A Singular Sample of Latin American Filmmaking

in 38th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana

by Gonzalo Palermo

Comprised of 18 feature-length films from seven different Latin American or Caribbean countries (four from Chile; three from Argentina, Brazil and Cuba; two from Colombia and Mexico; one from Trinidad and Tobago), the competition at the 38th Havana Film Festival (Festival Internacional de Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano) was uneven, with high and low points. Within the first group, Chile especially excelled with very diverse films. One of the most anticipated films was Pablo Larrain’s Neruda. Initially, the challenge of this film was to portray the famous and renowned poet Pablo Neruda, well known to the public, but Larrain was able to find an alternative way, non-indulgent, and with an original narrative that plays with fiction and the balance of lead and supporting characters. We see the fugitive poet played by Luis Gnecco under de watchful eye of Oscar Peluchonneau, the detective played by Gael García Bernal. Neruda is a singular biopic with sober cinematography, a mixture of a police procedural and comedy.

A very different style can be found in Alejandro Fernández Almendras’ Much Ado About Nothing (Aquí no ha pasado nada). The first minutes of comedy turn into a police drama that revolves around a car accident involving a politician’s son. With a strong narrative pulse, the film narrates a complex side of Chilean society. The cinematography of Much Ado About Nothing was provided by Inti Briones, who also shot The Blind Christ (El Cristo ciego), by Christopher Murray. Briones won the award for Best Cinematography for these two films. On this same topic, The Untamed (La región salvaje) by Mexico’s Amat Escalante, a social-sci fi story about family, visually disturbing, must be mentioned.

The inaugural film of the festival, and the only decidedly humorous film, was The Distinguished Citizen (El ciudadano ilustre) by Argentinians Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat. This movie about the first Argentine Nobel Prize won the award for Best Script. From Brazil, the most important film was Aquarius, by Kleber de Mendonça Filho, which won the FIPRESCI Award for Best Movie. Sonia Braga’s solid performance as the owner of an apartment in Boa Virgem, harassed by a property company, is what drives the story, but the film’s real protagonists are the test of time and the apartment. Aquarius tells Clara’s personal story and looks into the Brazilian society and the invasion of privacy. It is a movie made of memories, metaphors and suggestions.

Last Days in Havana (Últimos días en La Habana), by the recognized local director Fernando Pérez, acclaimed before and after the movie, takes place in La Habana Centro, where a man waits for a US Visa while his friend is in bed dying of AIDS. Pérez achieves something that seemed impossible at first: he doesn’t fall into the idealized portrayal of poverty or exploitation, very common themes in Latin American films. Conversely, Last Days in Havana captivates the audience with humor and a gallery of secondary characters that end up gaining the leading role. If the main character remains immovable throughout the film, the supporting chracters—especially the young niece of her sick friend—are the ones who take the story to another place with remarkable dignity and very successful moments of photography.

Edited by José Teodoro