Three Small Yet Huge Latin American Films

in 35th Montreal World Film Festival

by José Romero

Amidst the many films available at the Montreal World Film Festival, three Latin American productions stood out. Coming from three different countries, two of them are full-length debuts and all three are stylistically different; but all are proof of behind-the-camera talent, and of directors with very clear ideas on how to make movies.

The second film from the director Jorge Michel Grau (Somos Lo Que Hay) is part of a Mexican television station’s project to bring film-quality product to the small screen. It might seem odd to find it in the Focus on World Cinema section, but it really isn’t. Gofer takes place over the course of one day, and it shows the relationship between a politician and his right-hand man and driver, Alan, the confidante that knows all his secrets and also fixes all the mistakes the politician makes. A crime breaks apart their fragile working bond, and as usual, it is the weakest person in the organization that shoulders the blame. The intelligent script, credited to Edgar San Juan, has a powerful opening sequence showing our protagonist in a place of no return, negotiating his own survival. Like any good thriller, it sets the stage from the get go, with clearly defining both the characters and their treatment of each other. The film moves at a rapid pace, something rare in Latin American TV movies. Most importantly, the setting takes full advantage of closed spaces and the typical television framing format, fused with an expressive, paused acting style. A lot of the credit goes to Noé Hernández, one of the most vital and freshest figures in contemporary Mexican cinema. Behind its solid structure, the most valuable asset in this film is its treatment of corruption, and of the poor ethical and moral values of Mexican politics. Grau has managed to create believable characters without resorting to clichés, making an impression on an audience, something which many of his contemporaries cannot do with longer runtimes.

The debut from Fernando Pacheco is one of those movies that could easily get lost, not just at this festival but also among the numerous films made in Argentina. Adrift is not just from Argentina, it’s also one of the first films from the frontier province of Misiones, where there is no impetus (or support) to make movies, unlike places such as Córdoba or Entre Ríos; it requires special, non-preferential treatment, in order to be more widely seen and attain a rare commercial release. Most of the films we see outside of Argentina come from the capital, and this unfortunately happens all over South America. Adrift displays the beauty and multiethnicity of the region, which, being close to Paraguay and Brazil, also shares  the despair and economic instability of all frontier regions. Pacheco puts these elements into a Latin American Western, where the protagonist, Ramón Antunez, worker at a sawmill, gets the news that the company will no longer require his services; he moves away to find a new job. A friend offers to take him on the risky but profitable drug trade. Although conflicted, Ramón agrees in order to provide for his family. Pacheco offers a concise tale of survival in a remote, almost forgotten province. Rather than judge his characters, he watches them in their day-to-day goings on in a hostile environment, and also doesn’t try to beautify their misery, to hide the poverty which is almost certainly there. Adrift reminds one of old American westerns and their pioneering spirit, where the provider must do the impossible (or illegal, as in this case) to keep his family together and find a place to prosper. The best way to sum up Fernando Pacheco’s first film is as a sterile, realistic western.

In the last few years, Costa Rica has been making films at a relatively rapid rate. The results are sometimes interesting, and that’s enough to place them first in Central America. This is definitely not the typical Costa Rican film one would expect, moving away from earlier subject matter like ecological dramas or urban comedies. Thankfully, the impulse to make films at any cost shines through, and Three Marys fits perfectly in the category of “guerrilla filmmaking,” shot without permits, turning its back on authority, running on the adrenaline from having a low budget and little time. Let’s be clear, though: without a good script — and it does have one — it would have all been a waste. The film starts out like a soap opera, absorbed by the toughest side of Costa Rican society, to give us the story of the three women of the title and their experiences over the course of one night, a reflection of the problems in the city of San José, which can prove uncomfortable for the average viewer. Chilean-born director Francisco Gonzalez uses an unbalanced aesthetic, in line with his characters. The camera is invasive and asphyxiating, because no concessions are made in this story. With its cryptic structure, we already know the ending, but that’s not important. What dazzles about this debut is how radical and fearless it is, demanding a lot from the audience. It’s not an easy movie to follow, since it relies heavily on local slang and idioms. Many won’t like this film, but they can’t be indifferent to it. And that is probably what the director intended.