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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Selection of a Few Gems at Latin Beat 2011 in August

Latin Beat, the annual showcase of the most diverse range of films from Latin American countries, is in its twelfth year at The Film Society of Lincoln Center. This festival features films that challenge audience expectations and give examples of slice of life storytelling that make the festival a stylish and fresh addition to the many summer festivals offered in NYC.
Of the films offered at the festival, there are a few with significant buzz and critical acclaim that should be noted. The Chilean film “The Life of Fish,” directed by Matias Bise, is a sad and poignant drama centering on the handsome vagabond Andres (Santiago Cabrera), who has been out of the country for a decade covering the world’s cities and landmarks as a travel writer sent on location. He is preparing for another business trip, and spends one last night in Chile, revisiting past friends at a birthday party.
What was remarkable about the film was how much is revealed in such natural ease. The dialogue doesn’t hit audiences like clunky exposition, but rather unfolds slowly, be it with Andres’ friends’ jealousy over his glamorous life, the adolescent crush had on him by the sister of an old friend, the fascination by two young boys over his experience in drugs and sex, and finally, the painful revelations revealed by his former lover, Bea (Blanca Lewin), now in a domestic and stable life from when he knew her. The film has minimal music, and an atmospheric blue lighting that gives the film a feeling like wading through water, slow and steady and controlled.
“No Return,” an Argentine psychological thriller by Miguel Cohan, is tightly paced, but is frustrating due to the selfish actions of its teenage protagonist, Matias (Martin Stipak), and the consequences of his parents’ actions to protect him. Matias is introduced as an ordinary teen boy driving with his friend from a party, while Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a roguishly handsome ventriloquist, is driving home to his wife and daughter. A double tragedy occurs that evening when a young male cyclist is run over twice by both men in the same night. Federico merely hits his bike and leaves after arguing with the cyclist, who is then immediately hit by Matias. Matias, in a panic, leaves the cyclist for dead and rushes home, telling his father a bogus story to avoid the reality of the hit and run. The cyclist dies, and, with Matias being protected by his parents, refuses to own up to the reality, leaving Federico to be wrongfully imprisoned.
The sight of seeing a sniveling teenage boy being coddled by his parents over fear of going to prison was absolutely disgusting, and the story in the second act follows the retribution planned by Federico upon his release from prison. The film takes on a more dangerous atmosphere, as the warm and safe personality Federico had had has given away to a cold and calculating presence, a la a hardened criminal despite not having done anything to deserve that life.
“Long Distance,” a Cuban film directed by Esteban Insausti, is a drama centering on politics and fractured relationships. In 1994, Cuba experienced a mass exodus as Castro declared that the government would not stand in the way of those wanting to flee the island during their economic crisis. More than 35,000 people went to the United States in hopes of a better life, leaving friends and family behind. This film focuses on a young woman, who, on her 35th birthday, is struck with the emptiness that many of her friends are gone. She reminisces about her past friends, picturing them as attending a dinner party in her home, and the film tells their individual stories of pain and struggle, and it also uses documentary-like interviews with those who fled the country years before to escape poverty. The cinematography is stark and cold, reflected in the woman’s large apartment with minimalist art and spotlessly clean kitchen counters. The apartment is beautiful, but it feels like a tomb rather than a warm home.
“The Death of Pinochet,” directed by Bettina Perut & Ivan Osnovikoff, had the potential to be a thoughtful and objective documentary about the reactions to the death of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 2006, such as the supporters who argued that he brought economic stability and prosperity to their country, or the protestors who said he only brought death and destruction for over thirty years. But while the documentary did capture the explosive energy in the streets following his death, and gave both sides equal attention, the choice to film the interviewees with close-ups of their mouths as they spoke was jarring and irritating to watch. It was difficult to stay interested with their mouths filling up the whole screen, instead of pulling back to film their faces in an ordinary way. The choice was garish and over the top, and was bothersome to watch while staying informed about the impact Pinochet’s death had on Chile and their future.
The festival has many more selections and offers, which runs through the 24th at the Walter Reade Theater at The Film Society of Lincoln Center. To see Latin American films from a wide range of countries and experiences, the festival is highly recommended to be seen.
This story originally appeared on Cinespect

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