San Sebastian: Escalante’s ‘Untamed,’ Murray’s ‘Blind Christ,’ Arango’s ‘X Quinientos’ at Horizontes Latinos

Nine of the 13 films at Latin American showcase first or second features

X Quinientos, Dir: Juan Andres Arango
Copyright: Nur Rubio Sherwell/Machete Producciones

MADRID — Three major Latin American bows this late summer – Mexican Amat Escalante’s “The Untamed” and Christopher Murray’s “The Blind Christ,” both Venice competition contenders, and “X Quinientos,” from Colombia’s Andres Arango, which is slated for Toronto – have made the cut of the 2016 San Sebastian Horizontes Latinos showcase.

They are joined by a clutch of Latin American major 2016 fest standouts – Daniel Burman’s “El Rey del Once,” Alejandro Fernandez Almendras’ “Much Ado About Nothing, are just two” – a world premiere and majorly movies by emerging talents from Latin America which once again, as in San Sebastian’s Competition lineup, throws the fest focus solidly on a new generation of a new generation of filmmakers.

Of Horizontes Latinos’ 13 entries, nine are first or second features, all by directors who released their feature debut this decade. Only three directors are over 40. With 10 movies under his belt, more than twice that of any other Horizontes Latinos contender, Daniel Burman should be a gnarled veteran. He is only 42.

Competing for a €35,000 ($39,500) Horizontes Latinos prize – as much these days as many sales on arthouse films to France – section’s titles cut two ways. Doing so, they reveal two of the grand themes or concerns of contemporary Latin American cinema.

A first is still Latin America’’s banes, portrayed across the board. But movies are now often far more sophisticated in social observance than most in the past. Both “The Untamed” and “The Blind Christ” turn on the need for faith – what kind differs – among under-privileged populations, as an indicator of their dire social deprivation.

Sold by The Match Factory, and lead-produced by Mexico’s Mantarraya, “The Untamed” marks for Escalante a step-up in budget and VFX, here provided by Lars Von Trier collaborator Peter Hjorth, as it pictures a mother of two who battles male chauvinism, misogyny, and homophobia Mexico’s provinces. After a meteor crashes into a nearby mountain, a woman convinces the family that it could be the answer to all their problems.

Produced by Chile’s Jirafa Films and France’s Cine-Sud Promotion, and sold by Film Factory, ’The Blind Christ” follows a mechanic, who, believing he is a Christ, sets out on a barefoot pilgrimage across the Northern Chilean desert to perform his first miracle, curing a dying friend. He gradually attracts a following. “In pondering faith, we can uncover the social conflicts that have historically plagued us as a country and society,” Murray argues.

A Netflix global acquisition sold by Film Factory and selected for Sundance and Berlin, “Much Ado About Nothing,” a second Jirafa Horizontes Latinos title, lambasts the impunity before law of Chile’s ultra rich via a party-scene-set rights-of-passage tale in which a young upper-class Chilean learns the price of acceptance by Chile’s cliquish ultra-rich.

Horizontes Latinos’ two newest movies tackle social issues head-on. One of sales company FiGa’s biggest bets for second half 2016, “El Amparo,” Venezuelan Rober Calzadilla’s first feature, is inspired by a true-event: Venezuela’s 1988 El Amparo Massacre, when soldiers and special force police killed 14 fishermen, alleging that they were guerrilla operatives. Aiming to bring new attention to the slaughter but again the impunity of the powerful, Calzadilla portals the fate of the outage’s two survivors.

Top prize winner of San Sebastian’s 2015 Films in Progress, “Cambridge Squatter,” from Brazil’s Eliane Caffe (“Midnight Sun”), is set in the world of Sao Paulo homeless, depicting their joys, dramas, divergences, and constant fear of eviction. Brazil’s Aurora Filmes produces with France’s Tu vas Voir (“The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Ixcanul”).

A San Sebastian 2015’s Films in Progress player, Chilean Pepa San Martin’s debut “Rara” won Berlinale’s Generation Kplus International Jury Grand Prix in February. Produced by Macarena Lopez at Santiago de Chile’s Manufactura de Peliculas, in co-production with Argentina’s Le Tiro Cine, and sold by Latido Films, “Rara” turns on a Chilean judge who loses custody of her children, due to her sexual orientation. Her 13-year-old daughter.

