MADRID — The 38th Mar del Plata Film Festival opens on Nov. 17 with Serge Bozon’s farce “Mrs. Hyde,” starring Isabelle Huppert, and inevitable speculation about how Peter Scarlet’s appointment as artistic director will re-set Argentina’s most august film event. Kogonada’s “Columbus” is one of the films in the main international feature competition.
In broad terms, his influence can be seen in several ways. First, festival titles have been pared back from 420 to 320. That may still be too many, Scarlet said, but is a step in the right direction. “I believe festivals are about quality of films rather than quantity. I’m trying to go in that direction.”
Second, Mar del Plata’s masterclasses, a fixture at the Atlantic Coast event, have multiplied in heavyweight name attendance, while morphing into conversations, reflecting Scarlet’s pulling power after nearly 30 years directing the San Francisco (1983-2001), Tribeca (2003-09) and Abu Dhabi (2009-13) film festivals. “Manchester By the Sea’s” Kenneth Lonergan, Vanessa Redgrave, French legend Claude Lelouch (“A Man and a Woman”) and Argentina’s Lucrecia Martel, presenting “Zama,” will take part in onstage conversations.
Adding further big name glamour, Cannes and Lumière festivals’ chief Thierry Frémaux will provide a live commentary to “Lumière!,” a feature omnibus of Lumière shorts, highlighting their formal beauty, social insights and multiple innovations. Distinguished French producer Sophie Pialat (“Timbuktu”) will present Xavier Beauvois’ historical drama “The Guardians,” which plays in main international competition, as the festival dedicates a retrospective to Maurice Pialat.
Screening in international competition are 14 movies, whose variety and boldness — few are obvious choices — look like another sign of Scarlet’s impact on the festival. Though only one, Puerto Rican Alvaro Aponte-Centeno’s human trafficking-themed “The Silence of the Wind,” is a world premiere, titles range from the high-profile, such as Joachim Trier’s supernatural thriller “Thelma” to Ukranian Alisa Pavlovskaya’s “5 Therapy,” a portrait of ex-con, now poet Stas Dombrovskiy, battling drug addiction.
Scarlet noted of this year’s competition: “These are among the strongest films of the year. Many are premieres on this continent and it’s representative of a varied range of countries.”
Meanwhile, kicking off Nov. 23 and grouped under a Film.Ar umbrella, Mar del Plata’s industry activities are growing, taking in not only fiction-feature project forum LoboLab, but Latin Arab, exploring the Latin American-Arab world movie interface, and Mardoc.Lab, a docu-feature platform fed by a project incubator at Argentina’s Incaa film agency. The festival also sports a works-in-progress section.
Better-known titles in main competition take in Pedro Pinho’s Fipresci-prized Directors’ Fortnight title “The Nothing Factory,” a song-laced three-hour drama about labor relations; Sundance-selected “Columbus,” an ensemble drama set against the modernist architecture of the titular city described by Variety as an “assured and hypnotic” debut; Annemarie Jacir’s well-reviewed Locarno competition player “Wahib,” a Palestine father-son drama; and culture clash portrait “Western,” from Germany’s Valeska Grisebach. Also, after it’s Golden Leopard nomination at Locarno, Ben Russell’s latest documentary “Good Luck,” is a a slice of life documentary where the daily grind becomes almost surreal.
BUT AN OPPORTUNITY FOR DISCOVERY
This year’s festival is, under Scarlet’s leadership, aiming to be more inclusive in its international competition. Kogonada, a long-time film critic and visual essayist, participates with his John Cho starring first feature “Columbus” from the U.S.; Kim Dae-hwan’s Korean relationship drama “The First Lap,” which just premiered at Locarno takes part; and Portugal’s Manuel Mozos competes with a Lisbon-based tale of writer’s block in “Ramiro.”
ARGENTINE MOVIES IN MAIN COMPETITION
As is Mar del Plata’s custom, the international competition highlights a clutch of Argentine movies: Pablo Giorgelli’s teen abortion drama “Invisible,” which picks up on the theme of solitude from his notable debut, “Las Acacias”; Ulises Rosell’s critically-praised road movie “To the Desert”; and Laura Barí’s coming-of-age drama “Primas.”
