As Jimmy Webb once asked, “Where does brown begin?” John Leguizamo (who has yet to agree to my Trini Lopez biopic) might point the way at this year’s New York International Latino Film Festival. The perennial surfacing of his great shark smile marks the fest as an event, even if his coming-of-age directorial debut, The Undefeated, is only so-so in its intensified kitchen-sink realism. Though some of the past year’s best films have been Latino (the arguable highlight being Carlos Reygadas’s incredible head-wringer Japón), the NYILFF sports nothing quite so outlandish, hewing closer to the everyday.
Still, the DV speedfest Quattro Noza easily bests John Singleton’s unwelcome inscriptions to the Fast/ Furious franchise. With an affectionate eye turned to squiggly fiberglass reflections in race cars, director Joey Curtis manages to squeeze sparks from both the L.A. car-racing United Nations and a cosmic, multiculti romance that’s as violently charged as it is unpoliticized. Derek (soulpatched whitey Robert Beaumont) is content to speed against the likes of Black Gerald (Gerald Russell) and a bunch of crudely drawn, Ebonics-spouting Asians with CB radios, until he runs into Noza (otherworldly Brihanna Hernandez) at a rally. Upon their first meet-cute, she renames him “Quattro,” thus providing a semi-nonsensical title for the movie and royally pissing off her first suitor, Chato (Victor Larios), who is in the pen, though pointedly not a gangsta. The inevitable testosterone collision takes the literal form of a head-on, but in the meantime Curtis manages to steal some unnerving, bracingly real footage of very criminal driving.
Bound to prick up the ears of anyone who’s ever bought Froot Loops to its arpeggiated chug-a-chug, bachata is the Dominican Republic’s most popular musical genre and the looming subject of Alex Wolfe’s Santo Domingo Blues. Like the Wenders Cuban movie to which it will inevitably and annoyingly be compared, SDB excavates a salty lineup of pickers and crooners, most of whom kneel to (now deceased) Eladio R. Santos, unsung hero of the brillo, or shiny guitar tone, who in the movie joyfully plays a car wash-nightclub while still throwing a line to the mamis. Chock-full of digressions and sidesteps, the affair is informally hosted by bubbly bachatero star Luis Vargas, a/k/a “the Supreme King of Bitterness.”