Cantinflas,’ ‘Gueros,’ ‘Behavior’ Play Lleida Fest

Six debuts compete at Catalonia's Latin American Film Fest

Sebastian del Amo’s “Cantinflas,” Alonso Ruizpalacios’ “Gueros” and Ernesto Daranas’ “Behavior” feature in the competition at the 21st Lleida Catalonia Latin American Film Festival, which runs April 10-17.

Lleida, alongside Andalucia’s Huelva film fest, represents the biggest showcase of Latin American pics in Spain. Fest’s official selection comprises 10 films in competition.

Argentine cinema, with five titles, dominate the official selection’s list, as Argentine films score frequent distribution runs in Spain. Though most screen in a small number of theaters, some of them generate solid box office.

Six of the feature films vying for honors are from first-time directors, hinting at a seemingly bottomless Latin American new talent pool.

Standout titles in the official selection from the ever-building Latin American film industry includes Oscar Jaenada-starrer “Cantiflas,” Mexico’s Oscar entry, which, distributed by Pantelion, became 2014’s second-highest-grossing foreign-language film in the U.S., nabbing $6.2 million.

Cinematography, music and the period bio make for what director Sebastián de l Amo calls “a very complete film” and one indication of a step-up in scale in Latin American filmmaking. 

Sold by Mundial, the joint venture of IM Global and Canana, “Gueros” was arguably the most-prized feature debut of the last 12 months, winning San Sebastian’s Horizontes Latinos and Mexico’s Los Cabos, snagging best first feature at 2014’s Berlin and an audience award at the AFI Fest, among other plaudits.

With many critics highlighting its cine-literate playfulness reminiscent of the French Nouvelle Vague, Mexican Ruizpalacios’ first feature, which is shot in black-and-white, unspools on multiple levels as it follows three misfits as they cruise Mexico City in their clapped-out car, just as a massive students strike unspools nearby.

Pics at this current Lleida edition often focus on Latin American society and the social pressures that prevent people to control their own destiny.

One example, “Behavior,” Cuba’s 2015 Oscar entry, which offers a vision of the clash between the old and new Cubas, starring Alina Rodriguez as a spirited 70-year-old teacher who fights bureaucracy to keep a student from a broken home out of juvenile hall.

Ernesto Daranas’ drama, a multiprized fest feature, whose plaudits include best film at 2014’s Bogota and Havana Festivals, has broken out for Madrid-based Latido Films to select sales to key territories such as Germany (Kairos Filmverleih) and Spain (Dreams Factory European).

Like a significant bevy of recent Colombian films, “Mateo,” the directorial debut of Maria Gamboa, Colombia’s candidate for foreign-language Oscar race, portrays a protagonist who has to choose between love and violence.

A co-production between Dia-Fragma Fabrica and France’s Cine-Sud, pic centers on Mateo, an at-risk 16-year-old who discovers a way out from a potential life of crime through theater.

Exec produced by Martin Scorsese and sold by the Match Factory, Argentine Celina Murga’s family drama “The Three Sides of the River” played in competition at Berlin in 2014 to upbeat reviews and won best screenplay at the Havana Film Festival.

“Three Sides” underscores the growth of the Latin American film industry in terms of public financial backing over the last decade. Rolling in Argentina’s Entre Rios province, where Celina Murga already shot her first film, 2003’s “Anna and the Others,” “The Three Sides” received larger financial support from the provincial government, one factor allowing for a slightly larger film.

Winner of the Huelva Festival’s 2014 Golden Colon Award, among other prizes, Enrique Buchichio’s thriller “Operation Zanahoria (Behind the Truth),” based on real facts, turns on two Uruguayan journalists contacted by a former army officer to disclose uninvestigated human rights abuses committed by Uruguay’s military dictatorship of 1973-1985.

Other titles in Lleida from debutant helmers that should play off critical plaudits include Buenos Aires-born Daniel Gagliano’s “Wanted Child,” about a man traveling to Argentina’s Misiones province to fulfill his desire to adopt a child; the Argentina-Chile co-production “El critico,” a post-modern homage to film criticism by critic Hernan Guerschuny, acquired by Music Box Films for North America; Adriano Salgado’s minimalist drama “The Use of a Magazine Rack,” winner of best Argentine pic at 2013 Mar del Plata fest; and Fernando Molnar’s Diego Peretti starrer “Showroom,” a satire of the consumer society.

Alberto Arvelo’s Simon Bolivar biopic “Libertador,” the ambitious Venezuelan-Spanish co-production starring Edgar Ramirez, will open the fest, playing out of competition.

The jury of the official selection, headed by Spanish filmmaker Judith Colell, also includes Spanish journalist Javier Martin Dominguez, Bolivian scribe Julia Vargas, Colombian writer Sergio Alvarez and Peruvian director Diego Vega.

The 21st edition of Lleida’s Latin American Film Festival will pay tribute to Argentine filmmaker Carlos Sorin and Spanish thesp Antonio de la Torre.

John Hopewell contributed to this article.

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