Film Society of Lincoln Center
at The Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th Street
NY, NY 10023
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 17 – September 29, 2004
This was the fifth annual Latinbeat film festival at Lincoln Center and included many films from Argentina (with a Marcelo Piñeyro Retrospective of five films that were produced between 1992 and 2002). Twenty films from nine countries were included in this thirteen-day festival, representing Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile, Cuba, Guatemala, Brazil, and Mexico. There were documentaries, dramas, romantic comedies, films with surreal effects, films within films, a film about tango, and politically charged films, including one that seriously questioned current airline security for pilots and passengers.
Film Society of Lincoln Center, with Ines Aslan very capably in charge of this comprehensive, almost two-week event, chose the film series extremely well, for diversity, quality, and interest. I decided on ten films, but walked out on one that was too graphically violent (What Sebastián Dreamt), including animal slaughter in the rainforest of Guatemala. For the record, I do not care for violence in film, even if it is fabricated. Therefore, I steered away from a few films that appeared violent from the synopses. A suggestion for future Latinbeat festivals would be the inclusion in the program of all starring actors, choreographers (where relevant), and other prominent details, commonly listed in film promotions. My internet research to find these details came up short on more current films. Therefore, I did not always include such information.
My impressions of nine of the twenty Latinbeat 2004 films are below.
Marcelo Piñeyro Films:
Ashes of Paradise (Cenizas del paraiso): 1997, Marcelo Piñeyro, Director. This excellent film began with the surreal image of a man falling from a roof and the body of a bleeding woman being dragged downstairs, and then worked backwards and around the mental and actual experiences of three brothers, sons of the deceased judge, all of whom claimed to have murdered the woman. There are subplots of organized crime investigations, including questions about the murdered woman’s father, who knew the dead judge (Héctor Alterio). There are also issues of the female judge on this dual case (Cecilia Roth), anti-Semitism, family jealousy and deception, the economy of Argentina, and more. This is an artistic and complex film, which even includes a Greek dance, but begs to be seen once more.
Wild Horses (Caballos salvajes): 1995, Marcelo Piñeyro, Director. Héctor Alterio stars in this film, as well, as a character on the run, as he robs a bank for “personal” reasons. With splendid performances all around, car chases, a tough, dangerous broad, who falls in love, an innocent banker, as co-conspirator, and the vision of dozens of wild Arabian horses galloping into sunset, Wild Horses is a rare adventure, with poignancy and purpose. The levels of mystery and intrigue build in road chases, as well as in TV news clips that become critical to the unfolding drama. Héctor Alterio is quite an actor.
Tango Feroz, The Legend of Tanguito (Tango Feroz, la leyenda de Tanguito): 1992, Marcelo Piñeyro, Director. This is another film that humanizes the downtrodden, the accused, the criminal, the politically oppressed, who are down on luck and connections. Tanguito was actually Jose Alberto Iglesias, a founder of Argentinean Rock. Poignant scenes abound between Tanguito and Mariana, Tanguito’s upper class, educated lover, such as naked tango, rooftop sex, jailhouse kisses, and rock concerts. There are even terrifying scenes within an asylum and police station. And, guess who is the vindictive detective, who tries to bribe Tanguito with “connections” for “inside” political information? Héctor Alterio, once again, a truly versatile actor!
Additional Films from Argentina:
Tango, a Strange Turn (Tango un giro extraño): US Premiere, 2004, Mercedes García Guevara, Director. Full disclosure: I’m a tango dancer and friend and fan of Fernando Otero, a well-known pianist and composer in the NY Tango scene. This documentary-style film by Mercedes García Guevara is about the traditional and new-wave, tango scene in Buenos Aires and the dancers, musicians, and tango aficionados who participate and keep tango alive in the city that is so well-known for its signature music and late-night clubs.
Composers, such as Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazzolla, are celebrated, and the tango dancers in the theatre were probably dancing in their minds. Las Muñecas on rapturous guitars, superb vocalizations by La Chicana, and a bit of romantic drama and historical film were all critical to the quality and enjoyment of this new film. I, for one, would like to see a tango film that delves beneath the surface of the dance and music to the dramatic interrelationships and camaraderie that develop among professionals and amateurs in the international tango community.
