By Juan Barquin
By Amy Nicholson
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Travis Cohen
By Juan Barquin
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Amy Nicholson
By Juan Barquin
Do not expect a schmaltzy, triumphant American dream story that will track these Cubans from living on rations to contentedly slurping cafecitos at La Carreta. In this insightful film, objective and ultimately disturbing on many levels, the rafters' journey to make a new life in the United States can prove at least as horrifying as their perilous crossing of the Straits.
The movie's first scenes in Havana find the Cuban protagonists, painfully thin victims of the island's post-Soviet "special period," terminally frustrated and desperate to get out. Guillermo wants to join his wife and daughter, who live in Miami, but cannot get a visa from the U.S. Interests Section. Rafael, who is in search of "a house, a car, and a good woman," is thrown off one raft by a band of delinquents, losing his passage money, before finally embarking on another. Mericys prostitutes herself to "foreigners who aren't my type" to earn the money for materials to build a raft. She will ultimately fail in her attempt to leave the island until later, while the other six all make it by raft alive.
For most of them, Miami is only a stopping point on their way to the United States. Through a Catholic charity organization, they are sent with hand-me-down clothes and a few words of English to Connecticut or Arizona. Another man joins a long-lost friend in New York. It would ruin the film to reveal their fates here. Suffice to say the happiest ending is that of Guillermo, who finds a job at Office Depot and lives with his reunited family in Miami. As the stories of its subjects unfold, Balseros reveals to what extent contemporary Cuban refugees, raised under the revolution, can become a people without a country, unable to move forward or back. And it allows for a revealing look at the relationships maintained between Cubans here and there. But the movie is also a stark reminder of just how difficult and joyless life in these United States can be. This is a tough film that will make you cry, leave you thinking about it for days, and probably cause you to look at some people you see on the streets of Miami a little differently. Balseros of course hits close to home. More important, it's great filmmaking. -- Judy Cantor
Playing on Saturday, February 22, at 10:00 p.m. at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts; on Saturday, March 1, at 1:30 p.m. at the Regal Cinema South Beach, 1100 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-674-6766.
Two of the finest actors in current Spanish-language cinema lead the cast of Kamchatka. Cecilia Roth (All About My Mother) and Ricardo Darín (Nine Queens) play a liberal married couple, he an architect, she a college professor, raising a family in 1970s Argentina. Roth, Darín, and the other actors are a pleasure to watch as they create a poignant ensemble piece that feels as intimate as the city of Buenos Aires itself. Kamchatka is worthy for these performances alone, but the story's lack of contextual detail makes it regrettably exclusive. It is a film to be felt deeply by certain generations of Argentineans, while those with little knowledge of the country's contemporary past are likely to leave the theater feeling a bit confused.
Kamchatka opens in 1976, when a military regime grips Argentina and students and professionals start to disappear. Fearing for their lives as their friends go missing, the couple quickly takes their ten-year-old son (the irresistible Matías del Pozo, who also narrates the movie) and his little brother to a borrowed house in the country. Almost all of the subsequent action in the film takes place within the house, as the parents change the family members' names and struggle to continue their lives, and the children must come to terms with leaving their friends and school behind. ("Kamchatka" comes from the game Risk, which they play to pass the time.)
At one point their daily routine is enlivened when they take in an enigmatic university student, also on the run (Tomás Fonzi). As the parents become more desperate, they feel they have no choice but to leave the boys with their grandparents while they continue to struggle for their ideals and their lives.
Director Marcelo Piñeyro (Burnt Money) has written a screenplay full of nuance, richly felt dialogue, and sweet moments. What it lacks is meat, some structure to really bring the events that have created the family's circumstances alive and allow viewers, especially those without prior knowledge, a feel for the time and place. Except for a few television images, one shot of soldiers, and some comments by the characters, there is no mention of the military regime or explanation of what is happening in Argentina, and more important, within the couple's particular circle. While it is implied that some of their friends have disappeared, Piñeyro leaves us wondering why. He never really tells us who these people are and to what extent they are in danger: Why have they felt it so urgent to disappear themselves before being disappeared? As capable artists as Roth and Darín are, there are moments in the film where they seem to be struggling with the hazy nature of this material.
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