Saturday, March 18, 2017

24th San Diego Latino Film Festival [2017] - Part 1

 Among the films that played recently at the 24th San Diego Latino Film Festival, held at the AMC Fashion Valley 18 Theater at the Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego, CA I was able to view and review the following:

Guilty Men (orig. Pariente )[2016] [IMDb] []* (written and directed by Iván Gaona [IMDb] []*) is a well written "small indie" COLOMBIAN drama-to-dramedy that plays out in and around a random village in the Colombian jungled moutnainous hinterlands (Santander Department) -- the countryside portrayed was ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL.  The year was 2005 around the time when the "Paramilitaries" were beginning to "demobilize," the Paramilitaries being right wing, essentially vigilante groups that arose to "help" the government combat the Communist FARC insurgency in the 1980s.  Honestly, these Paramilitaries would not be altogether far, both tactically and ideologically, from the Klan in the States.  They "helped" "keep order" in the countryside _through terror_ (and above all extortion).   Eventually, even the Colombian government came to the recognition that these groups ended-up simply adding to the chaos existing in the countryside and eventually sought to "bring them home," that is, "demobilize" them, essentially telling them "thanks, but no thanks..."

Well, this is then when this story is set, during the "demobilization" process.  And so, in the beginning scene, three or four local men from the village are sitting in a truck, at night, at some random, though previously agreed-upon location on some muddy-dirt road out in the "Selva" (jungle) some distance from their town.  Two are small-time ranchers, one's the owner of the truck, the fourth another random local from the village.  They were there to "deliver their (final) payment" to the local Paramilitary.  Well, perhaps because this may have been _the last_ of such payments that the villagers were to make to the Paramilitaries, one of the ranchers, and older guy, decides to do what he and the others from the village probably wanted to do for a while now -- he decides to "call it even" right-then-and-there and _shoots_ the Paramilitary's bagman so that he (and presumably the rest of the villagers) could keep his / their money.  (I guess it's NOT "a good thing" to assigned to be the Paramilitary's "bag man" when things "are set to wind down ...")

Well, the village saved itself some money, BUT ... and this is then the rest of the film ... the Viewer slowly discovers that pretty much EVERYBODY in this random village is a petty crook / criminal of one kind or another.  Hence we come to see that the Paramilitaries "kinda had (their) point."  Yes, they tried to "bring order" "Medieval style" -- cutting-off the hands of petty thieves, killing insurgents and drug dealers -- but ... well ... "look at the village(rs) that they were dealing with." ;-).  

It's a (mildly) disturbing film (if one chooses to think about it at all ;-), but it's also quite funny (and about human nature, along the lines of the Romanian "Spaghetti-Eastern" comedy Afferim! [2015] of a few years back: "look at where we come from / who we are"): Among the most honest men in the village was the owner of said truck that the various "prominent men" from the village were sitting in at the beginning of the film.  But HE was looked-down-upon by his girlfriend and especially her mother because -- HE HAD "TO WORK" FOR A LIVING.  The others all owned land ... he simply owned his truck (which he used to make deliveries for the rest of the village).  

Anyway, this proved to be a lovely, well written, well acted and well shot film that will remind viewers of the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s, and perhaps even of the funnier scenes of Quentin Tarrantino's Pulp Fiction [1994].  Excellent job -- 4 Stars

