Wednesday, February 24, 2016


The 56th edition of the Cartagena International Film Festival (FICCI56) takes place on March 2-7, 2016 in Cartagena, Colombia, South America. Ten narrative features are competing for the festival's India Catalina statue and over $100,000 in prizes. This edition of FICCI—the most prestigious film festival in Colombia and the longest-running one in Latin America—celebrates the creative boom Colombian cinema is currently experiencing and recalls the long road it has traveled to garner the international acclaim it now enjoys.

With only a few movies being made a year, Colombia's filmic ouput was near to negligible until 2003 when their government instituted Law 814 (the so-called "Law of Cinema") aimed at reinvesting resources generated by the film industry back into the industry. Colombia's National Council of the Arts and Culture in Film (CNACC) began granting filmmaking incentives through the country's Film Development Fund (FDF), a financing tool that distributes proceeds collected from tariffs legislated in Law 814.

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Aquí no ha pasado nada (Much Ado About Nothing, 2016); Chile (dir: Alejandro Fernández Almendras)—An upper-class kid gets in trouble with the one percent. The film explores the consequences of class society and corruption on a group of privileged teenagers. Official site. IMDb. Facebook.

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."

Oscuro Animal (2016); Colombia / Argentina / Holland / Germany / Greece (dir: Felipe Guerrero)—Oscuro animal tells the story of three women forced to flee their homes in a war torn region of Colombia. Each of these women, reeling in terror, takes up her trek in search of peace. Once in Bogotá, each gathers strength to face the new course of her lost life. Official site (Spanish). IMDb. Facebook.

Oscuro Animal, which gained support from the Hubert Bals Fund, had its World Premiere in the "Bright Future" sidebar at the 2016 Rotterdam International Film Festival, where Charlotte van Zanten interviewed Guerrero for Roffa Mon Amour. Geoff Andrew likewise conducted an on-stage videotaped conversation with Guerrero.

Writing for Screen, Wendy Ide synopsizes: "The setting for Felipe Guerrero's debut feature is the lush forest interior of Columbia. At first glance, it is a verdant paradise. But armed paramilitaries roam the jungles and a messy, unfocused war rages. This is a world in which the poor are casually victimized and poor women fare the worst of all. It is perhaps for this reason that Guerrero has almost entirely stripped out the dialogue from this study of three separate women who flee from the war-torn rural areas to the relative safety of Bogota. Symbolically, and literally, the women have been denied a voice."

At Cineuropa, Roberto Oggiano notes that the "use of music plays an important role in the film's structure: the paradox of the modern champeta listened to by the paramilitaries in the countryside in contrast to the traditional cumbia vallenata listened to in a hotel in Bogotà is no accident: the guerrilla warfare, the changes in governments, the thousands of people killed were all for nothing, says Guerrero: 'there are many ways of interpreting conflict, and this is necessary. I was trying to find a new way of portraying war. I wanted to show the consequences of conflict, but I didn't want to make the film specific to Colombia. The country that is portrayed could just as easily be any other.' "

Historias de dos que soñaron (Tales of Two Who Dreamt, 2016); Mexico / Canada (dirs. Andrea Bussmann & Nicolás Pereda)—Nicolás Pereda and his wife Andrea Bussmann had the World Premiere of their jointly directed film in the Forum section of the Berlinale. Tales of Two Who Dreamt is set in a housing block in Toronto and pivots on representation and self-representation. Here, a Roma family rehearses the stories of their past for the upcoming hearing on their residency status. Yet the occurrences in the housing block are also spun into legends, whereby the boundaries between reality and fiction and the documented and the performed no longer apply.

