Knocking Down the Tower of Babel
In Martín Boulocq's The Most Beautiful of My Very Best Years, Victor (Roberto Guilhon) tries to force Wong Kar Wai's Fallen Angels onto a Cochabamba video store's clientele. "Dude, who's gonna buy a Chinese flick unless it has fights and kung fu?" one man winces. Maybe Aki Kaurismäki? "Dude, what do we know about Finland here in Bolivia?" says the same guy, before his ears perk up at the promise of Devastating Penetration Due to the Caliber of the Beast. The clerk's struggle to enlighten his customers is flippant, but it's also the struggle of this year's Latinbeat festival, and of the filmmakers trying to break throughor defywhat's considered fashionable in Latin-American filmmaking: the Amores Perros Model (otherwise known as "Mi Casa Looks Like Tarantino's Casa").
The notion that no films worth seeing came out of Mexico between the time of Buñuel's return to Europe and the release of Amores Perros is the same casual racism that inspired the popular media to dub Alejandro González Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro, and Alfonso Cuarón "the Three Amigos" and put Gael García Bernal's unconventional Mexican mug on the cover of fashion glossies. Food for corrective thought, this year's Latinbeat sidebara tribute to four breakthroughs from Mexico's New Cinemais one part reality check and three parts wish fulfillment, recognizing as it does the popular impact of Amores Perros but also fancying an alternate universe where the comparably less chic cultural visions of Fernando Eimbcke (Duck Season), Carlos Reygadas (Japón), and Maryse Sistach (Violet Perfume) command similar attention and wield the same influence.
Though the Film Society of Lincoln Center prides itself on giving a home to distinctly un-Babel-ish portraits of Latin- American crisis and endurance, this year's program is not without its populist pandering. Patricia Riggen's Under the Same Moon stars Kate del Castillo as a Mexican illegal doing Crash--style cleaning duty in the home of a ghoulish Angeleno. Back in Mexico, her young son Carlitos (Eugenio Derbez) hitches a ride into the States under the backseat of a tuition-starved America Ferrara's van, soothing the savage heart of the Mexican illegal who accompanies him on the preposterous road trip from Texas to California and trivializing immigrant dreams.
More grueling is García Bernal's Deficit, the sort of indulgent lark we might expect from an actor with time and money to burn, but not from one of González Iñárritu's and Walter Salles's disciples. Beware, McCarren hipsters: This travesty of Soderberghian proportions may forever turn you off to pool parties.
Consider, then, the documentaries Soy Andina and My Grandmother Has a Video Camera as necessary palate cleansersthe former a quaint portrait of two women reclaiming their ethnic Peruvian heritage (see Tania Hermida's How Much Further for its fictional analogue), the latter an insightful chronicle of a family's cross-cultural disillusionment, told through the moving images that a Brazilian filmmaker and her avó photographed during their many years in America.
You can see Kaurismäki and Jim Jarmusch's deadpan drollery in both Duck Season and Pablo Stoll and Juan Pablo Rebella's Whisky, but the latter's portrait of middle-class Uruguayan disaffection exudes a homegrown personality and humane tenderness that are uniquely its own. Marta (Mirella Pascual), a woman whose repeated invocations of God's will points to a deep-rooted sense of emotional resignation, accepts her employer's request to play house when his more charming brother comes to town in order to tend to their mother's tombstone. Suggesting a generation's death throe, the storyculminates in a bittersweet act of rebellion made all the more wrenching in light of Rebella's suicide last year.
Argentina continues to bogart the Latinbeat lineup this year with a series of alternately cerebral and flashy sociopolitical and gender studies. But it is Brazil that reigns supreme. Sandra Kogut's Mutum tips its campesino hat to Cinema Novo legend Nelson Pereira dos Santos, fixing lucid light on the brutal distress that the poverty of Brazil's Sertão region inflicts on a young boy and his family. Elegiac and playful in equal measure, Kirill Mikhanovsky's Fish Dreams is a more immaculate immersion in Latin-American experience, casually enthralled with a young man's daily grindfishing, drinking, cocooning from the world in love-struck melancholy. In his poignant vision of a village's fragile subsistence, Mikhanovsky expresses unease at the global forces that threaten such unspoiled land (the film builds to the disposal of a ginormous television set that lulls everyone into submission). This is, after all, the kind of paradise gringos go crazy for.
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