Previewing the 31st Chicago Latino Film Festival

The Chicago Latino Cultural Center presents its annual Latino Film Festival at Chicago’s AMC River East 21 beginning April 9 through April 23. The festival, which opened to an initial 14 films screened to 500 attendees in 1985, has now ballooned to one of the most successful film festivals celebrating Latino filmmaking in the country. For additional venue and ticket information, click here. The following films screen during the festival’s opening week.

I Am Not Lorena/No Soy Lorena
(Isidora Marras, 2014, Argentina, Chile)

A scene from Isidora Marras' I Am Not Lorena {Photo: FORASTERO}

A scene from Isidora Marras' I Am Not Lorena {Photo: FORASTERO}

In this predatory capitalist fable of stolen identities and performance perils, writer/director Isidora Marras succumbs to problems most tend to associate with directorial debuts: a tendency to overcompensate. I Am Not Lorena details the struggles of a young actress named Olivia (Loreto Aravena) as she quickly comes under the assault of debt collectors who mistake her for someone by the name of Lorena. What should be a simple clerical fix proves to be a much more complicated effort as Olivia contends with bureaucratic opposition and her mother’s deteriorating health.

Marras’ noble efforts are highlighted by a distinct sense of time and place, along with an acute visual eye – this debut possesses a string of stirring imagery that’s evocative of people’s relationships with technology. But the film’s romantic side plot, patchwork editing, and ludicrous third-act revelation ultimately unravel the more confident portions of the picture. As the film explores an identity crisis within its main character, one could suggest that the picture itself is unsure of what it wants to be: a critique of technological dependence, a statement on what defines a person, or a study of women coming to terms with their frailty? Marras proves to be a supremely confident stylist, but uniting the fragments that compose I Am Not Lorena escapes her grasp.

I Am Not Lorena/No Soy Lorena screens at the AMC River East 21 on Wednesday, April 15 and Friday, April 17. Click here for additional ticketing information.

Cats Have No Vertigo/ Os Gatos não Têm Vertigens
(António-Pedro Vasconcelos, 2014, Portugal)

A scene from António-Pedro Vasconcelos' Cats Have No Vertigo {Photo: CHICAGO LATINO FILM FESTIVAL}

A scene from António-Pedro Vasconcelos' Cats Have No Vertigo {Photo: CHICAGO LATINO FILM FESTIVAL}

With a lead character named Job, it’s not especially difficult to trace the narrative orbit of António-Pedro Vasconcelos’ woefully dull Cats Have No Vertigo. Vasconcelos, a staple of Portuguese cinema, isn’t one to stretch the limits of convention and offers a pedigree of inherently commercial flummery. By the end of Vasconcelos’ new film, one can’t help but think of Portugal’s art-house totem – the recently deceased Manoel de Oliveira - and yearn for something with a remote sense of formal integrity.

Cats Have No Vertigo tells a parallel narrative between a recently widowed elder woman and a troublemaker boy, converging the two plots through contrived circumstances and facile emotional gestures. Beyond Maria do Céu Guerra’s performance – an example of an accomplished performer heightening the value of her limited material – the picture is largely sentimental claptrap, concealing any degree of candid emotion for saccharine, over-the-top melodrama. 

Cats Have No Vertigo/ Os Gatos não Têm Vertigens screens at the AMC River East 21 on Wednesday, April 15 and Thursday, April 23. Click here for additional ticketing information.

Casa Grande, or the Ballad of Poor Jean/Casa Grande
(Fellipe Barbosa, 2014, Brazil)
Highly Recommended

A scene from Fellipe Barboasa's Casa Grande, or the Ballad of Poor Jean {Photo: VISIT FILM}

A scene from Fellipe Barboasa's Casa Grande, or the Ballad of Poor Jean {Photo: VISIT FILM}

This socially conscious and surprising debut from Fellipe Barbosa ranks among the very best films to be screened at the Chicago Latino Film Festival, past and present. Casa Grande reveals itself as a provocative text of micro and macroeconomics, as Barbosa utilizes the perspective of a privileged boy named Jean (Thales Cavalcanti) to probe issues of race relations and upper and lower class concerns. An illuminated mansion serves as the opening shot of the picture, where the striking monstrosity promises to be extinguished by the end of picture’s runtime.

As much as Casa Grande is an exploration of the privileged class’ loosening grip on its servant class, it also ascribes to a surprisingly tender coming-of-age narrative that subverts common objections held against millennials. Here, Jean’s posh upbringing is rendered inconsequential given his unique relationship with the house help that the family hires. As the family’s wealth declines, Jean witnesses the erasure of his past, whereby the people who reared him are put to the chopping block. While Barbosa’s film is sure to draw comparisons to Kleber Mendonça Filho’s 2012 Brazilian film Neighboring Sounds, the emotional tempo that defines Casa Grande draws greater inspiration from something like François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows ­­– where emphasis is placed on the uncertainty of youth in the face of perilous social forces. And like that film, Casa Grande possesses a vital spirit – a rare achievement for any debut film.

Casa Grande, or the Ballad of Poor Jean/Case Grande screens at the AMC River East 21 on Friday, April 10 and Monday, April 13. Click here for additional ticketing information.