By Ciara LaVelle
By Calum Marsh
By Voice Media Group
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Sherilyn Connelly
By Inkoo Kang
By Carolina del Busto
By Alan Scherstuhl
This very expansive Miami Latin Film Festival was once two: the French Hispanic and the Miami Hispanic film festivals, which this year morphed into one, headed by Jaime Angulo. Running from March 22 to 31 at the Regal South Beach cinema, the festival's 38 films seem to cover the spectrum of most "Latin" countries you can think of, from Portugal to Mexico, France and Italy to Chile. In fact there is a heavy emphasis on Spanish film and very little from the Caribbean; two are about Latins in America (reviewed below), and one is a quadruple production that includes Belgium and Cuba in its credits. Whatever, the list is still impressive: one from Peru; a couple from Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, and Italy; four from Argentina; and eight from Mexico. Of the last, four are part of a Mexican retrospective, all of which will be playing on Sunday, March 31.
The week also contains a number of award winners: two Argentine action films focusing on ex-cons, Rosarigasinos and The Escape; a Galician film about poverty in a small village, Lena; the Brazilian Netto Loses His Soul, about a general and his reminiscences of past wars and loves; Too Much Love out of Mexico, centering on a woman who planned to emigrate but learns to love herself and her country; and two big international winners, Tricky Life (reviewed below) and A House With a View of the Sea,a solitary tale of life, often violent and destitute, in the Andes.
Missed that 7:00 showing? No matter -- one highlight is that all films show at least four times in one day. For more information about times, dates, and accompanying programming, go to www.hispanicfilm.com.
Tricky Life (En la puta vida) tackles serious social criticism with picaresque effect. Consciously tinged with the melodrama, comic timing, and over-the-top styling of a telenovela, first-time director Beatriz Flores Silva's film tells the story, based on real events, of a woman lured into an Uruguayan prostitution ring in Barcelona. Tricky Life, which alludes to government corruption and widespread poverty in Uruguay, is that country's nominee for the Academy Award and has broken domestic box-office records.
At the opening of the film, Elisa, a tough-talking 27-year-old single mother of two boys by different fathers, is swearing a blue streak as her mother throws her out of the family's ramshackle hut into the rain; the older woman is angered that her daughter has pinned her hopes on another no-good man. Elisa's dream is to open a hair salon, and she thinks the sleazy, married owner of a Montevideo cafeteria will help make it come true. He doesn't. Declaring her independence from men, Elisa happily becomes a whore, joining her friend and beauty parlor partner Loulou as one of the girls at a tango bar and bordello. There she falls for Placido, a handsome thug involved in "international business," which as it turns out includes pimping, forgery, and homicide.
Placido takes Elisa and Loulou to Barcelona, where the women plan to make big money fast. They go to work on the street, competing for johns with Brazilian transvestites. Elisa is blinded by a pathetic plan to marry Placido, but eventually realizes he has taken all of her earnings and put her life in danger. With no documentation or cash she is stuck -- an illegal alien in Spain and an unwanted criminal in Uruguay, spurned at the consulate in Barcelona. Elisa turns to a goodhearted (and hot) Spanish cop to help her find a way back home.
The spirited and sexy Argentine actress Mariana Santangelo winningly plays Elisa as a strong, desperate woman struggling to take control of her destiny. Her presence moves the film through more than a few hackneyed scenes and its stagy affectations, and she gustily plays the "whore with a good heart" with a contemporary flair. By the end of the film, when Elisa returns to Montevideo and becomes an unwitting hero, Tricky Life emerges as a wry commentary on South American social ills. -- Judy Cantor
A very different slice of life in contemporary Spain is revealed in My Mother Likes Women (A mi madre le gustan las mujeres), an engaging if derivative romantic comedy with a strong female ensemble cast that entertains as much as an episode of Sex and the City. When Sofia (Rosa Maria Sardá), a concert pianist, announces that she has a girlfriend, the tolerance of her liberal, intellectual family in Madrid is tested. Sofia's writer ex-husband takes the news in stride, reciting from Sappho. But Sofia's three grown daughters are shaken by the news, especially when they learn their mother has given all her money to her lover Eliska (Eliska Sirová), a Czech piano student, so that she can continue her studies in Spain.
The free-spirited youngest daughter, Sol, questions Eliska's intentions but shows her pride in her mother by paying her embarrassing homage in a hilarious song by her pop-punk band. Yuppie sister Gimena (María Pujalte), mortified and confused, is put at odds with her homophobic husband. And Elvira (Leonor Watling), who emerges as the film's central character, reacts as she does to everything, by drinking whiskey and crying. Elvira, neurotic descendant of Annie Hall, is a seductive, intellectual version of Bridget Jones. Like Jones, she is underappreciated and humiliated in her job at a publishing house.
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