third part of a lengthy report by Barrie Pattison devoted to the annual Sydney Cine Latino Film Festival. The previous two parts devoted to Argentina and Colombia and Cuba can be found if you click on the links.
In a curious extension of the event, the Instituto Cervantes in Sussex Street put up for the 14th Latin American Film Festival, fourteen sub-titled movies from thirteen South American countries on their library digital projector - not theatrical presentation but mainly surprisingly good and the program proved particularly rewarding. I was surprised on checking out these film to find how little English language coverage they had had.
Jorge Ramírez Suárez Mexican Guten Tag, Ramón kicks off inside a truck taking illegals across the Mexican desert and abandoned by the unseen drivers. When the US border patrol opens the crowded vehicle an undetermined time later, only young Krystian Ferrer is moving.
Back in his village (Casa Blanca!) his mother and his ailing granny (we never find out about his dad) welcome him after this fifth attempt to cross the US border and beg him not to join up with (drug runner?) Jorge de los Reyes’ schemes which are the only game in town. He visits de los Reyes (“Nobody kills us”) not to offer his services but to try and get back the price of his piece of land where he has been warned off by the guy in the straw cowboy hat. Shortly later, Ferrer’s wounded friend is at the door telling him that the now dead jefe has sent money for his land. Cut to the large, white grave marker cemetery where Ferrer is laying flowers on the friend’s grave.
The money buys a ticket to Wiesbaden (“Where’s Germany?”) in winter where another friend has an aunt who has promised to help him find work without the hassle of the US border control. Following preposterously detailed instructions (“turn right at the Rhine River...”) our hero arrives at the aunt’s house only to be told brusquely that she doesn’t live there anymore.
He doesn’t have the money to re-book his flight home and, sleeping at the station, is fast running out of change to buy apples and bread, finally reduced to begging, where mean panhandler Micky Jukovic takes his paper cup full of change.
However lonely pensioner Ingeborg Schöner helps him with food and warm clothing and sets him up in her cellar storage with him making a living doing chores around the building and staging dance classes for the elderly residents whom his presence brings together in a self-help association after a mean resident has died.
Ferrer now earns enough to buy tequila, peppers, tomato, tortillas and sausage and send a few Euros home. Schöner even hires him a so-nice brothel girl.
A telling scene has her make him a diner with the pair exchanging their most intimate secrets in languages the other can’t understand.
This proves to only be an interlude but the film remains implausibly sunny, involving, effectively shot but ultimately soft centered (even the drug runner is a nice guy). Guten Tag, Ramón is a worthwhile addition to the growing body of refugee cinema.
In present day rural countryside, Lali Gonzalez seeks out elderly, dying Juan Carlos Notari, the comrade in arms of her leftist grandfather in a l940 South American war that most of us never knew occurred.
The film cuts between the military campaign, where the character now played by young José Barrios has to convince the worker soldiers he joins despite his well off family, that he is a worthy companion, and the present day attempts of the girl and the old man to find the record of the military years from survivors not over-sympathetic to their errand.
A stroppy police sergeant has to be convinced with a rusty machete to his throat. We learn the fighters’ activities were shadowed by their suspicion that they may one day have to face their comrades on opposite sides of conflict between Catholic and Marxist causes.
Though it’s staged on a smallish scale, the action material is involving - another charge with machetes - and the quest which finally centers on the dead grandfather’s journal seems less like a literary invention than it might.
The excellence of the staging and performance and the novelty of the setting are a strong combination.
Another glimpse of Colombian film comes up in Phillipe van Hissenhoven’s 2015 Mamá, a sensitively played weepy with Julieth Restrepo planting her seven-year old daughter Alejandra Zuluaga with Consuelo Gacha her granny in the country, after two years without contact, disrupting the isolation and tranquility in which the old woman lives.
The expected heartwarming interludes ensue with the kid facing small animals and rural craftsmen. There’s a tantrum over the flute that her new teacher gives her and predictable drama from a bad reaction to a bee sting for which the aged medico can’t get antidote to the scene fast enough.
The “tengo cancer” revelation reconciles the three generations of women in the welcoming rural setting. The film’s female preoccupations make it out of character for a male director. Modest, adequate production standards.
Luis Octavian Rahamut’s Venezuelan El Dicaprio de Corozopando clashes with our experience of foreign language movies. If you mix a poverty stricken version of Brewster McCloud and the Flying Machine with a bit of magic realism you have a hint.
In Corozopando, a remote community south of the Guárico things are tough. (“not even Christ would stay in this town - hot as hell”). Even the local Don (TV series regular Aroldo Betancourt) with his fleshy mistress, is complaining. He’s taking the cattle of the poor family in a land dispute. Somehow their school age son Luis Francisco Yanez gets to be seen as the one chosen by Saint Miguel to bring the town glory as he becomes conflated with the two famous Leonardos - Da Vinci and Di Caprio.
Just how this is going to work out is uncertain. They train the boy as goal keeper in the soccer match (prize ten pregnant heifers) but his envious school mates subvert his efforts. However, the aged school teacher’s lesson on the Da Vinci flying machine convinces all that the boy can take to the air and the laborers start constructing a ten metre launch tower while the women are sewing wings for his contraption.
This is not going to end well or will it? Convincingly rural, grungy and played by an endearing cast, with the kids particularly winning, this one has an authenticity which more than compensates for its basic production skills.
La Vida De Los Peces is at the other end of the scale, a Chilean French co-production which was up for the 2011 Foreign language Oscar.
In close shots in the interior setting of a party in the Santiago flat of friends from his earlier days there, we see travel writer Santiago Cabrera edging his way towards the door past framed photos of his dead friend and his preserved room. Snatches of conversations reveal Cabrera's profession as less than the glamorous round of high living it seems - uncomfortable flights and sterile hotels “like a tourist.” To avoid this, one of his colleagues used to make up his articles but his employers caught him out, ending that career.
There’s conversation with the housekeeper he knew from the old days and recurring brushes with his fetching old flame Blanca Lewin. Cabrera is upset that Lewin’s old family home has been sold for a hotel, closing out another link with his former life. He has given up his Santiago flat and now lives in Germany.
They had made an arrangement to meet again in their favorite coffee shop six months after he left Chile for overseas and he always wondered if she came to the rendezvous that he ignored. Turns out that she waited hours and was sick for weeks afterwards. She had once visited Berlin and considered contacting him.
There’s a nice scene where Cabrera runs into the video game playing kids who quiz him as someone who has world experience “Did you ever smoke pot?” “Did you ever have sex without a condom?” This, with his frank answers, frames the character nicely along with a revelation (“You were in the car with Francisco when he died”) about the former friend.
In a long conversation with Lewin, filmed though a fish tank, we learn that her marriage and children have left her also unsatisfied and they plan a new start leaving together but her friends meet her on the stairs and the pull of her current life with her daughters exerts itself.
A handsome, prestige production, despite its soapy plot line, this does touch rare intensity.
(To be continued)