks great, packs an emotional punch and features a fine perf from Rossana Fernández [Díaz] in a challenging central role. . . . The violence of the slums has been more authentically and energetically rendered than it is here, but Stones is nonetheless often a visual treat, with some striking nighttime shots of the city. Local street-gang argot (largely incomprehensible for those who don't use it), is avoided, which sacrifices some credibility. . . ."


Las Acacias (dir. Pablo Giorgelli, Argentina, 2010, 85 min)—As paraphrased from IMDb's synopsis: Rubén is a lonely truck driver on the motorway from Asunción del Paraguay to Buenos Aires. He's been carrying wood covering for years. One morning, at a motorway stop near Asunción, he agrees to drive Jacinta and her 8-month-old child Anahí to Buenos Aires. As kilometres go by, the relationship between Rubén and Jacinta grows as they slowly slip into each other's souls. Neither volunteer much about their lives nor do they ask questions of each other. Though their journey is one of few words, it is not necessarily a silent one. IMDb. U.S. Premiere.

Variety, Leslie Felperin approves: "Delicate yet rigorously executed, road movie Las acacias touchingly unfolds a passing-ships encounter between a truck driver and a mother who hires him to get her from Paraguay to Buenos Aires. A debut feature for editor and documaker Pablo Giorgelli, pic reps a master class in low-key but wholly effective thesping, as characters played by German De Silva and Hebe Duarte get to know each other via dialogue that would barely cover 20 written pages. Slow-burning pic takes a while to warm up, but once it gets going, it's a corker that could enchant. . . . Perfs from the core cast are pitch-perfect, with experienced character actor De Silva and newcomer Duarte projecting everything auds need to know about their thoughts through exchanged glances, crisp dialogue and body language. Naturalistic but subtle camerawork by Diego Poleri underscores their growing familiarity by shifting by degrees from single-figure shots to two-person setups, literally bringing them together as a couple within the frame. With their matching Roman noses and strong profiles, they even start to resemble one another, as long-standing or well-matched couples often do. Meanwhile, magic-hour timing and the region's strong light are cannily exploited to give Duarte a backlit halo around her curly hair, enhancing her natural but ordinary beauty. Use of long takes, slow-tempo editing and lack of non-source music are par for the Latin American arthouse course."


Die Standing Up / Morir de pie (dir. Jacaranda Correa, Mexico, 2011, 90 min)—Winner of the Best Mexican Documentary at the Guadalajara Film Festival, Die Standing Up is an inspiring trans-narrative that profiles Irina Layewska, a tireless fighter in the war for personal freedoms, who continues to work for progressive causes from her wheelchair despite being severely disabled with multiple sclerosis. IMDb. U.S. Premiere.

At Variety, Robert Koehler found the documentary "conceptually striking and emotionally piercing" and added that the film's success "lies in its ability not only to pull off the stark shift in tone and style, but also to provide an honest, unsentimental yet emotional study of its central subjects, who clearly provided Correa extraordinary access to their lives."

The Tiniest Place / El lugar más pequeño (dir. Tatiana Huezo Sanchez, El Salvador, 2011, 104 min)—According to its official synopsis, The Tiniest Place "is a story about mankind's ability to arise, to rebuild and reinvent himself after surviving a tragedy. A story about a people that have learned to live with their sorrow; an annihilated town that re-emerges through the strength and deep love of its' inhabitants for the land and the people. A tiny place nestled in the mountains amidst the humid Salvadorean jungle." Official site. IMDb. Facebook.

Slant, Diego Costa asserts that "Salvadorian-born and Mexican-raised filmmaker Tatiana Huezo transforms collective trauma into chilling poetry." He adds: "Huezo's main character is the suffering that links the people and etches the history of a nation onto its land, not the people themselves, all of whom remain nameless for most of the film."

Variety, Robert Koehler enthuses: "The film's beauty would be more than enough to recommend it, but Huezo's work, supported by Ernesto Pardo's incandescent cinematography, is more than simply gorgeous. It manages a highly unusual synthesis of personal human stories, affectingly told on a soundtrack designed separately from the images (that is, few talking heads), with precise deployment of syncopated montage and an accumulation of details during the filming in the highland jungle village of Cinquera. The result is one of the most impressive debuts by a Mexican filmmaker since Carlos Reygadas' Japon, both linked by an audacious embrace of cinema's power to prompt the deepest thoughts and feelings."

Unfinished Spaces (dirs. Benjamin Murray & Alysa Nahmias, Cuba, 2011, 86 min)—Cuba's ambitious National Art Schools project, designed by three young artists in the wake of Castro's Revolution, is neglected, nearly forgotten, then ultimately rediscovered as a visionary architectural masterpiece. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia.

