“So far from God, so close to the United States.”
If nothing else has unified Latin America over the years, this caustic saying surely has. But as dramatically showcased in the Palm Springs festival’s newly minted Cine Latino section — living in the shadow of the U.S. can have an unexpected effect.
“The best work coming from Latin America, Spain and Portugal,” notes Denis DeLaRoca, the section’s programmer and a longtime Ibero-American specialist, “is truly independent in every way — even from the dominant commercial forces in their own countries. They’re not trying to mimic Hollywood films.”
Crowning examples among the fest’s 32 offerings in Spanish and Portuguese include Lucretia Martel’s sneaky, intriguing Argentinean drama of desire and faith, “The Holy Girl,” and Fernando Eimbcke’s superbly droll domestic comedy from Mexico “Duck Season.”
DeLaRoca posits that these films represent the future of cinema, along with “Whisky,” from Uruguay’s Juan Pablo Rebello and Pablo Stoll, a dazzling hit at Cannes and part of the fest’s extensive section of official foreign-language Oscar submissions.
“It’s a cinema that’s completely distinctive, standing apart from most mainstream Latin American work and from U.S. cinema,” he says. “Martel, for example, makes a world of her own. And the economical use of resources on such limited budgets is so damned amazing.”
That resourcefulness can be seen in a film like”Whisky Romeo Zulu,” by tyro hyphenate Enrique Pineyro, a standout in the Argentinean output, repped by no less than seven titles, as well as Daniel Burman’s Oscar-submitted comedy, “Lost Embrace.” “There were so many riches from Argentina,” says DeLaRoca, “that it was difficult to cover them all and give audiences a full sense of what’s happening there.”
Pineyro’s debut, based on his experiences as a commercial airline pilot, and a crash that caused a national scandal, impresses “because it’s such a personal report. He’s the writer-director-producer-star, and he’s created such a sharp metaphor for a corrupt Argentina in the 1990s.”
That period also is examined through the scathing docu lens of vet helmer Fernando Solanas in “A Social Genocide,” which renders the polemic politics of “Fahrenheit 9/11” mild by comparison.
Argentinean helmer Adolfo Aristarain enjoys one of the fest’s gala slots with “Roma,” which DeLaRoca praises for its “outstanding storytelling, humor and intensely personal qualities.”
A visibly strong current of comedy runs through the program, uniting “Duck Season” with Pablo Trapero’s beautifully observed Argentinean road pic “Rolling Family,” plus “Jesus’ Heart,” Bolivian Marcos Loayza’s brilliant piece of absurdism about an old government working the system, and popular Spanish helmer Alex de la Iglesia’s typically wild “Ferpect Crime.”
Brazil, always a dominant player in South American film, is nicely repped by docus (world premiere “Everything Blue,” about samba, and Maria Ramos’ acclaimed courtroom study “Justice”), docu-dramas (“Cazuza, There’s No Stopping Time,” by high-powered duo Sandra Werneck and Walter Carvalho), personal history (“The Diary of a Provincial Girl”) and political drama (Lucia Murat’s superb prison pic “Almost Brothers”).
Latin America’s reach into the U.S. is suggested by the inclusion in the section of “Dirt,” by Yank indie helmer Nancy Savoca, a Showtime production that delves into the life of a Salvadoran housemaid in Manhattan.
DeLaRoca and fest program director Carl Spence say their aim is to cherry-pick the best work while striving to convey the extremely eclectic range of films being made in Spanish and Portuguese.
“We didn’t want to have a quota from various countries,” says Spence, who believes their selection “gives the audience a choice of really interesting films and a sense of where the strong work is being made.”
A few pics that appeared to be shoo-ins for the Oscar race but weren’t submitted pop up in Cine Latino: “Jesus’ Heart,” from Bolivia, and Josue Mendez’s taut, tense debut from Peru, “Days of Santiago.” Despite having these arguably superior films, neither country entered the fray this year.