"Sabado" and Other Latin American Films

in 52nd International Filmfestival Mannheim-Heidelberg

by Dennis West

The best Latin American film in competition at Mannheim-Heidelberg this year was the 65-minute video “Sabado”, directed by the young Chilean Matias Bize. The film captured a special mention from the FIPRESCI jury. This dialogue-rich comedy-drama is set in contemporary Chile, and it makes excellent use of the distinctive Chilean vernacular. “Sabado” is a very well rehearsed and choreographed send-up of both cinema verite and home videos that, amazingly, is done in a single long take. Here indeed is a different type of wedding video. The constantly moving, hand-held video camera records the now-dramatic-now-humorous breaking up of a love triangle on the eve of a formal wedding. When the prospective bride learns about her boyfriend’s amorous infidelities, she goes in search of him with a vengeance — and she takes along a video cameraman to record the scene. At one key moment the cameraman character and the bride-to-be enter a bathroom and find the unsuspecting macho object of desire showering. The prospective bride then confronts her boyfriend about his infidelities; he waffles and lies and, tellingly, keeps dropping the towel that he attempts to use to cover his privates. The drama and the constantly recording camera then move out onto a public street, where the naked boyfriend frantically trails behind his girlfriend — who is wearing a formal white wedding dress — in a vain attempt to somehow patch up the relationship. This key scene rejects the traditional male gaze of cinema — here it’s the naked male buttocks that viewers see—and effectively uses humor and drama to deconstruct Latin American machismo.

“Sabado” is a remarkable project because it openly uses the stylistic approaches typical of home video — and the strengths and weaknesses of the format — to innovatively explore significant social themes, such as Latin American machismo and gender relationships. In his public introduction to his work, Bize claimed that the entire project cost a mere forty euros. This low-production cost is extremely significant in developing nations, where the costs of 35 mm production are frequently prohibitive. “Sabado” proves that the humble home video format can provocatively and in an entertaining manner explore a society’s most urgent social themes.

Other Latin American Films

Another important Latin American feature in competition was the documentary “La pasion de Maria Elena”, directed by Mercedes Moncada Rodriguez. This was the only documentary film in competition. The film is not stylistically innovative, but it boasts strong production values, and it succeeds in opening a window onto native American cultures and their social problems in today’s Mexico.

Uruguay contributed the pleasant road movie “El viaje hacia el mar”, directed by Guillermo Casanova. The action is set in the 1960s, and the plot concerns the efforts of elderly men from the interior of Uruguay to journey to the ocean just to see it before dying. The cinematography and leisurely editing contribute to the slow pace of the film, which stresses both the ‘everydayness’ and the poetry of life.

A disappointment was writer-director-cameraman-musician Joel Cano’s feature “Siete dias, siete noches”, a French production filmed in Cuba without official support or sanction. The plot follows the adventures and misadventures of three stressed-out women in contemporary Cuba. Unfortunately, viewers can not fully appreciate their problems and difficulties in part because the filmmaker repeatedly inserts blatantly shocking scenes — a dogfight, a cockfight, naked and vulnerable men in full frontal nudity — apparently meant to suggest the brutality of everyday life in Cuba, but which in reality seem to smack of gratuitous sensationalism.