Latin American Competition

in 27th Mar Del Plata International Film Festival

by Živa Emeršič

The thirteen films in the Latin American competition at Mar del Plata surprised audiences with their variety of topics, genres and visual styles. However, there is one common marker that could be applied to most of them: the reality of modern Latin America. We saw  a wide  span of stories, from over-populated urban areas in the big cities to remote villages, from decadent high society to simple folk fighting for their daily bread. The contradictions of modern Latin America are reflected deeply and  brutally in films from the region.

There were particularly strong testimonies in three movies by Mexican directors. The film After Lucia (Después de Lucía) by  Michel Franco shows the brutality of modern society, which starts as early as at school, where classmates abuse and bully a girl who has just moved to Mexico City. The violence generates more violence and her father eventually avenges his daughter in an even more brutal and ruthless way. Carlos Reygadas also offers a powerful statement in Post Tenebras Lux, revealing the other side of ever present violence, that which people carry within themselves. A rich couple moves from the decadent city to the countryside only to discover that all the burden of insatisfaction and boredom is still there with them. Reygadas uses a very graphic symbol, the devil himself, to leave  no doubt about the nature of the problem. There is another view of  Mexico in Here and There (Aquí y allá) by Antonio Méndez Esparza, a film set in a small mountain town in the north of the country. A simple and poor yet happy family life is brought to an abrupt end when the father of the family returns to the USA to earn some money as an illegal worker, leaving behind not only his family of four women, but his lifelong dreams of a musical career.

Brazilian director Marcelo Gomes picked Recife, a flourishing coastal town, to show the emptiness and senslesness of his heroine’s life in the film Once Upon a Time Was I, Veronica (Era uma vez eu, Verônica). Veronica, a psychiatrist in a public hospital, treats herself as another mental patient while her life passes by, interrupted only by occasional sex and an alienated social life. Eventually, she finds her way through her emotional anguish by becoming closer to her father and her past. In Things the Way They Are (Las cosas como son), Chilean director Fernando Lavanderos explores the cultural clash of an encounter between a weird young man renting rooms to tourists in Santiago and an idealistic Norwegian girl, but missed the opportunity to give a deeper view of the current global interchange of values.

The only Peruvian feature in the competition, The Cleaner (El limpiador) by Adrián Saba, examines a mysterious epidemic that attacks Lima, leaving only dead bodies in a devastated urban landscape. The lonely cleaner tests his own humanity by taking care of an orphaned boy. The movie failed to reveal the symbolism of the plague: we can only guess at its social nature. The movie that received the FIPRESCI prize, The Towrope (La Sirga) by Columbian director William Vega, left no space for doubt about the nature of the menace threatening its protagonists. Despite the fact that he never actually shows the long-term Columbian armed conflict that has ruined mostly rural areas of the country, the girl named Alicia (in Wonderland?) seeks refuge in a remote lake area. But nowhere is far enough away in Columbia today: the fishermen are gone, only guns are distributed around those vast, grey waters.

The two films that did not fit into the pattern of social commentary were 7 Boxes (7 cajas) by Paraguayan directors Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori, a crime-thriller-turned-cartoon-turned-video-clip, visually attractive and well made, but too easygoing on its murky subject. The other was Argentinian costume drama Iron Gate, The Exile of Peron (Puerta de Hierro, el exilio del Perón), a coherent biopic about Juan Domingo Perón, a film that may have been more suitable for the festival’s main program.The selection also screened  four documentaries.

Ziva Emersic is a long time film critic, former director of the Slovenian Film Festival, and former  head of the Documentary Program of Slovenian Public Television. She is currently living in Buenos Aires as a foreign correspondent.

Edited by Alison Frank