The international competition packs an impressive jury of Lonergan, Italian producer-distributor Amedeo Pagani, Argentine actress Erica Rivas (“Wild Tales”), critic Boyd van Hoeij, and Directors’ Fortnight head Edouard Waintrop.
Typical of Mar del Plata, this year’s Argentine competition is replete with world premieres, representing nine of its 12 films. Among better-known auteurs, and Mar del Plata regulars, José Celestino Campusano, who has also competed at Valdivia and Locarno, will present “The Scourge” while Argentina’s high priestess of genre Tamae Garateguy brings the erotic thriller “Until You Untie Me.”
Bows also take in “Pool Sweeper,” from Jorge Leandro Colás, based on the novel “Barrefondo,” “I Am Here,” an immigration story set in Buenos Aires, investigation-centered “The Corroborators,” and “The Bums,” a coming-of-age tale picturing a last-ditch effort to enjoy adolescence.
The festival runs Nov. 17-26.
“To the Desert” (Ulises Rosell, Argentina, Chile)
“Invisible” (Pablo Giorgelli, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Germany,France)
“Western” (Valeska Grisebach, Germany, Bulgaria, Austria)
“Primas” (Laura Bari, Canada, Argentina)
“The First Lap” (Kim Dae-hwan, South Korea)
“Columbus” (Kogonada, U.S.)
“Good Luck” (Ben Russell, France, Germany)
“The Guardians” (Xavier Beauvois, France, Switzerland)
“Thelma” (Joachim Trier, Norway, Sweden, France, Denmark)
“Wajib” (Annemarie Jacir, Palestine, France, Germany, Colombia, Norway, Qatar, UAE)
“The Nothing Factory” (Pedro Pinho, Portugal)
“Ramiro” (Manuel Mozos, Portugal)
“Silence of the Wind” (Álvaro Aponte-Centeno, Puerto Rico)
“5 Therapy” (Alisa Pavlovskaya, Ukraine)
LATIN AMERICAN COMPETITION
“Chaco” (Danièle Incalcaterra, Fausta Quattrini, Argentina, Italy, Switzerland)
“The Theater of Disappearance” (Adrián Villar Rojas, Argentina, South Korea)
“Eugenia” (Martín Boulocq, Bolivia, Brazil)
“Baronesa” (Juliana Antunes, Brazil)
“Once There Was Brasília” (Adirley Queirós, Brazil)
“A Fantastic Woman” (Sebastián Lelio, Chile, U.S., Germany, Spain)
“King” (Niles Atallah, Chile, France, Holland, Germany, Qatar)
“The Wandering Soap Opera” (Raúl Ruiz, Valeria Sarmiento, Chile)
“Mariana” (Chris Gude, Colombia)
“Stormmaker” (Rubén Imaz, Mexico, Colombia, Dominican Republic)
“Cocote” (Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Germany, Qatar)
“The Waves” (Adrián Biniez, Uruguay, Argentina)
“The Family” (Gustavo Rondón Córdova, Venezuela, Chile, Norway)
“Tie Your Plow to a Star” (Carmen Guarini, Argentina)
“Terrified” (Demián Rugna)
“Pool Sweeper” (Jorge Leandro Colás)
“The Scourge” (José Celestino Campusano)
“I Am Here” (Juan Manuel Bramuglia, Esteban Tabacznik)
“Until You Untie Me” (Tamae Garateguy)
“The Centaur’s Nostalgia” (Nicolás Torchinsky)
“The Corroborators” (Luis Bernárdez)
“The Bums” (Gustavo Biazzi)
“Réquiem para un film olvidado” (Ernesto Baca)
“Soldado” (Manuel Abramovich)
“Everything I See Is Mine” (Mariano Galperín, Román Podolsky)
“A Trip to the Moon” (Joaquín Cambre)