The Oscars are fast approching, Latin American Films for Best Foreign Language are… @LatAmFilm @TheAcademy
What Variety Said: From the opening credits of “Neighboring Sounds,” when the usual end-roll cast list appears before the first scene, auds know Kleber Mendonca Filho is looking to upend expectations. Once the pic proper begins, it’s equally clear this exceptionally talented helmer understands exactly what he’s doing and why. Those familiar with his award-winning shorts will recognize certain themes and even scenes, but Filho hones his vision into a powerful yet subtle X-ray of contempo Brazilian society as seen on one upmarket street. Superbly constructed, skillfully acted and beautifully lensed, “Sounds” should have made a bigger noise at Rotterdam.
Chile. Directed by Sebastian Leilo (Spanish).
What Variety Said: A divorced woman in her late 50s recaptures her life in Sebastian Lelio’s pitch-perfect, terrifically written “Gloria.” Were this an American film, the situation of a middle-aged woman refusing to give in to loneliness would likely be fashioned into a comedy starring Meryl Streep or Maggie Smith, but Lelio refuses to adopt the industry’s ageist slant, presenting a woman (magnificently played by Paulina Garcia) of undisguised sexuality seeking to be the center of life for the man she loves. Perceptive and unerringly sympathetic, “Gloria” has the makings of an arthouse sleeper.
Mexico. Directed by Amat Escalante (Spanish).
What Variety Said: “Open your eyes so you don’t miss the show,” instructs one character midway through “Heli,” shortly before a kidnapped man is beaten with an oversized paddle and stripped to the ankles, his genitals doused in alcohol and set merrily ablaze. Indeed, it’s no coincidence that the title (and title character) invokes a certain place of eternal damnation in this nihilistic third feature by Carlos Reygadas acolyte Amat Escalante, who plunges us deep into Mexico’s vicious cycle of drug-fueled violence, with no end — or much of a discernable point — in sight. Destined to traumatize buyers and audiences in roughly equal measure, this accomplished but singularly unpleasant pic lends this year’s Cannes competition its first authentic whiff of scandal.
Breach in the Silence
Venezuela. Directed by Luis Rodríguez and Andrés Rodríguez (Spanish)
What Variety Said: The best actress nod went to Venezuelan actress Vanessa Di Quattro for her perf as a deaf 19-year-old subjected to physical and emotional abuse in “Brecha en el silencio” (Breach in the Silence) by Venezuelan first-timers Luis and Andres Rodriguez. Pic, praised by the jury for “tearing off the mask of oppression,” also took the prize for best film by an emerging director.
Who’s the Boss?
Dominican Republic. Directed by Ronni Castillo (Spanish)
Argentina. Directed by Lucia Puenzo (Spanish, German, Hebrew).
What Variety Said: A plodding Argentine potboiler that examines the country’s history of harboring Nazis after WWII, “Wakolda” poses the question: What would you do if the dapper German doctor you invited into your home turned out to be Josef Mengele? That premise could be just juicy enough to earn writer-director Lucia Puenzo’s third feature a modest international audience, though she goes about the execution all wrong, leadenly reverse-engineering her plot from a reveal that the vast majority of audiences will know from the get-go. The fact that Puenzo (“XXY”) published “Wakolda” as a novel first could benefit awareness in some markets.
Peru. Directed by Adrian Saba
What Variety said: Offering a slightly fantastical plague scenario not unlike “Blindness,” “The Cleaner” exchanges that book-to-film’s large canvas and graphic societal collapse with something austere and intimate. The story of a middle-aged loner who ends up caring for an orphaned boy amid an epidemic is given carefully controlled treatment by debuting feature writer-helmer Adrian Saba. While emotional impact is ultimately less than one might hope for, the pic’s quiet mix of character-study and near-future shock should attract programmers looking for new talent or fantasy-tinged material.
La Playa D.C.
Colombia. Directed by Juan Andrés Arango (Spanish)
What Variety said: A scrawny Afro-Colombian boy displaced with his brothers from the country’s Pacific-coast region hustles to create a new life in “La Playa D.C.,” a well-intentioned coming-of-ager strong on ethnographic interest but disappointingly lax on narrative. First-time director Juan Andres Arango’s film would be less surprising to find at a second-tier sprocket opera than at Cannes, where it premiered in Un Certain Regard, but the nevertheless impressive debut should rep Colombia nicely on the fest circuit for the next year or so. Like its artfully shallow-focus lensing, “La Playa” erects an artificial distance between auds and characters, to the exclusion of a more proletarian appeal.
The Porcelain Horse
Ecuador. Directed by Javier Andrade.