Set during Argentina’s 1976-83 dictatorship, “The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis” – co-directed by Francisco Marquez and Andrea Testa, and sold by Films Boutique – winds an ethical drama around an office clerk’s decision whether to risk his life trying to save others.

If Latin America’s litany of social woes is one focus of Latin American movies, the other is its generational disconnect, often seen in a deep breach between children and parents who are absent, seemingly aloof, or struggle to build affective bridges with their offspring. But the context, and success in breaching to this divide vary radically.

Of new films this late Summer, Toronto world premiere “X Quinientos,” Colombian Juan Andres Arango’s follow-up to Directors’ Fortnight entry “La Playa D.C.” asks a question which is emerging as central to Latin American cinema today: To what extent is regeneration – social, individual – possible in the continent? The films posits three cases of attempted change, after personal loss: One, maybe the most notable, turns on a 16-year-old from an indigenous community who, after his father dies, becomes a pogo-ing Mexican City punk (pictured). He earns an essence of self-respect. Canada’s Peripheria Productions, Colombia’s Septima Films and Mexico’s Machete Producciones produce.

A BVI/Fox pick-up for Latin America, sold by FilmSharks Intl., “El Rey del Once (The Tenth Man)” returns Daniel Burman to Buenos Aires’ Jewish district, memorably explored in his Berlin double Silver Bear-winner “Lost Embrace,” and to a father-son dramedy where the father seems to care far more for his community leader charity work than his distanced son.

In Bolivian Kiro Russo’s triple Bafici winner “Dark Skull,” an estranged son takes the place of his just deceased father in a Bolivian mine. This could be a life sentence, or an opportunity for change.

Argentine Milagros Mumenthaler’s family drama “The Idea of a Lake,” formerly “Pozo en el aire,” tells the tale of a photographer attempting to publish a photo memoir of her dead father.

Mumenthaler’s follow-up to her Locarno 2011’s Golden Leopard winner “Open Doors, Open Windows,” “Idea” is a co-production between Argentina’s Ruda Cine, Switzerland’s Alina Film and the Doha Film Institute which was presented at San Sebastian’s Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum in 2013.

Two films do suggest, however, hope in bridging a generational breach. A further Horizontes Latinos player, Rotterdam Tiger winner “Alba,” from Ecuador’s Ana Cristina Barragan, marks a tentative but ultimately tender reconciliation drama between a young girl, shamed by her physical coming of age, fearing bullying at school, and her father – in bad need of a haircut, a new car, and the mod cons of social acceptability.

Screenwriter-director Carlos Lechuga’s sophomore feature “Santa & Andres” follows three days in the life of a 60-year-old homosexual Cuban novelist, who strikes up an unlikely rapport with a Revolutionary government delegate.

A co-production bewteen Cuba’s Producciones de la 5ta Avenida, producers of the landmark “Juan of the Dead,” Colombia’s Igolai Producciones and France’s Promenades, and sold by Habanero, “Santa” world premieres in Toronto’s Contemporary World Cinema sidebar.


“Alba,” (Ana Cristina Barragan, Ecuador, Mexico, Greece)

“El Amparo,” (Rober Calzadilla, Venezuela, Colombia)

“The Blind Christ,” (Christopher Murray, Chile, France)

“Cambridge Squatter,” (Eliane Caffe, Brazil, France, Spain)

“Dark Skull,” (Kiro Russo, Bolivia, Qatar)

“The Idea of a Lake,” (Milagros Mumenthaler, Argentina, Switzerland, Qatar)

“The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis,” (Francisco Marquez, Andres Testa, Argentina)

““Much Ado About Nothing,” (Alejandro Fernandez Almendras, Chile, U.S., France)

“Rara,” (Pepa San Martin, Chile, Argentina)

“El Rey del Once, The Tenth Man,” (Daniel Burman, Argentina)

“Santa & Andres,” (Carlos Lechuga, Cuba, France, Colombia)

“The Untamed,” (Amat Escalante, Mexico, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland)

“X Quinientos,” (Juan Andres Arango, Canada, Colombia, Mexico)