La Casa Rosada [2016] [IMDb] []* (written and directed by Palito Ortega Matute [IMDb] []*) is a PERUVIAN historical drama set in the Peruvian Provincial University town of Ayacucho at the beginning of the Shining Path Communist Insurgency that began there.  The film centers on Adrián (played admirably by José Luis Adrianzen) a philosophy professor at the local university.  Note here that Abimael Guzmán, the FOUNDER / Leader of the Shining Path during the insurgency was ALSO "a (Marxist) philosophy professor" at the local university.  SO, on the one hand, it should be clear that the two would have almost certainly known each other.  On the other hand, given that Adrián's two cute as a button 8-10 year old children were named _Juan de Dios_ and _Maria del Carmen_ (both played wonderfully by Ricardo Bromley López and Shantall Lozano Rodríguez) and among the first things they do when their father disappears is try to go to the local Priest for help (who ends up being _shot dead_ right in front of them by Shining Path insurgents / terrorists), it's obviously "complicated."  It should be clear that someone like Adrián would have known a number of the leaders involved in the insurgency.  On the other hand, it should be clear that someone like Adrián and his family would have wanted -- and throughout the whole of the film TRIED -- to just get / stay "out of the way."  Throughout the whole of the film, Adrián just wants to pick-up and try to take his family OUT OF THERE, Ayacucho (even though his beloved wife was buried there), and JUST GET TO LIMA.  Does he (and his family) succeed in doing so?  Well that's the rest of the movie ... and to the North American / Western European Viewer, it plays arguably like a TRUE TO LIFE _HORROR_ film -- just when you think he / they are going to get out, SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENS ... -- 4 Stars

El Techo [2016] [IMDb] []*(written and directed by Patricia Ramos [IMDb] []*) is a small CUBAN film about three friends, in their late-teens to early 20s in today's Havana who, like many (especially young) Cubans today are trying to make sense of the more liberalized economic possibilities available to them in Cuba today.  In this case, the three decide to try their hand at starting a small neighborhood Pizzeria -- on the rooftop of the tenement in which they live.   Indeed, part of both "the humor" and the "sadness" / "frustration" expressed in the film is the discovery on the part of all the characters in the film that "it's been A LONG TIME" since ANY OF THEM (or ANYONE IN THEIR FAMILY) had _actual EXPERIENCE_ in starting and maintaining a business.  (Interestingly enough this past spring, I had a conversation with a cousin of mine in the Czech Republic WHO EXPRESSED THE EXACT SAME PROBLEM / FRUSTRATION: "You know Zdenku (Dennis in Czech) one of the difficulties here is that (due to Communism) we had a gap of nearly two generations where there were no family owned businesses.  So no one really knew how to really start one.  A lot of small businesses failed and others fell into all kinds of other problems (facing mob-like extortion, etc)."  So the current, Cuban film is about some of these pitfalls.  One of the most amusing problems that the three face is that about 90% of their neighbors are happy to "buy" the three's pizzas but promise to pay for them "tomorrow" ;-).  Anyway, it's a light film (perhaps still tainted by Communist ideology) that touches on the problems of trying "to set out to make it on one's own" even as it expresses an optimism that there three will end-up okay -- 3 1/2 Stars

La Vida Inmoral de Una Pareja Ideal [2016] [IMDb] []*(written and directed by Manolo Caro [IMDb] []*) is a fun if definitely R-rated MEXICAN ROMANTIC COMEDY (not for teenagers, even though much of the story plays out at a private (Catholic sponsored) school in the "D.F." (Mexico City) of the 1980s).  It's about a two late-30 to early-40 somethings, Martina and Lucio (both played wonderfully by Cecilia Suárez and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), who met and FELL HARD in LOVE with each other in High School in the 1980s (they are played again wonderfully as high schoolers by Ximena Romo and Sebastián Aguirre).   Then BECAUSE THEY FELL so hard for each other, they were forcibly separated from each other -- Lucio was expelled from school, and Martina was forbidden by her mother from ever contacting him again -- for well, 25 years.  Then suddenly Lucio shows up one day at the door of Martina's gallery in San Miguel Allende.  But it's been 25 years.  "A lot of water has run under the bridge," right?   A lot, often very endearing if, let's face it, quite inappropriate / scandalous ... again the film's NOT really for teens ... plays out.   Not necessarily the easiest film FOR A CATHOLIC PRIEST TO WRITE ABOUT ;-) ... but certainly a fun and endearing film that reminds us that SOMETIMES a young "LIGHTNING BOLT / Romeo-Juliet-like" love really can be for a life-time. -- 4 Stars.

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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