The 27th annual Chicago Latino Film Festival runs from April 1-April 14 at venues including the Landmark Theatre, Instituto Cervantes, University of Chicago’s Doc Films, and University of Illinois Chicago, effectively bringing Spanish-language and international films to Chicago’s North, South, and West sides, and the downtown Loop. Produced by the International Latino Cultural Center in Chicago, the film festival is the largest Latino film festival in the country, and presents over 100 films produced in the United States, Latin America, Portugal, and Spain. The Chicago Latino Film Festival isn’t just a series of screenings, but also an interactive competition: during each screening, the audience is given a ballot and asked to rank each film on a scale of one to five. The film with the highest rankings is announced as the winner of the Audience Choice Award. Most screenings also include question and answer (or, pregunta y repuesta) sessions with the director, often in Spanish and translated in English. During the last week of the festival, the F staff will continuously pick a selection of films to review. Check back for more reviews, updated daily this week.
She (Ella), 2010, Peru
Director: Francisco J. Lombardi
“Ella” tells the story of Alfredo, a painter who leads an abusive relationship with his wife Luna, the muse and model for his paintings. Luna spends most of her screen-time naked, and only utters about a half dozen lines of dialogue throughout the entirety of the movie. Her character mostly exists on-screen through videotapes Alfredo watches of her, paintings he has made of her, and stories other people tell about her. Unfortunately, we only see Luna in scenes of violence and objectification, and although director Lombardi said in his Q & A that this film, unlike his other films, is not intended to make any political or social statements, it certainly paints a negative portrait of his female lead character, for whom the movie is named.
Lombardi said that this film is based on a true story that his friend told him, and that he merely wanted to capture feelings of tragic loss and artistic struggle, but shouldn’t a director be held to a certain level of responsibility for the way he or she choose to represent characters of a specific gender, class, race, and so forth? The leading and supporting male characters in “Ella” take no responsibility for their actions and ultimately face no dire consequences or moments of revelation, aside from their realization of mutual feelings of lust for Luna. At times, the directing and acting of the movie is reminiscent of a Telenovela—high drama and cliche without much regard for realism. In the end, what do we learn? That being an artist is a challenging and selfish lifestyle? That it’s okay to objectify women as long as other men are aware of and resentful of this objectification? Or simply that most sticky situations can be solved with a bottle of vodka? Out of all the possible outcomes, at least the vodka I can identify with most. —Jennifer Swann
Universo de Mya (Mya’s Universe), 2010, Portugal
Director: Miguel Clara Vasconcelos
This 11-minute short is a series of well-crafted monologues and moving still-life’s about teleportation. In the first scene, a woman in a silver bobbed wig plays with a white bunny rabbit and reenacts a scene with toy dolls and action figures. The next few scenes unravel with interconnected vignettes and beautifully designed sets that become more and more fluid and interchangeable as each character morphs into one another. —Jennifer Swann
Garcia, 2010, Colombia
Director: Jose Luis Rugeles
From the first few scenes, “Garcia” seems like it might be a quaint and quirky love story about a Colombian couple dealing with each other’s idiosyncrasies and obsessions as they grow old together. For example, Garcia (Damián Alcázar) obsesses over tracking his spending and even saves packets of sugar and salt from restaurants, which he empties out into a jar in his kitchen. He rides his bicycle everywhere and dreams of buying a farm and learning to grow his own food and live off the land. Garcia’s wife Amalia (Margarita Rosa de Francisco) seems only to care about her cigarettes and her new yellow pumps, which become as iconic throughout the movie as Dorothy’s ruby slippers in “Wizard of Oz.” Although “Garcia” at first captures the beauty and simplicity of life in Colombia, it quickly reveals a darkly hilarious underbelly to its lonely roads and lush marshlands.
In his debut screenplay, writer Diego Vivanco crafted the film in the suspenseful and slapstick style of the Coen Brothers. “Garcia” is not just a quirky love story about a couple growing old together; it’s a story that explores the spectrum of love, hate, and passion that can emerge from various relationships. The movie is not without its fair share of sex, drugs, and violence, but the characters avoid cliches by mocking them and turning them into unexpected comedic situations in which the complexity of their character is revealed. One of the biggest pleasures of the movie was watching Garcia and his clueless but well-meaning friend Gomez (Fabio Restrepo) turn from happy-go-lucky guys to crime-fighting investigators in the vein of Jeff Bridges and John Goodman in “The Big Lebowksi.” Vivanco and Alcázar answered questions from the mostly Spanish-speaking audience on Tuesday night at the Landmark Theatre. —Jennifer Swann
The Tenants (Os Inquilinos), 2009, Brazil
Director: Sergio Bianchi
Brazil usually brings to mind images of bronzed supermodels, the annual Carnival festival with extravagant costumes and all-night dance parties, and the upcoming Olympic games in Rio. Bianchi’s “The Tenants,” however, is set far from the glamorous, sandy beaches of Rio. In the slums of São Paulo, the largest city in the Southern hemisphere, Valter (Marat Descartes) struggles to support his family and shield them from the gangs and constant crime in his own backyard. When a group of hard-partying hoodlums move into the house next door, it’s at first difficult to understand why Valter doesn’t just call the cops and report the noise and violence. As Valter faces daily harassment and threats of violence, we begin to understand that life in São Paulo isn’t easily regulated by laws and that it’s not so simple to escape a life of poverty.
Parts of the movie felt heavy-handed in providing metaphors for violence and socio-economics, but perhaps the didacticism is necessary in explaining the complexity of the crime in relation to class struggles in São Paulo. The constant bass-heavy soundtrack of the neighbors’ partying was irritating, and it gave me a brief sense of the anxiety that Valter and his family might have felt within the movie. The most chilling aspect of the movie is the realistic sense of entrapment and desperation within one’s own home environment. —Jennifer Swann
For more information about the Chicago Latino Film Festival, visit chicagolatinofilmfestival.org