Five Must Watch Films

in 19th Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema

by Rodolfo Santullo

Once again, BAFICI proves itself to be a wonderful window into a world of little known film gems, a sampler of what’s being crafted in markets in need of more exposure, or in countries where the movie industry is in an almost-permanent nascent state.

Sister of Mine (Demonios tus Ojos), Pedro Aguilera (2017) (Spain, Colombia)

Oliver (Julio Perillán, a dead ringer for Eduardo Noriega) is a rather dark film director who, while web surfing, stumbles upon an amateur pornographic video starring his half-sister Aurora (Ivana Baquero, the little girl from Pan’s Labyrinth, after puberty turned her into a nuclear bombshell). Oliver travels to visit his sister and, as expected, his intentions towards her are less than pure. I rather not reveal more details about the plot, but I can say that Aguilera (who co-wrote the film with Juan Carlos Sampedro) aims to make the viewer uncomfortable, with a movie that is never predictable, and that causes fascination and repulsion in equal measure. The leads are definitely up to the task: Perillán is 100% effective, and Baquero is stunning both for her acting and in her beauty. The reference to Cannibal Holocaust at the end deserves an ovation.

Sambá, Israel Cárdenas& Laura Amelia Guzmán (2017) (Dominican Republic)

Francisco Castillo (with solid acting by Algenis Perez Soto) returns to the Dominican Republic after 17 years in the US, including 15 of those years spent in jail. Without education or a valid ID, his only skill is boxing. Nichi Valente (Ettore D’Alessandro, a bona fide star who is also the film’s writer and producer) is a former Olympic boxer from Italy, who has lived in the country for the past decade, dodging creditors at every turn. Their paths cross, which creates a highly enjoyable sports drama about broken men who find redemption by getting onto the ring – or standing in its corner. There are some clichés, I must admit, from the Rocky saga (including its most recent installment, Creed), from classic films like The Champ, and from Walter Hill’s must-see debut, Hard Times; but the clichés work well in this movie, like well-placed jabs that make our heads snap back. Add a powerful soundtrack and a bit of Caribbean flavor, and the result is a film that is most definitely worth watching.

Donald Cried, Kris Avedisian (2016) (USA)

Pete (Jesse Wakeman) is forced to return to his (snowy, frozen, and horrible) hometown to settle his recently deceased grandma’s estate. His problems start as soon as he lands at the airport: he lost his wallet during the trip there. This forces him to contact Donald (the amazing Kris Avedisian, co-star, director, producer, and writer, a veritable one-man band), his best friend from back in the day for help, despite the fact that they have not talked in two decades. This turns out to be the actual start of his troubles: Donald is a man-child who never matured past his twenties, displaying sociopathic behavior that turn Pete’s “I’ll be there for a day to settle things and leave” plan into a Kafka-esque nightmare. An enjoyable dramedy –both genuinely funny and stirring at the same time, something that isn’t always true of this kind of movie– that stands solidly (and smartly so) on Wakeman and Avedisian’s acting, both of whom have incredible chemistry. One of the best comedies I’ve seen in a while.

A Secret in the Box (Un Secreto en la Caja), Javier Izquierdo (2016) (Ecuador)

A documentary that chronicles the life of Marcelo Chiriboga, a legendary author from the Latin American Boom, a persecuted political activist from the 60s, exiled from his country in the 70s, his work censored. His three novels were instrumental in understanding Ecuador’s reality back in… What? What do you mean, Marcelo Chiriboga is not real? He was invented by José Donoso and Carlos Fuentes because there was no author from Ecuador among the “Boom” writers? But he’s in this film! This documentary provides irrefutable evidence of his existence! A highly entertaining mockumentary by Izquierdo (co-written with his brother Jorge) picks up Donoso and Fuentes’ wonderful idea. The latter mentioned Chiriboga in interviews and included him in their writings, situating him as the ultimate lampoon of things that could happen to a “socially conscious” Latin American writer from the time. The film doubles down on this by elaborating upon Chiriboga and his work, going as far as to develop an alternate history of modern day Ecuador, with insane and extremely funny results. A great film.

Louis & Luca and the Snow Machine (Solan og Ludvig: Herfra til Flåklypa), Rasmus A. Sivertsen (2015) (Norway)

Solan and Ludvig (Louis and Luca in the international release) are a magpie and a hedgehog, respectively, who live with an inventor in the small Norwegian village of Flåklypa. While Solan is reckless and brash, Ludvig is a spineless coward; both must be repeatedly rescued by Reodor Fegen (is he their father or their guardian?), usually by means of one of his inventions. This time, the trio will find themselves embroiled in the “Cheese Race”, a traditional competition between Flåklypa and the neighboring village of Sildre. As if the traditional rivalry between the two villages wasn’t enough, this time the stakes are higher, as Solan makes a very expensive bet (without thinking, obviously). Both plot (human inventor with animal sidekicks) and animation technique (beautiful, artisanal stop motion) remind us of Wallace & Gromit (from legendary production company Aardman), but the truth is that Solan and Ludwig’s adventures go way back (created by one of Norway’s most popular children’s author, Kjell Aukrust, and comprised of a vast series of books that have been adapted before) and pack their own brand of effectiveness. This film is a wonderful and imaginative adventure with perfectly delivered thrills, head-spinning action, and even emotionally touching moments.

Edited by Tara Judah