Latin in the truest and broadest sense of that beauteous word, the Miami Latin Film Festival brings us movies not only from Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, and Costa Rica but also from France and Italy as well as, of course, Spain. This year's edition, which opens Thursday (April 14) and runs through April 24 at the AMC Theater CocoWalk in Coconut Grove, features 40 pictures, 15 of them in competition for the Golden Egret and most of them local premieres.
Even in a season crowded with festivals, much of what is in store sounds both promising and surprising. Not a lot was available for preview, but here is a little sampling of the good, the bad, and the Latin of movies about everything from 19th-century wars of independence to 20th-century drug wars, 21st-century Hispanic pride, and timeless tales of love and laughter. For many South Florida fans, the ninth Miami Latin Film Festival means a unique chance to discover talents from south -- and east -- of our borders.
1809-1810 Mientras Llega el Día / 1809-1810 As the Day Arrives (Ecuador, 2004). An unwieldy title but a quirky and gorgeous little film hiding behind a sprawling costume drama set in colonial Quito, directed with loving human detail by Camilo Luzuriaga. At the beginning of the dusk of the Spanish Empire, an interregnum of conflicting emotions and divided loyalties provides the background for a closely observed love triangle involving a strong-willed lady, an arrogant Spanish officer, and a gentle scholar -- her totally mad, pathetic husband is on the sidelines, jailed. Echoes of Puccini's Tosca and overpowering recurring images of sheep about to be slaughtered are all a bit much. But the intelligent script by the director and Mauricio Samaniego, luminous cinematography by Daniel Andrade, and even brighter performances by Aristides Vargas, Marilu Vaca, Aitor Merino, and Gonzalo Gonzalo add up to one of the festival's strongest competition entries.
Ninth Miami Latin Film Festival
AMC CocoWalk in Coconut Grove;
April 15-24. (305) 279-1808.
18-J (Argentina, 2004). In case you missed this one at the Miami Jewish Film Festival, here is another opportunity to catch up with one of the most original and moving films in recent memory. It is a set of heartbreaking variations on a theme, inspired by a horrific act of anti-Semitic terrorism that remains unpunished to this day: the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Mutual Israelite Association in Buenos Aires. This politically charged kaleidoscope of a movie is made up of ten short stories -- with as many different writers and directors -- that together become a rarity: agitprop that becomes art. No one who cares about film or politics should miss this one.
El Rey / The King (Colombia, 2004). Before Pablo Escobar, there was Pedro Rey, "The King" of the budding drug industry that was about to emerge from a grotesque brew of populist radicalism, lumpenproletariat ethos, and old-fashioned capitalist greed. We have been down this road before, and the cocaine wars have been played out and replayed in the big and small screens to the point where few surprises seem possible. They are not forthcoming from Antonio Dorado, who wrote and directed El Rey: The pace is closer to Prozac than to coke, the momentum nonexistent. And yet the beauty of Juan Cristobal Coboi and Paulo Perez's sepia cinematography is undeniable, as is the energetic performance of the handsome Fernando Solorzano.
Araguaya: A Conspira¬ão do Silencio / Araguaya: The Conspiracy of Silence (France and Brazil, 2003). Add a heavy dose of politics to Barbet Schroeder's cult fave La Vallee, mix with a vibrant Brazilian soundtrack, and let simmer in the melancholy of recent history: That is the winning recipe for Ronaldo Duque's fictionalized biopic of Father Chico, the legendary revolutionary priest who left his heart in the tropical forest as the Brazilian government's brutal Amazon Colonization Project dealt a murderous blow to the heart of South America. The popular uprising now known as the 1968 Araguaya Insurrection is one of the darkest chapters in the history of Brazil, but there is more than history to Duque's picture. There is a real filmmaker at work here, a talent the world should get to know. Touching witness interviews in the manner of Warren Beatty's Reds peter out after the first hour, but the impact of the clash of cultures remains: not only that of right-wing oppressors and left-wing idealists but also that of urban dreamers and rural realities, of the timeless struggle of boundless human freedom and cruel worldly limits.
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Santos Peregrinos / Holy Pilgrims (Mexico, 2004). Billed as a postmodern fantasy of love and murder in contemporary Mexico City, Juan Carlos Carraso's dark comedy is no Amores Perros. It's not even a good Telemundo novela, really, though its main appeal will be to fans of the indestructible Carmen Salinas and a host of other familiar soap-opera stars who pepper the cast. Still, believe it or not, the prologue and credits portraying no less a figure than Emiliano Zapata as a smoldering horseman -- though they promise a movie better than what we get -- alone are worth checking out this unholy mess.
Dar de Nuevo / Deal Again (Argentina, 2003). In the middle of nowhere, a small town in the Pampas, a foursome of senior citizens pass the time playing cards, share tales of their truly scary economic conditions, and -- out of the blue -- come up with a desperate, delicious criminal answer to their plight. They decide to kidnap a young millionaire businessman who happens to have a hideaway ranch nearby. As codger capers go, this old gang can't really shoot straight and the plot gets more than a little silly. But there is a plot twist. And there's also a lot to laugh about.
1809-1810 As the Day Arrives