Miami International Film Festival

2002 Week two: Cuba, Spain, Iceland, Poland, U.S.A., and more

But Kormákur's script suffers from overloaded subplots and high-voltage confrontations. Thordur carries a decades-long grudge against a rival fisherman. The children resent Thordur's wife Kristin, their mother's sister who quickly married Thordur when her sister died. They are especially resentful as they know that Thordur and Kristin were having sex while their mother was on her deathbed. Kristin's daughter by Thordur, Maria, who was conceived during that tryst, has a lifelong incestuous passion for Agust, the reason for his reluctance to return home with Françoise. Agust resists Maria's attentions for a time but after a while these cousins get to more than kissing.

Haraldur plots to have his father declared mentally unfit. Meanwhile his wife gets it on with their banker, who is in league with her underhanded efforts to bilk the company. In one of several other subplots, Ragnheiour's hopped-up son goes berserk, spray-painting graffiti on his father's car and breaking into a fast-food joint to play video games.

Why Kormákur chose to pursue so many subplots is anyone's guess, but the film's effectiveness is undercut by this lack of focus. Nevertheless, The Sea is an engagingly fast-paced tale and its political take -- that corporate globalism (read: American culture) is destroying Icelandic identity -- is intriguing and vividly depicted. -- Ronald Mangravite

Washington Heights: Urban Latin life is more than drug deals, but not here
Washington Heights: Urban Latin life is more than drug deals, but not here

Playing on Thursday, February 27, 10:00 p.m. at the Regal South Beach Cinema.

Washington Heights Directed by Alfredo de Villa; U.S.A., 2002

First a little historical perspective: Washington Heights is an English-language feature film about the life of urban Latinos made and soon to be commercially released in the U.S. by a cast and crew composed largely of Latin-American immigrants. Latinos may finally be crossing the border into commercial gringo cinema after all. In the process Washington Heights almost escapes depicting urban Latino life as defined exclusively by deadly drug deals, as in Martin Scorsese's 1973 Mean Streets, in which Robert De Niro plays a Puerto Rican drug dealer; and Brian De Palma's 1983 Scarface, in which Al Pacino plays a Cuban drug dealer. Almost.

Not that it would necessarily be a bad thing for Mexican-born director Alfredo de Villa to come off in his first feature like Scorsese or De Palma, but that's not really what his film is about. At first you think you're watching a compelling family drama about upwardly mobile comic-book artist Carlos (Dominican-born Manny Perez of A&E's legal drama 100 Centre Street), who puts his career on hold to take over the family bodega after his charming, philandering father Eddie (Cuban-born Miami resident Tomas Milian, whom you might recognize from Traffic) is paralyzed in a holdup. But then suddenly there's a half-baked heist that ends with a goofy white guy getting knifed by a hotheaded friend of the family, played by Italian-American Bobby Cannavale. (Okay, so only Cannavale's dad is Italian; his mom is Cuban and he was raised in Puerto Rico, New Jersey, and Florida -- there's still no reason for his character to be there.)

What does Carlos do when he finds himself taking on papi's role as Latin lover? How does his long-time girl from the block deal with his sexy new female boss downtown? How does his dad survive in the hood when his son moves up and out? We'll never find out. The fact that these questions are raised at all is probably due to the "additional writing" credited to the Dominican-born, Jersey-bred bard of immigrant life, Junot Diaz.

The everyday dilemmas posed in Diaz's acclaimed short story collection Drown are infinitely more fascinating than the familiar drug drama that closes in here and that was previewed in de Villa's short film Neto's Run, for which the director also shares writing credits with his Heights co-writer, Nat Moss. Maybe in the next film Diaz can do all the writing.

And maybe in the next film select some different music. The multinational cast and crew (Mexican, Dominican, Cuban, Puerto Rican) theoretically could make for a fascinating pan-Latin look, sound, and feel, but the Cuban music blasting through Washington Heights is confusing as hell. There's a snatch here and there of Heights natives Fulanito doing the group's hit "La Novela," but otherwise at critical moments we find Eddie listening on his headphones to Celia Cruz and later to crooner Bola de Nieve. He also calls for his assistant in the bodega to do a little number by Beny Moré.

In the abstract, there's no music better than Celia, Bola de Nieve, and Beny, and no reason why non-Cubans can't listen to them. But for a movie about Dominicans in the Heights, why not strike a deal with J&R Records, the Dominican powerhouse that originated in that neighborhood, and hit us with some heartfelt merengue or bachata?

But then again, the fact that we now have a diverse enough set of viable Latino moviemakers for a critic to quibble over whether a film should have more Oedipal drama or more gunplay, and whether the soundtrack should feature more Cuban or Dominican music in an American movie, is something of a triumph in itself. -- Celeste Fraser Delgado

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