Previewing the Chicago Latino Film Festival - Part II

In this second edition of my coverage of the 20th Chicago Latino Film Festival I look at films from Columbia, Mexico, Spain, and Uruguay. The festival wraps up with its closing ceremony film I Am from Chile - which also includes actress Paulina Garcia’s acceptance of the festival’s Gloria Award. What the Chicago Latino Film Festival offers is the opportunity to take a glimpse into Latin American cinema that would otherwise be relegated to specialty theaters - or worse yet, failing to receive distribution at all. It provides audiences with the rare opportunity to engage with pictures of a different cultural perspective.

Anina (Alfredo Soderguit, Uruguay, 2013)

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Anina is one of the three feature length animated films to be screened and it’s one of the festival’s best offerings. The secret stems from the simplicity of its design and how it infuses a potentially trite coming-of-age narrative with good humor and quiet pleasures. So often the problem with contemporary animation is the perpetual need to amplify sound and images - faster and louder seems to be the mantra of a recent film like The Lego Movie. Anina operates in quiet spurts, relying on the imagination of its central character to realize its more fantastic elements. Just about the cutest animated film in recent years, the simple large-headed and doe-eyed character designs give way to some striking dream imagery that rivals the images produced by larger animation houses.

Anina screens at the AMC River East 21 on Monday, April 14 and Wednesday, April 16. Click here to purchase tickets.

Amores Peligrosos / Dangerous Loves (Jose Antonio Dorado, Columbia, 2013)

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Consider Gerardo Naranjo’s Miss Bala by way of Brian De Palma and you might get close to the melodramatic stakes found in Dangerous Loves. Jose Antonio Dorado’s potpourri of fluid sexual politics within a criminally and politically-charged drug trade isn’t especially nuanced, but it’s the kind of film that earns points for not compromising its ideals. Dorado positions the sexual awakening of a young woman adjacent to the growing criminality of a drug trade growing in Santiago de Cali - where the young Sofia utilizes her sexuality as a tool for ascending the world of organized crime. While the film is often politically-minded in its attempt to broaden the social context, this is really an exercise in fun B-movie aesthetics in the vein of Brian De Palma’s Scarface.

Amores Peligrosos / Dangerous Loves screens at the AMC River East 21 on Friday, April 11 and Saturday, April 12 with director Jose Antonio Dorado scheduled to attend for a Q & A session. Click here to purchase tickets.

 Levantamuertos / Death Strokes (Miguel Nuñez, Mexico, 2013)

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One of the more unusual films playing at the festival is Miguel Nuñez’s Death Strokes. An ethnographic study of Mexico’s rural community, its prankster quality and violent inclinations closely resemble the works of renowned Mexican directors Amat Escalante and Carlos Reygadas. The film circles the life of a young man named Ivan working as a coroner’s assistant by fetching bodies from around Mexicali. A brutal heat wave is keeping his work flow steady even as it begins to interfere with his personal life. Following a hotel pickup that goes awry, Ivan is racked with guilt over the possibility of killing a woman. With the heat playing a palpable factor, Ivan’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic and unpredictable. A bitter slice of life, Death Strokes is formidable in both its design and introspection of a man’s growing disillusion with where his life is headed. Equal parts brutally honest and darkly humorous, Death Strokes follows in a tradition of filmmaking that explores the stagnation of the everyday as effectively as Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Why Does Herr R. Run Amok and Aki Kaurismäki’s The Match Factory Girl. It also features a domesticated pig named Homie, which, for all intensive purposes, might be my favorite movie pig.

Levantamuertos / Death Strokes screens at the AMC River East 21 Saturday, April 12 with director Miguel Nuñez scheduled to attend for a Q & A session. Click here to purchase tickets.

Hijo De Cain / Son of Cain (Jesús Monllaó, Spain, 2013)

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Twisty narratives aren’t usually my bag nor are films that utilize biblical narratives for contemporary retooling. Thankfully, director Jesús Monllaó keeps both concepts largely at bay while extracting some impressive performances from his principal actors. Son of Cain is staged as a more plot-heavy rendition of Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin but quickly complicates the ascribed notion that its lead character is a psychopath with the possibility of a questionable familial upbringing. The film is a good piece of analytical pulp, never taking itself too seriously but also careful not to lose sight of its more immediate thriller aspects. With the game of chess playing a pivotal role in the development and interaction of characters, the film is often times a series of position management - Son of Cain often times feels like characters are being moved into position for a grand gambit, with the great question being who is controlling the pieces. 

Hijo De Cain / Son of Cain screens at the AMC River East 21 on Sunday, April 13 and Tuesday, April 15. Click here to purchase tickets.