31st Mar del Plata International Film Festival
Argentina, November 18 - November 27 2016
Rumor has it that José Antonio Martínez Suárez, filmmaker and president of the Mar del Plata International Film Festival, watches every one of the films programmed for the event. If this is true, he would have seen 480 titles this year, selected for the 120,000 viewers who attended the festival. Mar del Plata is the only Latin American film festival with the status of Cannes, San Sebastian, Venice and Berlin.
Gray-haired, skinny, with a high-pitched voice, 91-year- old “Don José” overshadowed the guests of honor and received resounding applause for each of his appearances during the 31st edition of a festival that began 62 years ago. More applause than French director Olivier Assayas. More than the legendary Italian photographer Vittorio Storaro. More than the American critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.
From the stage, tapping his cane after his roguish comments, he said goodbye in three ways. One, expressing sadness for the death of Fidel Castro (which occurred in the middle of the festival). Two, announcing that 43.3% of the films shown were Latin American. Finally, clarifying that rumors that the festival would be moving to a more popular city in Argentina were false.
Mar del Plata has been known as La Feliz (“the happy one”) ever since Juan Domingo Perón introduced paid vacations in 1945. Since then, its beaches have been stacked with tents: an image reminiscent of Jacques Tati. The city also has a fantastic restaurant and fishing club, accessed by walking along a dock that looks like the setting of a Tim Burton film.
It is said that Mar del Plata is so hot and has so many tourists that it is impossible to visit for a week without touching any sweaty bodies. The festival was certainly very well-attended, with tickets selling out in 99% of cases.
There were four competitive categories, one of them dedicated to the effervescent Argentine cinema, which stood out with titles such as The Balloons (Los globos) by first-time director director Mariano González, which received the FIPRESCI Prize.
The international panorama presented the latest from directors such as Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, Terrence Davies, Andrzej Wajda, Abbas Kiarostami, Johnnie To, Hong Sang-soo, Manoel de Oliveira, Oliver Stone, Kleber Mendoça Filho, Pierre León, Xavier Dolan, Ben Wheatley, José Celestino Campusano and Cristi Puiu. There were also plenty of tributes, classics, documentaries on great directors, and restored films including Working Women (Mujeres que trabajan), featuring the debut of actress Nini Marshall, and The Four Blows (Los cuatro golpes), a short film made by François Truffaut when he visited the festival.
Fernando Martín Peña, the festival director, was right to say that “all the cinema in the world is in Mar del Plata”, an aesthetically inspiring city, although dormant in its splendor – plagued by small shabby hotels, Pakistani gift stores and joggers.
At the end of the festival, the sea remained as a beautiful backdrop which everyone saw but no-one touched because, as they say, in November the water gets cold. (Mariangel Solomita, edited by Lesley Chow)