Disaster, Heartbreak, Bowling: Snapshots of Latin America

As if immune to economic collapse, Argentina's film industry not only thrives in spite of the country's financial crisis, but recent movies also seem inspired and emboldened by it. Of the 20 titles in this year's Latinbeat, nine are Argentinean productions, including a sidebar on the work of director Marcelo Piñeyro. His latest, the heart-wrenching family drama Kamchatka, begins days after the 1976 coup. Hounded by the junta, a couple drag their children out of school and flee Buenos Aires to hide in a country safe house. Piñeyro draws top-notch performances from national treasures Cecilia Roth and Ricardo Darín as the paranoid parents.

In Whisky, Romeo, Zulu, writer-director Enrique Piñeyro, a former commercial pilot, essentially plays himself, a whistle-blower trying in vain to convince post-deregulation execs that maintenance cutbacks will inevitably lead to a deadly accident. A taut, spine-chilling thriller with political overtones, WRZ will make you think twice before flying a budget airline again.

Bowling for Argentine, the spare, subtle Pin Boy glimpses the conspicuously uneventful life of a young man (Adrián Suárez) as he settles into the lonely, backbreaking job in a manually operated bowling alley. Not much happens to him, except life and its lessons. An unexpected surprise, Ana Poliak's film is a delicate minimalist gem.

Dream boat: Gracia in Sebastián
photo: FSLC
Dream boat: Gracia in Sebastián

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Latinbeat 2004: Recent Films From Latin America
September 17 through 29, Walter Reade

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Argentina dominates the lineup, but Latinbeat compensates by showcasing films from usually underrepresented countries. In What Sebastián Dreamt, a malarial foreigner (Andoni Gracia) narrates in feverish flashback his land purchase in the Guatemalan rainforest and his mission to single-handedly save the jungle from extinction, pissing off the native poachers and his girlfriend (Juliette Deschamps) in the process. But the real protagonist in Rodrigo Rey Rosa's film, adapted from his own novel, is the rainforest itself, a lush, oppressive hothouse that warps the senses.

Elsewhere, Brazil is represented by City of Men, a four-part TV spin-off of last year's art-house hit City of God. Matías Bize's Saturday, self-consciously subtitled A Real-Time Movie, would make a perfect entry for Chile's Funniest Wedding Videos, but its film-school-experiment flourishes strain credulity. And the Uruguayan entry Journey to the Sea follows a truckload of small-town yokels on a day trip brimming with local color and devoid of incident—not your typical beach holiday.

In the sprawling What the Eye Doesn't See, director Francisco J. Lombardi weaves the story lines of more than a dozen principal characters into a rich tapestry depicting the effects of rampant government corruption on ordinary citizens in Fujimori-era Peru. And in the Cuban-Spanish co-production So Far Away—a palindrome of a film—a movie within a movie within a movie satirizes Cuban-Spanish co-productions.

More conventionally, the Mexican Romeo and Juliet update Love Hurts tracks the star-crossed affair between a rich, sheltered mall rat and a barrio graffiti artist with Diego Rivera aspirations. Fernando Sariñana directs as though the film were a music video for its own rock en español soundtrack, which mercifully omits Rita Moreno singing "I like to live in America."

 
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