Boi neon (Neon Bull, 2015); Brazil (dir. Gabriel Mascaro)—Slated for its Colombian premiere after winning the Critics' Prize at the Hamburg Film Festival, Gabriel Mascaro's Neon Bull concerns virile vaquejada Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) and his gender-bending daydreams of designing and cutting patterns for his sexy female fashion designs. He practices first by making provacative burlesque outfits for his no-nonsense truckdriving boss Galega (Maeve Jinkings). Machismo in Northeastern Brazil just ain't what it used to be. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

David Hudson dutifully rounds up the reviews from the film's screenings in Venice and Toronto for Fandor's Keyframe Daily. After Colombia, Neon Bull will make an appearance at New Directors / New Films in New York.

El movimiento (The Movement, 2015); Argentina / South Korea (dir. Benjamín Naishtat)—Premiering in the Filmmakers of the Present sidebar at the Locarno Film Festival, with support from the Jeonju Digital Cinema Project, Naishtat's follow-up to his acclaimed feature debut History of Fear (2014) is, as its title suggests, a narrative study of Argentina's tumultuous independence as led by Señor (Pablo Cedrón), the "banner and flag" of an anarchic movement hazardously teetering towards a "necessary" dictatorship. At the film's U.S. premiere at AFI, they describe him as "an educated man who seeks peace through blood." IMDb.

Characterized by Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema as "a compelling, experimental history lesson", Bell adds: "Austere in a way recalling the icy fatality of Haneke, while evocative moments of violence are comparable to Reygadas, Naishtat's film remains disconcerting throughout, aided by abrupt editing jolts and a superb menacing score from Pedro Irusta." At The Hollywood Reporter, Justin Lowe notes that "Argentina's 19th-century nation-building tribulations get a unique stylistic twist in this unusual feature", which he describes as "visually austere" "formally rigorous" and "defiantly non-commercial." He details: "Naishtat shot the film with support from Korea's Jeonju International Film Festival, where he won an award for his 2014 debut feature History of Fear. The festival grant required him to complete a film of at least 60 minutes within a very limited budget and timeframe. Those stipulations persuaded him to select primarily handheld, black-and-white cinematography, constrain the framing of scenes and almost entirely forego artificial lighting in order to minimize expenses."

Te prometo anarquía (I Promise You Anarchy, 2015); Mexico / Germany (dir. Hernández Cordón)—Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Latin American Film at the Rio de Janeiro Film Festival, and the Guerrero Award plus a Special Jury Mention at the Morelia Film Festival, Cordón—whose Guatemalan films Gasolina (2008), Marimbas from Hell (2010) and Polvo (2012) have been some of my festival favorites—returns with I Promise You Anarchy, in which he creates a portrait of Miguel and Johnny, best friends and lovers who have known each other since childhood. They spend their life skateboarding with their friends in throbbing Mexico City. Selling their own blood and getting donors for the ER black market represent easy money for them; however, a big transaction of blood ends up bad for everyone involved and Miguel's mother decides to send him out of the country. Away from Johnny, Miguel faces his own destiny. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

At Variety, Dennis Harvey complains: "A listless and drastically underdeveloped drama, I Promise You Anarchy scarcely begins to fulfill its title." He concludes: "Writer-helmer Hernandez Cordón seems to be primarily interested in the simple coolness of photographing non-pro actors (his leads were Facebook finds) skateboarding around the city. But these scenes, scored naturally to a mixtape of indie alt-rock tracks curated by the director himself, won't provide sufficient raison d’être for most." Stephen Dalton concurs at The Hollywood Reporter. His bottom line: "Skaters battle haters in this muddled, misfiring Mexican melodrama."

Mate-me por favor (Kill Me Please, 2015); Brazil / Argentina (dir. Anita Rocha Da Silveira)—Barra da Tijuca, West Side Zone of Rio de Janeiro. A wave of murderers plague the area. What starts off as a morbid curiosity for the local youth slowly begins to spoil away at their lives. Among them is Bia, a fifteen year old girl. After an encounter with death, she will do anything to make sure she's alive. IMDb.

