Saturday 29 December 2018

Cine Latino Film Festival 2018 - Supercinephile Barrie Pattison puts in a mammoth effort to cover a quality program - Part One - Argentina

They ran this event at the same time as the Japanese Film Festival,  a pain in the butt. There were films in both I’d have liked to watch. I had to content myself with a couple of passably entertaining Japanese items.

I tend to prioritise Latin material in these national film events and the 2018 Cine Latino Film Festival looked like a winner. I let their more prestigious items go, the Alfonso Cuaron Roma and Birds of Passage/Pajaros de verano from the Embrace of the Serpent lot figuring they’d make their way to me at popular prices and - sure enough - the imposing Roma has had a half-hearted city run related to Netflix’s grand design for it as an exclusive attraction. 

That one is predictably an exceptional piece which will be widely discussed and at length. I only add that the trailer does it no service pulling out the spectacular vista shots that are there to space the film’s intimate story, taking away their impact. The enigmatic name refers to a suburb where the privileged live, incidentally.

Diego Peretti
My interest was concentrated on a six film Argentinian stream. This looked particularly promising offering two of the films of long faced Diego Peretti who came to my attention with his great turn in Damián Szifron’s 2005 Tiempo de valences.  When a Chinese DVD store overstocked that one in a nice English sub-titled disc, after I looked at it I bought all their reduced-to-sell stock and used it for Xmas presents.

Sure enough the best value here was Peretti in Gabriel Nesci’s 
Casi Leyendas/Almost Legends,a putting the band back together comedy on the lines of The Blues Brothers.

Here producer and Spanish gross-out comic Santiago Segura (an SBS favorite - Tensión sexual no result and the Torrente series) is a night time electronics maintenance man who hears a broadcast calling for ‘phone votes on nineties bands to come out of retirement for a celebration concert. He eyes his company’s banks of computers. We can see Segura’s taste in this film, being introduced to the attractive woman in the wheel chair, he immediately asks if her vagina is all right. Santiago doesn’t hog the spotlight however, sharing with teacher-who-bores-his-classes Peretti, whose son idolises the school gym instructor rather than his own dad. Shady lawyer Diego Torres’ corporate misdeeds are catching up with him but he also rejoins their old band “Autoreverse”. 

The group suffers all manner of indignities, having to rehearse in the community center where they share space with children’s dance classes and lady oil colour painters. The idea of doing their number as they levitate gets them trapped in defective stage machinery while their rivals, the middle aged boy band jeer. But Santiago manages to snatch victory from defeat for a nice ending.

Appealing performances carry the piece with the aid of OK bright colour production. Agreeable film.

In the second Peretti movie, Mama se fue de viaje/Ten Days Without Mum he is front and center, though not all that much at home doing Robin Williams and the film never recovers the promise of the opening where he addresses the camera, while walking in the middle of smoking chaos on a beach - “The rabbit’s burning and drowning!”

Diego is just hanging on at the HomeRabbit Hypermarket where he’s been in charge of human relations for fifteen years and is struggling to get his promotion away from the younger, more charismatic rival executive. At home dad Diego finds that dissatisfied wife Carla Peterson, who gave up her law career to raise the family, has booked herself on holiday at Machu Picchu leaving him in charge of the bratty teenagers and destructive tinies. 

Things immediately go pear shaped when he runs over the family dog and, appalled, backs into the limping housekeeper. There’s a bit of Daddy Day Care at kindie and the discovery that the kids’ school is closed for a training day, something he learns about from the raddled teacher, who claims she looked like a runway model before she started. He finds he’s brought the wrong boy home from soccer practice and can’t understand the baby who keeps painting on the wall. 

Relief does arrive in the form of super-competent hired help Pilar Gamboa but she turns out to be a girl he fired while trying to look authoritative.  Seeing Carla’s books, she thinks he’s a lawyer and asks for help her sue Home Rabbit and its personnel manager. Picking up on this, daughter Agustina Cabo warns Diego “If you fire Julia, I will learn to drive and run you over.” Gamboa is revealed as a rural single mother who has been sacked from a string of jobs and comments “I’ve gotten tired of no future.” The financial crisis is never mentioned but, as with much Argentinian film, it lies under the surface of this picture of suburban prosperity. 

He is up against his rival in the company’s Family Day games and when Diego manages to persuade the kids to accompany him he falls behind on the sack race. His only hope is the high points event involving getting inside the giant see through ball and rolling down the hill into the inflatable bowling pins. Disaster follows. Turns out Gamboa plotted that with the family - quite Michael Haneke.

You could think of this as an Argentinian Mr. Mum though the cycle goes back at least as far as 1925 and Clive Brook in The Home Maker. Class performers are not really served by a predictable script even with its nice line in sadistic humor that keeps the awful situations coming, repeatedly cutting to emergency service vehicles on the way.  The film gives the impression of having been reduced from a more extended version with elements disappearing - like the gerbil last seen in the glass jug. Nice Nahuel Moreno toon titles and bright colour filming. 

Also from Argentina Alejandro Maci’s Los que aman odian/In Love & Hate  was a promising thriller set in a detailed 1940s. 

Brilliantined homeopath Guiliano Francella takes the train to the isolated hotel run by his sister in the treeless Bosque de Mar dunes only to find that femme fatale Luisana Lopilato and her entourage are already in residence. She accuses old flame Dr. Francella of stalking her. “I came here to forget you” he protests. 