Variety, Robert Koehler writes: "An object lesson in a regime's uses and abuses of artists, Unfinished Spaces elegantly traces the brief heyday and longer dark years of Cuba's National Art Schools and the campus' unconventional architecture. The essence of a nation's attitude toward its culture may be read through specific angles and episodes, and Alysa Nahmias' and Benjamin Murray's film allows for such a reading of Cuba from 1961 to now. Classy mounting, an original subject, solid interviews and fine research . . . ."


All Your Dead Ones / Todos tus muertos (dir. Carlos Moreno, Colombia, 2011, 88 min)—As synopsized at IMDb: "Salvador is a peasant who one day wakes up as usual to work on his land but instead finds a pile of corpses in the middle of his crops. He runs to notify the authorities but it is Sunday and Election Day so the dead ones end up being a nuisance that nobody wants to deal with." Winner of the Cinematography Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and of Best Director at the Bogota Film Festival. IMDb. Facebook.

Twitch, Ard Vijn wrote: "All Your Dead Ones is a scathing look at how a local government is rendered completely immobile by corruption and vanity. Despite the dour subject, the fresh approach by writer / director Carlos Moreno makes this a very entertaining movie indeed, and pleasantly surprises all the way till the end. Very highly recommended!"

Variety, Robert Koehler was less impressed, describing the film as "a crudely conceived bit of absurdist shockorama that lays on its allegorical messages with the subtlety of a pounding to the head" and complained that "much of pic's time is wasted in a waiting game whose absurdist humor quickly wilts."

Blood of My Blood / Sangue do Meu Sangue (dir. João Canijo, Portugal, 2011, 140 min)—As Diana Sanchez synopsized for TIFF 2011: "Magnificently acted and orchestrated, João Canijo's family saga, Blood of my Blood, depicts the harshness of life in inner city Lisbon and the sacrifices that two women are willing to make for their family. Marcia is determined to end the cycle of poverty for her family and when she discovers that her daughter is dating an older professor, she will stop at nothing to end this unwelcome relationship." Winner of the FIPRESCI prize at the 2011 San Sebastián International Film Festival. IMDb.

Variety, Robert Koehler concedes the acting is "gifted" but, otherwise, finds Blood of My Blood to be "an overlong portrait of a family living in one of Lisbon's rougher districts" whose "actual material consists of little more than the customary tropes found in many urban melodramas." His final impression is that Blood of My Blood "is, fundamentally, a high-class telenovela."

The Flickering Wall, Jorge Mourinha counters: "Contemporary Portuguese cinema finds another potential breakout film in João Canijo's eighth theatrical feature—a remarkable dive into a struggling working-class family that extends the director's fascination with the structure of classical tragedy into what is possibly his masterpiece. Undoubtedly, some will look at the convoluted comings and goings of this family drama as high-end soap-opera miserablism with a side order of voyeurism; but that doesn't take into account both Mr. Canijo's poised handling of the scenes (mostly captured in long takes unfolding before a discreetly moving camera), and the astoundingly naturalistic performances of the ensemble cast, who had a hand in structuring and developing the shooting script through a series of workshopped improvisations à la Mike Leigh."

By the Fire / Sentados frente al fuego (dir. Alejandro Fernandéz Almendras, Chile, 2011, 95 min)—Per the program capsule for the San Sebastían Film Festival: "Daniel and Alejandra have been together for a couple of years. Both are approaching their 40s, and now they set out on a new adventure: to try their luck in the countryside. But Alejandra suffers from a serious illness that slowly eats into their dreams while putting Daniel's love and patience to the test."

Variety, Jonathan Holland writes: "The dying embers of a love affair are delicately raked over to haunting effect in By the Fire, a gentle, carefully observed drama. Helmer Alejandro Fernandez Almendras revisits the rural Chilean setting of his well-received debut, Huacho, a visually stunning background against which his characters play out their quiet personal tragedy with as much dignity as they can muster. Similarly concerned with unearthing the transcendental hidden within the everyday, pic is elliptical, oblique and wary of easy emotion, making for demanding but rewarding viewing."

Cousinhood / Primos (dir. Daniel Sánchez Arévalo, Spain, 2011, 98 min)—Three cousins travel to the village where they spent summer vacations as kids. Columbia University grad Daniel Sánchez Arévalo (DarkBlueAlmost Black) returns with a terrific guy movie with heart, a wry and skillful dissection of competing ideas of Spanish manhood. Official site [Spanish]. IMDb.