John Hopewell observes at Variety that with her debut feature Kill Me Please Brazil's Anita Rocha da Silveira surfaces as "one of the new faces of Latin American cinema." Part of a growing trend of pan-regional co-production, Kill Me Please proceeds by "skewering the New Brazilian dream" while being a "half serial killer suspenser" as well as "a coming of age dramedy." At The Hollywood Reporter, Jonathan Holland is concerned that the film "packages its horrors too neatly into beautiful images" even as it advances the "pretty cool premise that there's a darker psychological side behind the perfect sheen of a privileged teen life."

La academia de las musas (The Academy of Muses, 2015); Spain (dir. José Luis Guerín)—Winner of Best Picture at the Seville European Film Festival and the Don Quixote Award at the Tromsø International Film Festival, The Academy of Muses boasts its Latin American premiere at FICCI56. When he returns from teaching class, a professor of philology is interrogated by his wife, who distrusts his pedagogical approach, and his Academy of the Muses which, inspired by classical references, is intended to regenerate the world through poetry. This controversial project sets off a series of situations dominated by language and desire. IMDb.

For Fandor's Keyframe Daily, David Hudson has grouped together the reviews from the film's premiere at Locarno.

Cartas da guerra (Letters From War, 2016); Portugal (dir. Ivo Ferreira)—Cartas da guerra premiered in Official Competition at the recent Berlin Film Festival and sees its Latin American premiere at FICCI56. IMDb. Wikipedia.

Boyd van Hoeij writes at The Hollywood Reporter: "Ivo M. Ferreira's third feature stars Miguel Nunes as the young Antonio Lobo Antunes, a combat medic who wrote the titular correspondence before becoming a celebrated novelist." Purposely epistolary by structure, van Hoeij claims Letters From War "is practically a feature-length illustration of the (untranslatable) concept of saudade—a type of longing for something or someone that isn't there and can't be there." The longing in this scenario is the combat medic's for his wife at home pregnant with their first child.

At Variety, Jay Weissberg shares van Hoeij's sentiment that—though gorgeous to look at and listen to—the film feels less than the sum of its parts. "Despite such criticisms," Weissberg qualifies, "there's no denying the impact of João Ribeiro's sumptuous two-tone lensing, richly taking advantage of the full complexity of darks and lights. The open Angolan plains, topped by clouds sculpted in the air, provide a sense of the geography being fought over, and scenes after landmine explosions or battles are suitably charged with senseless violence. Music is mostly sampled from mid-to-late 20th century composers like Fernando Lopes-Graca and György Ligeti, whose late Romantic scores, full of minor chords, add to the emotional pull."

Dispatching to Fandor's Keyframe Daily from Berlin, David Hudson writes: "The eye and the ear will luxuriate in this fragmentary essay, and the mind will wonder whether they should (yes, they should). And yes, it's been said many times before: War is hell. But it hasn't been said this eloquently since Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998)."

La última tierra (The Last Land, 2016); Paraguay / Chile / Netherlands / Qatar (dir. Pablo Lamar)—Artful photography and an expressive sound design earned La última tierra a Special Jury Prize at this year's edition of the Rotterdam Film Festival. FICCI56 marks its Latin American premiere. In precise, unhurried compositions of image and sound, Lamar's feature debut portrays a man and his dying wife, living in a remote hut in the hills of Paraguay. All the stages of mourning are passed through in a single day in this wordless account of an emotional earthquake. IMDb. Facebook.

At Variety, Jay Weissberg states The Last Land "strains for profundity in its poeticized depiction of death and loss" but feels Lamar is too young to tackle the subject with mature sensitivity and, thus, the film comes off as "beautiful but empty poetry." He credits cinematographer Paolo Giron for compositions that are "handsomely framed and have the gravitas of gallery-quality photographs, ultra-sensitive to shadow as well as natural light, such as the way the sun twinkles through tree branches like a star sapphire. Most notable is Lamar's sound design, richly filling the screen with evocative natural sounds. As an introspective study of man's place in nature, Last Land has its merits, but as a mournful reverie on age and death, the film grasps emptily at transcendence."


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