Cine Las Americas 19: Festival Recap

By Mark Saldana

Film Synopses Source: cinelasamericas.org

The 19th Annual Cine Las Americas International Film Festival came and went in what seemed like a flash.  The five day film festival presented films not only from Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries, but from the United States and from Native American filmmakers.  I was able to see only eight films this year and most of these really impressed me.  Cine Las Americas may be a small and humble film festival in comparison to other Austin festivals like SXSW, AFF, and Fantastic Fest, but every year, the programmers promise and deliver quality content.

Here are my top five films of CLAIFF 19:

  1. Magallanes: [Magallanes (Damián Alcázar) is a taxi driver and former army soldier. He also drives around a retired colonel (Federico Luppi), who was his commander during the struggle against the Shining Path subversion in Ayacucho, Peru. A dark secret begins to emerge when Celina (Magaly Solier), takes a ride in his cab. Magallanes remembers that Celina was held captive by his former colonel, and furthermore, he has proof of the colonel’s crimes. Magallanes seizes on an opportunity to blackmail the colonel’s son, setting in motion events through which the history of these characters will unravel, and reveal the atrocities of war.] After five days of watching a total of eight films, the opening night feature remained my favorite of the festival.  Written and directed by Salvador del Solar, this breathtaking film is an exceptional examination of Peru’s atrocious history during the battles against the Shining Path.  The movie gets down to a more personal level reflecting the emotional baggage carried by the victims, witnesses, and those committing the horrendous acts of barbarism.
  2. Amores Urbanos/Restless Love: [Julia, Micaela and Diego are best friends in their 30s and living in São Paulo. Julia (Maria Laura Nogueira) is navigating life after a breakup with her boyfriend and unplanned pregnancy, Diego (Thiago Pethit) parties hard and neglects his boyfriend, and Micaela (Renata Gaspar) is dating an actress who will not present her as her girlfriend. As the sibling-like friends navigate their personal struggles together, their closeness will be strained as they console but also criticize each other.] Written and directed by Vera Egito, this Brazilian comedy is lovable, hilarious, and all-around charming.
  3. Prometo um Dia Deixar Essa Cidade/I Swear I’ll Leave This Town: [After an extended stint in a rehabilitation center, Joli returns home. Her father Antônio is a famous politician in town and is particularly concerned about her behavior and reintegration into society. This is where father and daughter will try to restore their broken ties.] Written and directed by Daniel Aragão, this incredible and haunting film from Brazil is part One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, part Requiem For A Dream, part dysfunctional family nightmare.  As well done as it is, this painful, powerful and surreal film is one I don’t want to revisit soon.
  4. Mekko[MEKKO paints the portrait of a homeless Native American parolee in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As he struggles to find his way in the outside world after two decades behind bars, the titular Mekko discovers a chaotic, yet occasionally profound and beautiful community of impoverished natives. Bunnie, one of his old carousing buddies from his wilder youth, forms part of this group. Though Mekko finds some peace in this society that exists on the fringes of our modern world, he also uncovers a darkness that threatens to destroy it from within. After a tragic series of events, Mekko dedicates himself to a quest for revenge which he believes will cleanse the sickness from this collective of marginalized individuals, and perhaps atone for the sins that landed him in jail so many years ago.] Sterlin Harjo wrote and directed this terrific and soulful film that gives a melancholy and insightful look at the Native American experience in Oklahoma.
  5. Viaje: [After meeting at a party, Luciana and Pedro spark up a spontaneous rendezvous. Eschewing the fraudulent nature of traditional relationships, the pair embarks on a spur of the moment journey together that takes them to the forest. As they explore the beauty in the nature that surrounds them, they camp out under the stars, go on hikes, indulge in the passions of their encounter, and discuss their personal beliefs surrounding love, obligations, and attraction. Lensed in lush black-and-white cinematography amidst the gorgeous backdrop of the Costa Rican forest, an honest and genuine relationship story unfolds, lending a feeling of realism to their storybook romance in a refreshing and youthful way. This is a story about attraction and commitment for a generation whose understandings of personal freedoms and traditional limitations are more open to interpretation.]  Paz Fábrega wrote and directed this beautiful Costa Rican film that reminds me of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise.  Don’t get me wrong. Though the premise is similar, this film has its own style and voice and is definitely the most romantic film of the festival.

For those who missed the festival this year, I must highly recommend looking into attending next year.  Throughout the year, Cine Las Americas hosts special screenings and events as well.  For more information on the festival and programming during the year, go to http://cinelasamericas.org/.

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