There’s a flashback to their meeting in his study lined with Spanish editions of McCoy (Horace?), Goodis and Hammett, which suggests a noir structure, but the heavy handed perversity works closer to Agatha Christie, underlined by the succession of close ups of the characters they want us to think of as suspects in the coming murder.

Despite a night giving her great body to the doctor, he catches Lopilato pashing with her sister’s fiancé Juan Minujín.  Lopilato gets on with ruining all the men on hand including the isolated teenage nephew. Despite nailing the windows closed, the sand seeps in building up below stairs (“Sand storms are fatal”) and her sister’s piano recital ends when the the reception room doors blow open sending the guests into the night with torches. 

The murder arrives but the investigation is protracted, killing off whatever momentum all this the scene setting has provided. 

There’s some style to this one - restricted pallette (Digital Cinecolor), lots of forties detail - turbans, scarlet lipstick, celluloid frame glasses, thin mustaches and vintage cars prominent along with travelings in the hotel corridors and the sound of flies buzzing on the track. We get sinister imagery, like the polished coffin with its silver crucifix, a dim basement where they have strychnine to get rid of vermin or the uniformed officer shadowy in the background of the fat detective’s interrogation. 

Considerable curiosity value.

Santiago Esteves' La educación del Rey/Rey's Education is less flamboyant but rather better, a cut price Argentinian crime movie builds up expectations that it never quite fulfills.

Thrown out by his mother, teenager Matías Encinas is Shanghaied into joining his brother’s gang robbery that goes wrong when a guard dog and burglar alarm bring the cops.  While the brother and side kick are caught, the kid escapes with the loot. His escape drops him into the patio of family man ex security van armed guard Germán de Silva who makes him work for him on restoring the timber and plastic sheet green house he smashed in his flight. 

The older man shelters Encinas from his criminal associates and the crooked cops, taking him on shooting practice (“Never turn your back on a man with a gun”) on his friend’s pig farm. 

Urged by his brother, hospitalised after a beating, to turn over the loot to his criminal masters, Encinas takes the pistol De Silva has hidden among his trophies and goes to the meet where his suspicions are aroused. Rather than take his hand out of his hood jacket as ordered he braces his other palm against his leg in the yoga shooting pose he learned from his mentor. 

Finding that the nasties have his phone number De Silva cuts Encinas loose but the murderous gang get the kid and have already forced the brother’s location out of him by starting on Encina’s big toe with a bolt cutter. Their police contacts are getting nervous as the bad hats continue to blunder and De Silva, prizes their location out of a craven cop he locks in a car boot, and shows up blazing away.

Though promising elements are not explored - we don’t get to hear about why Encinas’ mum threw him out or De Silva’s back ground, which includes a spell in prison, and his skeptical son vanishes - murkey desaturated camerawork and unfamiliar players are not a disadvantage and the realistic setting, unsealed streets, suburban home and warehouses help conviction. The crime by night element adds a noirish flavour. This one is worth a look.

Recognisable items like Roma  did fill up while Diego Peretti, unknown here, played to single figure audiences. The festival audience did however follow current figurehead star of Hispanic film, the admirable Ricardo Darin.

Juan Vera’s El amor menos pensado/An Unexpected Love is what they used to call menopausal romance, which was pretty drear when it centred on Lana Turner and Susan Hayward and not all that much better with Richard Brooks fielding Jean Simmons in Happy Ending. 

Darin and wife of 25 years Mercedes Morán  (Neruda) see their grown son jet off to his University. They get his Skype messages, with his Thai girl roommate glimpsed. Darin calls her Miss Saigon only to find the young people have given up their courses to go work with the underprivileged.

Disoriented by seeing their ambitions simultaneously realised and dashed, the parents decide they can’t face another thirty years together. Separating, they start a variety of adventures with new partners. Synthetically symmetrical, both get a comical episode - Darin with the voracious blonde he ends rushing into the ICU and Morán with bare assed perfume salesman Juan Minujín (also in Los Que aman, Odian) which leaves her beaming as she strides through the street in her red dress. They work through more suitable mates which ends up convincing them they should resume their original pairing. 

It’s a measure of the conformism here that the marriage bond is still sacred in what the makers are proposing as daring and adult. Parallel sub-plots make things more cozy with Darin’s dad whose interest centers on good shepherd’s pie and Morán’s eighty year old mum who has just started a new romance .

The mature leads are showcased with best production values and this one has its audience clearly targeted.  A film that starts with a downwards track through a library backed by Darin’s reading of the opening of “Moby Dick” is not likely to have silly ass comics and musical numbers - though they do slip in the girl street musician with guitar.

”Moby Dick”, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche and breaking out in Jean Moreau doing theJules & Jim  theme on the track for no particular reason, this is one for the Palace Cinema chain audience, the very same people who walked out of the Tavernier history of French Cinema. It filled screenings to capacity and is opening for a season.

Me, I prefer Darin doing his hard man asphyxiating Oscar Martínez’s heavies with a crop duster in Captain Kóblic  or channeling Humphrey Bogart in Fabián Belinsky’s El Aura.

Since the 1960s with Torres Nilsson, Lataro Marua and Graciela Borges, Argentina has given the impression of being the most consistently rewarding of the Hispanic film industries. This lot made me think that those days are behind us but there was a surprise in store. 

(To be continued)

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