The Discovery of Lost Identities

in 33rd Cinélatino – Rencontres de Toulouse

by Rita di Santo

“Latin America cinema seems to have found a way to transform fears, to bury deaths, to start from fresh, to discover lost identities while bravely extending the horizon of a shared dream of hope, towards collective imaginary triumph.”

The 33rd edition of “Cinelatino – Rencontres de Toulouse” went online, having been forced to completely rethink itself in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. But its energy and commitment to support the production of American Latina cinema hasn’t dimmed.

Once again it has confirmed its mission of observatory to identify and admire new tendencies in a cinema in constant evolution.

Finding common directions has never been easier. At first glimpse, most of this year’s movies are set in present times, showing an urgency to regain a sense of everyday reality, rendering truthfully, authentic slices society.

In most of them we sense a sort of moral obligation to tell stories of ordinary, honest people with their struggles and hopes, protagonists who try to stand against the chaotic, lunatic forces of society, led by a corrupted politics.

Sadly, as we all know from the media’s stories, the pandemic has proved a humanitarian disaster in Latin America that will inflict years of uncertainty and hardship. The day of the of the festival’s closing ceremony, Brazil counted more than 3,000 dead in a single day.

And it was from Brazil the revelation of this year’s festival came. Joao Paulo Miranda Maria’s Memory House (Casa de Antiguidades) tells the story of an indigenous black man from the north of Brazil who, in order to keep his job in a dairy factory, has to move to a conservative Austrian community in the south of the country. This is an astonishing film in a number of ways. Striking visually and brilliantly played, written and directed with total conviction. In telling a story about the wounds of a country, it’s a mesmeric homage to tenacious people fighting for their own work, identity and dignity.

The New Girl (La chica nueva) was a splendid feature debut from Argentinian filmmaker Micaela Gonzalo. Broke and homeless, Jimena goes to meet her half-brother in Rio Grande. She finds a job in a factory and with it a community to belong to. The director mingles the personal transformation of the young protagonist with an analysis of working life. The movie deals with the injustices of uncaring capitalism and invokes a properly socialist alternative in an innovative and vigorous way. Never sentimental, it maintains the right to be both trenchant and touching throughout its duration.

A young girl is also the protagonist of Colombian Diana Montenegro’s Longing Soul (El alma quiere volar). A feminist portrait of women united by the same destiny, connected to men who are abusive, absent or infirm. Together they want to liberate themselves from this curse. This is a poignant, heart-breaking and relevant film about women’s struggles. Despite its placid but pointed surface, it manages by the end to tell a great deal.

Set on the Bolivian-Argentinian border, Karnaval is the debut of Jao Pablo Felix. It sees another young protagonist, a Malambo dancer, preparing for the most important competition of his life, while dealing with a dysfunctional parent. It argues what it means to be young in a truly authentic way, a brave and worthy effort, directed with a sensitive and thoughtful eye.

Rodrigo Sepulveda’s My Tender Matador (Tengo miedo torero). Adapted from the eponymous novel, published in 2001, by Pedro Lemebel, an emblematic figure of Chilean irreverence and marginality, the story sees three forces collide: the oppressive gloom of the Pinochet dictatorship, the revolutionary activism of the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front and the underground life of homosexuals and transvestites. A memorable film in which images and sounds become authentic, catching the solitude, the ambiguities, of a world forced to hide.

As political as it is provocative, Michel Franco’s New Order is a passionate speculative staging of a brutal and bloody coup d’état against Mexico’s wealthy ruling class. Set in a tumultuous near future where a guest list of judges and other top society figures attend an opulent wedding celebration while chaos reigns in the streets, but then the protesters breach the barriers, and the killing begins.

Coronavirus has proved an intensely political story, as well as a humanitarian one – witness the suffering it has visited on Latin America’s most vulnerable people. Yet Latin America cinema seems to have found a way to transform fears, to bury deaths, to start from fresh, to discover lost identities while bravely extending the horizon of a shared dream of hope, towards collective imaginary triumph.

Rita Di Santo
© FIPRESCI 2021