Miami International Film Festival

Starting anew, round two

There's a lot of goodwill out there for this year's Miami International Film Festival to succeed, and there's a lot out there this year to see. With 65 features, plus shorts and documentaries -- playing at three theaters -- you would well deserve an Olympian award if you caught them all. New director Nicole Guillemet had promised to tilt heavily toward Spanish-language or Latin-themed productions, and she has delivered. Spain tops this contributors' list, but there are also films from Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, and Cuba, as well as U.S. films about Hispanic lives. But it's not like China, South Korea, Russia, and happily Poland are ignored -- from the last nation, we will be treated to the latest film from Andrzej Wajda, Zempsta, which includes a role for Roman Polanski. Representing Nuyoricans will be Raising Victor Vargas, while the Dominican hood is the backdrop to Washington Heights. The French will close out the festival with a Juliette Binoche vehicle, Jet Lag, while Spain will get an additional nod when the festival honors director Carlos Saura, whose new film Salomé will also be screened.

The festival opens on Friday night, February 21, at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami, and continues through Sunday, March 2, with screenings also at the Regal South Beach Cinema and the Sunrise Cinemas Intracoastal up in North Miami Beach.

The Other Side of the Bed
Directed by Emilio Martínez Lázaro; Spain, 2002

The festival opener is a Spanish sex farce that is bound to please some moviegoers and displease others. Those looking for a flyweight romp may come away happy, but those seeking more substantial fare will have to find it elsewhere in the festival's lineup. Like a bazillion other Spanish films before it, Other Side has to do with young, beautiful yuppies who are having relationship problems. Paula (Natalia Verbeke), a knockout blonde, one day calls it quits with her rumpled, curly-haired live-in lover Pedro (Guillermo Toledo), telling him she's in love with another man. Pedro commiserates with his best friend Javier (Ernesto Alterio) and Javier's squeeze, Sonia (the ubiquitous Paz Vega), a knockout brunette.

Soon, of course, it is revealed that Paula's new flame is Javier. Paula wants Javier to call it quits with Sonia, but when Javier can't get up the nerve, Paula is furious. Meanwhile Pedro finds deep solace with Sonia. Sensing something's amiss, Javier suspects Sonia may be shacking up with her lesbian thespian pal Lucia (Nathalie Poza). Meanwhile poor Pedro is beset by Pilar (María Esteve), an incredibly boring chick who fixates on him. In other subplots, the guys' pal Sagaz (Ramón Barea), a windbag cab driver, pontificates about womanizing only to find himself dumped by his long-suffering sweetheart, while Pedro has a brief arrangement with a skinny stoner girl, whose idea of a fun meal is doughnuts and a pitcher of sangria.

Seen all this before? You have, mostly, and there are mighty few plot twists here that don't turn exactly the way you might expect. David Serrano's script is a commercial construct with tried and true elements -- a farcical story line; bright, colorful settings; and sexy young women who are forever peeling off their clothes with glee. Certainly the energetic cast is the film's strongest element. There's a welcome sense of playfulness throughout the picture -- these actors look like they are having a lot of fun. As Sonia, Vega, who inherited the Spanish sex kitten crown from Penelope Cruz, is an eyeful who happens to offer more acting ability than her predecessor. Verbeke as Paula is another lithesome beauty with some comedic chops. Alterio and Toledo work well as a comedy duo and we might expect to see a sequel to this film featuring the same two actors.

There is one unusual element here: musical numbers that feature various characters singing against a backdrop of energetic but derivative jazz choreography, looking like refried Fosse. The bouncy tunes add some energy but director Emilio Martínez Lázaro fails to capitalize on this potential. His camerawork is far too timid and uninspired. Not only does he seem to have missed twenty years of music videos and Moulin Rouge, he hasn't even discovered Singin' in the Rain. While you will find some sex and maybe some laughs in The Other Side of the Bed, you won't find imaginative moviemaking here. -- Ronald Mangravite

Playing on Friday, February 21, 7:30 p.m. at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E Flagler St; 305-374-2444.

Balseros
Directed by Carles Bosch and Josep María Doménech; Spain, 2002

Miami residents can remember with emotion that incredible summer of 1994. Every night back then, the television news showed thousands of rafts ingeniously fashioned from inner tubes and scraps of wood dotting the seas off South Florida, jammed with human cargo or hauntingly empty. That summer the members of a crew from Spain's Televisió de Catalunya were in Havana; they met seven people about to embark under cover of night to the United States, and began to film their stories. Carles Bosch and Josep María Doménech continued to film the same Cubans for seven years, following them to the Guantanamo refugee camp and then documenting the turns of their lives in the United States. The result is the masterfully executed and sucker-punch-powerful documentary Balseros.

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