Variety, Jonathan Holland writes: "Three cousins head back to the pueblo in search of better times in the entertaining but uneven comedy Cousinhood. Helmer Daniel Sánchez Arévalo's previous two pics had some bite that's mostly missing from this softer, more commercial project, which isn't as funny as it thinks it is. Still, its unusual blend of slick and fresh, emotional undertow, and carefully manicured visuals nonetheless make for an enjoyable, sometimes surprisingly moving ride that improves as it rolls along. . . . The Spanish title neatly translates as both 'cousins' and 'suckers.' "

The Hollywood Reporter, Jordan Mintzer adds: "Cojones might have been the better title of Cousinhood (Primos), a highly bromantic Spanish comedy about three thirtysomething dudes trying to recharge their manhood in the seaside town where they spent summers as children. This crisply executed, occasionally funny bachelor romp reveals how well writer-director Daniel Sánchez Arévalo (Darkbluealmostblack) is versed in the teachings of Judd Apatow and the Farrelly Bros."

Expiration Date / Fecha de caducidad (dir. Kenya Márquez, Mexico, 2011, 100 min)—Kenya Márquez, a former director of the Guadalajara Film Festival, debuts her first film. Ramona's compulsive life becomes a wreck when she finds out, after a long search that Osvaldo, her only son, has died. IMDb. U.S. Premiere.

Happy New Year Grandma! / Urte berri on, amona! (dir. Telmo Esnal, Spain, 2011, 107 min)—With a superb ensemble cast, Happy New Year Grandma! uses touches of black humor to steer us through the misfortunes of a couple who have to take care of the wife's elderly mother. Official site. IMDb. North American Premiere.

Variety, Jonathan Holland writes: "Not a dream job at the best of times, taking care of one's mother-in-law becomes a full-blown nightmare in the satisfying black comedy Happy New Year, Grandma! Well assembled and featuring a wonderfully depicted family whose sufferings are all too easy to identify with, Basque director Telmo Esnal's solo directorial debut . . . is solid rather than spectacular, and never quite sheds its slightly musty air of old-fashioned craftsmanship. Enjoyable but eminently deja vu . . . ."

The Perfect Stranger / El Perfecto Desconocido (dir. Toni Bestard, Spain, 2011, 107 min)—Per IMDb's synopsis: "The mysterious arrival of a foreigner to a small village in a Mediterranean island, awakes the sudden interest from a diverse group of residents, who will appear unexpectedly in the stranger's life, believing that he's going to reopen an old shop. In contrast, the real intentions of the stranger are hidden behind an old Polaroid photo, which has led him to that place in search of answers." Official site [Spanish]. IMDb. Facebook [Spanish]. North American Premiere.

Real Truths: The Life of Estela / Verdades verdaderas, la vida de Estela (dir. Nicolás Gil Lavedra, Argentina, 2011, 97 min)—As synopsized in the program capsule for the Mar del Plata International Film Festival: "Director Nicolás Gil Lavedra and the head of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo met a few years ago during the shoot of an institutional short called Identidad perdida, about the recovery of a stolen grandson. That was the beginning of a relationship marked by friendship and mutual respect, which resulted in this film that depicts Estela de Carlotto's life story and her endless struggle using the powerful weapons of fiction." Official site [Spanish]. IMDb. Facebook [Spanish]. North American Premiere.

The Silver Cliff / O Abismo Prateado (dir. Karim Aïnouz, Brazil, 2011, 85 min)The Silver Cliff won Aïnouz the Première Brazil Best Director Award at the 2011 Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival. IMDb.

Slant, Oscar Moralde takes a cue from urban cinematics when he writes: "One city, one day. That Aristotelian unity is an alluring structure for a film. Following a character's journey through a city over the course of a day is a plot progression that's popular and visible enough to mark the boundaries of a kind of subgenre defined by films like Cléo from 5 to 7 and Before Sunrise. There are built-in narrative advantages and expectations to the form. . . . The day-in-a-city structure is also well-suited to study characters that are displaced from their routine and interact with the city in entirely different ways; those characters may be lost and adrift internally, but the pathways of the city and the hours of the day are there to anchor them. In The Silver Cliff, Brazilian dentist Violeta (Alessandra Negrini) is certainly displaced from her routine when she receives a voicemail from her husband that he's leaving for Porto Alegre and that he's not coming back. She resolves to follow him, but the next available flight isn't until the morning; in the meantime she wanders the streets of Rio in the grips of something resembling a fugue state."

Variety, Jay Weissberg concurs: "Guided by the textures of the city, this enormously empathetic helmer takes auds on an inner journey over 24 hours that, like tides on Copacabana Beach, surge and subside until a calmer spirit prevails. Though Aïnouz's pics are stylistically diverse, they all display a respect for their protags that suffuses spirit and form . . . . The city and its changing moods play a vital role here, especially in the way urban chaos can be oppressive one moment and energizing the next. Rio's special location on the beach further enriches her city aspects, and Aïnouz beautifully conveys the kind of dialogue its residents have with the sea."