Whiskey, Romeo, Zulu: US Premiere, 2004, Enrique Piñeyro, Director. This was one of my favorite films in the series. Enrique Piñeyro is a courageous political activist, who actually used to be a pilot in Argentina and predicted a colossal plane accident, due to government oversights and a corruptive aviation system. Whiskey, Romeo, Zulu is his answer to being fired as a pilot, as it recounts the disastrous buildup to the Lapa plane crash of 1999. Piñeyro snuck his film crew (the details of which would deserve a second film) into Argentina to re-create this scenario, with pilots in the cockpits and in realistic, flight simulators. Piñeyro is the actor, who plays himself, the director, the writer, and the producer. Piñeyro has only appeared in a few films, and new and blossoming, post-aviation career. He is already working on a new film.
Ana and the Others (Ana y los otros): NY Premiere, 2003, Celina Murga, Director. In this film we get to see another Argentinean town, Paraná. This is an “upbeat”, reflective film, compared to the politically charged films above, and it was sheer delight, relaxing and enriching. Ana sees herself as “too old” to be alone anymore, and she enlists the help of an adorable young boy to be her accomplice in locating and reuniting with a long, lost love. There are natural and simple scenes, reminiscent of Nouvelle-Vague French cinema, with permissible passages of silence and focused expression. Time, space, silence, even at a lively, outdoor barbecue or a long walk by the beach, create an emotional and visual effect that is elusive in contemporary American film.
Saturday (Sabado): US Premiere, 2003, Matías Bize, Director. Speaking of time and silence, this film went overboard. This homemade film with hand-held camera tells the story of a bride-not-to-be, as she learns about her fiancé’s illicit affair and impregnation of his lover, as she prepares herself for her wedding day. There are hilarious scenes, as the cheated “bride” breaks up with the “groom”, as he takes a shower. The shower curtain is pulled back for a striking reality show. In fact, I was never sure if this was actually a reality video gone public, or a group of actors parodying cinema verité.
The visual effect of Blanca, the inflamed fiancée, walking the streets in her wedding gown and blue jeans jacket (turned backwards to hide her décolleté), was remarkable. Gabriel, the “filmmaker” is hardly seen, but sometimes heard. Other characters included Victor, the guilty groom, barely out of one bed and on his way to the walk down the aisle, Antonia, his pregnant lover, Blanca’s loyal friends, and one of Blanca’s surprised ex-lovers, who was used for her revenge.
So Far Away (Aunque estés lejos): NY Premiere, 2003, Juan Carlos Tabía, Director. This abstract film with elements and scenes of Madrid and Cuba is 2 films-within-a-film. Actors strangely become characters and then become actors again, with sex, love, politics, immigration issues, ex-lovers, politics, death, and even incest all running rampant in this onscreen drama. Mirtha Ibarra, as Mercedes, and Antonio Valero, as Alberto, are sometimes depicted as well-suited and connected, in spite of an age difference, and sometimes as dreadfully distant, with unexpected phone calls and circumstances creating complex scenes. There is even an earlier “film”, which merges into the second. Characters even assume disguises to take on new roles, so this film is best seen twice for full impact.
Offsides (Fuera de Juego): NY Premiere, 2003, Victor Manuel Arregui, Director. Full disclosure: I have spent time in Quito, Ecuador, I love and miss Quito, and I adored this film for the visual memories and cultural effects. Quito has narrow, mountainous, winding streets, and there is an angel on the mountain that watches over the City. This angel seemed so symbolic in the film. This is another celebration of the survival of the downtrodden and politically rebellious, in this case Juan (Manolo Santillán), a youth, who smokes marijuana and steals a car. His sister is jilted by a wealthy and powerful “boyfriend”, when she tries to introduce him to her family, because all he wants is “sex from a tramp”.
Juan falls into trouble, when he’s led into trying drugs and gets hooked, and his new “friend’ becomes an accomplice in escaping the poverty of the City to steal back money from the wealthy in the North. There are scenes of political marches and violence, scenes intrinsic to several of the Latinbeat films. But, young Juan is portrayed as lovable and vulnerable, and one can’t help but wish him heroic success.
Kudos to Film Society of Lincoln Center for Latinbeat 2004.
Latin Beat 2004
Photo courtesy of Film Society of Lincoln Center