It’s all America’s fault. You probably knew that already, of course, but just in case you didn’t, Latinbeat’s filmmakers make sure you place the blame for Latin America’s worst problems—war, poverty, injustice, financial ruin—squarely at the feet of the United States. Granted, much of the series avoids overt anti-Americanism. But then there’s El Rey, in which Peace Corps volunteers help start the Cali drug cartel. In Sisters, two siblings escape a U.S.-backed dictatorship and reunite—wait for it—in Reagan-era Texas.
The latter, like half the entries this year, is co-produced by Argentina, whose economy we wrecked (with the help of murderous juntas, IMF loans, and a privatization binge—long story). That fiasco caused the gas station attendant protagonist of Bombón the Dog to be laid off after 20 years. With this minimalist tale, director Carlos Sorin seems to repeat the formula behind his earlier Intimate Stories, also set (in the words of Voice
comrade David Ng) in deepest Patagonian bumfuck: an array of loners, a hint of serendipity, and a dog. But Sorin’s spare style belies a rich wisdom, as well as heartwarming performances from a cast of debuting nonpros. A canine plot device also co-stars in My Best Enemy, Alex Bowen’s crowd pleaser about the stupidest war that almost was: In 1978, the (U.S.-supplied) Chilean and Argentine armies almost came to blows over a deserted patch of Tierra del Fuego, and in the process learned something about the brotherhood of man. Much funnier than the Falklands War. Moon of Avellaneda imagines a crumbling social club as a metaphor for Argentina, with president Ricardo Darín (who deserves his own retro) trying to keep it from falling apart. Refreshingly unsentimental, this nostalgia fest is soaked through with the bitterness of broken dreams.
No warm fuzzies for The Heart of Jesus, in which a cantankerous Bolivian bureaucrat—sidelined by a heart attack, dumped by his wife, and rebuffed by his health insurer—steals a cancer patient’s chart to hide from his creditors in the terminal ward of a hospital. Marcos Loayza’s wickedly morbid satire is marred only by the redundant running commentary from a New Agey folk singer. In a similar vein, the darkly absurdist fable Buena Vida Delivery plays as a Kafkaesque twist on The Man Who Came to Dinner. In cash-strapped Argentina (see above), a nebbishy delivery boy rents out a spare room to a girl he’s crushing on, and comes home one day to find her family paying an unannounced overnight visit. As the days go by and the relatives show no intentions of leaving, Leonardo Di Cesare’s cringe-worthy freak show becomes increasingly difficult to watch, but it’s worth every squirm.
In addition to a sidebar retro of Argentine actor Federico Luppi, two documentaries deserve special mention. Clandestinely shot in Cuba, Odd People Out scores stunning interviews with colleagues, friends, and relatives of dissident writer Reinaldo Arenas, author of Before Night Falls. The Immortal relives the Nicaraguan civil war (instigated by you-know-who) through the eyes of the Rivera family, with a twin on each side, the (Cuban- trained) Sandinistas and the (Reagan- backed) Contras. After decades of violence and hatred, the family is torn apart again by a third army—God’s. You will not see a more devastating film this year.