The Squad / El páramo (dir. Jaime Osorio Marquez, Argentina, 2011, 90 min)The Squad is a story about nine professional soldiers of an special anti-guerrilla "comando" unit sent to an abandoned base located over a 14.000 ft. mountain in the Colombian Andes. Having lost contact a few days previously with the camp, allegedly because they were under guerrilla attack, the commandos arrive and find only one survivor. Official site [Spanish]. IMDb.

Twitch, Peter Martin writes: "In his directorial debut, Osorio Marquez fires up a cauldron of masculine anxiety. The men are trained soldiers, but their training is breaking down. What, exactly, have they done before they arrived at the foot of the mountain? Why have their loyalties become divided? We're tossed into the cauldron without knowing how to get out, just like the men, and the temperature is rising, slowly but inexorably. The performances are very strong and the filmmaking is rock hard, utilizing handheld footage and ground-level perspectives without losing track of the geography. . . . The Squad creates an edgy mood, casts a dramatic spell, and then sits on its haunches, waiting to see who will be the first to buckle under the pressure."

Fangoria, Samuel Zimmerman adds: "An absolute ensemble piece, The Squad nails an essential aspect of any effective horror film in giving us a slew of well-rounded characters worth investing in. Set against the backdrop of a war-torn Colombia, the cast represents the diversity of the South American nation and as we watch the guilt-ridden Ponce (Juan Pablo Barragan), the desperate Arango (Andres Torres), the superstitious Fiquitiva (Nelson Camayo) and the menacing Cortez (Alejandro Agulilar) slowly lose their cool, the film becomes a harrowing tale of terror as much as it's seemingly a story of how both sides of a civil war are essentially battling themselves."

The Student / El estudiante (dir. Santiago Mitre, Argentina, 2011, 110 min)—Writer turned director Santiago Mitre (Leonera, Carancho) has crafted a masterfully-executed coming-of-age story within the context of collegiate politics. I refer readers to my MUBI interview with Mitre. IMDb.

Wrinkles / Arrugas (dir. Ignacio Ferreras, Spain, 2011, 89 min)—As officially synopsized: "Based on Paco Roca's comic of the same title (2008 Spanish National Comic Prize), Wrinkles is a 2D animated feature-length film for an adult audience. Wrinkles portrays the friendship between Emilio and Miguel, two aged gentlemen shut away in a care home. Recent arrival Emilio, in the early stages of Alzheimers, is helped by Miguel and colleagues to avoid ending up on the feared top floor of the care home, also known as the lost causes or 'assisted' floor. Their wild plan infuses their otherwise tedious day-to-day with humor and tenderness, because although for some their lives are coming to an end, for them it is just a new beginning." Official site [Spanish]. IMDb. Wikipedia. North American Premiere.

Wikipedia has synopsized the film's critical reception: "The film premiered on 19 September 2011 at the San Sebastián International Film Festival. Neil Young of The Hollywood Reporter called the film 'a genuine crowd pleaser deserving of the widest possible exposure' and 'one of the most accomplished Spanish films, from any genre, of recent years.' Young wrote: 'Wrinkles takes a commendably unsentimental and nuanced approach to a complex subject, one that avoids melodramatic situations and simplistic characterizations while adhering to certain conventions of this particular sub-genre. . . . There's no shortage of genuine poignancy here and though Nani Garcia's score largely hits conventional, predictable beats, each tear is hard earned and never simply "jerked." Ferreras' animation style is realistic and direct with close attention paid to tiny specifics of decor, clothing and gesture.' Fionnuala Halligan wrote in Screen Daily: 'Ignacio Ferreras worked on Sylvain Chomet's Oscar-nominated The Illusionist and he carries the flame forward here with the moving cel animation Wrinkles (Arrugas), easily one of the better films to emerge from San Sebastian this year.' Halligan praised the characterizations of the two main characters and their relationship, and wrote: 'Some of the story's other aspects are more broadly sketched, however, and they could occasionally be accused of labelling out the pathos too liberally . . . There are nicely-judged moments of humor, however, and Wrinkles restrains itself in a most dignified manner when it comes to the inevitable, but tender, denouement.' "


Michael Hawley said...

Michael, terrific overview of the Palm Springs "Latin" line-up, as always. I've bought tix to 8 of these 22 films, some of which are my most anticipated films of the fest (MISS BALA, LAS ACACIAS, THE SILVER CLIFF).

Michael Guillen said...

Thanks, Michael! I certainly look forward to watching Las Acacias and The Silver Cliff with you.