By Mukul Khurana
It didn’t rain on the first day of the San Diego Latino Film Festival (now in its 23rd year). It did, however, rain heavily and briefly on the second day, as forecasted. That didn’t affect attendance on either of the initial two days. Maybe word got around after 23 years that SDLFF 2016 was in town at Fashion Valley AMC again. Maybe the rain caused people to seek shelter…
On the first day, Tiempos Felices (Mexico, 80 min. 2015) turned out to be the first surprise of many. This romantic comedy, directed by Luis Javier M. Henaine, did not go down the tired old path many in the genre tend to do.
Max (Luis Arrieta) and Monica (Cassandra Ciangherotti) are the cute but nerdy couple. Max is trying to break up with his girlfriend, but he isn’t meeting with much success. So, he looks for help from an uncommon outside source. It is a simple movie but very well acted. It is highly entertaining. If you get a chance to watch this Mexico Today Showcase, take it!
The second day brought another surprise. Amir (Mexico, 88 min. 2015), a low-budget film from Tijuana, was shot in black and white. This movie, directed by Jose Paredes, brought a sensibility seldom seen, cinematography wise. If you have been to Tijuana, this is not the city you saw. Amir, a musician, gets caught in a triangle of desire. That is nothing new. What is new is how the scene and the “onda” in Tijuana are depicted.
In a similar vein, the excellent offerings from Mexico continued into Saturday. A culinary tale, by the name of Baja Taste (Mexico, 60 min. 2015), depicted foods and chefs from south of the border that went beyond usual expectations. This documentary, directed by Roberto Najera, is bound to leave you hungry and wanting more (images and food…).
It was followed by yet another well-made film from Mexico—Una Ultima y Nos Vamos (Mexico, 111 min. 2015). A small town mariachi band is invited to a major mariachi competition in Mexico City. Bonds of friendship and family are severely tested during the trip to the capital of Mexico. Starring a famous cast including Hector Bonilla, Hernan Mendoza, and Martha Higerda, this is a comedy filled with music, emotions, and healthy national pride. It is good to see that the arts are flourishing once again in our neighbor.
The first major deviation from the “Mexican juggernaut” was El Boton de Nacar (France/Spain/Chile, 88 min. 2015). Patricio Guzman (one of the best documentarians in the business—Nostalgia de la Luz) takes us on a journey beginning with water, going into the cosmos, and including huge chunks of political history. Did I mention philosophy? This excellent and chilling documentary tells the story of colonialism and the Pinochet government too! Like the former Nostalgia de la Luz, this is a presentation you do not want to miss.
But then, we are back on track with Mexican film. La Delgada Linea Amarilla (Mexico, 95 min. 2015) starts off slow (but painting a dividing line on a long stretch of road is slow work). That doesn’t, however, mean that the story has to be boring. Incredibly well written with a warm mesmerizing storyline, the challenges help us appreciate the power of good character development. This winner of three of the top awards at The Guadalajara International Film Festival stars Damian Alcazar as Antonio (and co-stars Gustavo Sanchez Parra, Joaquin Cosio, and Fernando Becerril).
I don’t mean to imply that other countries aside from Mexico didn’t have films in SDLFF 2016 but you couldn’t help but notice that a lot of good work was coming from there. On another front, Paciente (Colombia, 70 min. 2015) frighteningly showed that the health care system we have isn’t the only broken one. Nubia, whose daughter has a very aggressive cancer attacking her body, has to face bureaucratic obstacles in addition to her fear and suffering on behalf of her daughter. As only a mother can, she soldiers on. This documentary directed by Jorge Caballero Ramos is a very human one.
On the other side of the continuum of life, We Like It Like That (USA, 82 min. 2015), shows us the fun side of life and creativity. Latin Boogaloo came from the streets of New York. This excellent documentary chronicles the rise and fall of “1960s Latin Soul.” It provided historical context—the likes of Joe Battan, Johnny Colon, and Pete Rodriguez are profiled. Matthew Ramirez Warren introduces a new generation to an amazing time in American music—part of Documania Showcase.
Which brings us back to a Mexican feature, La Caridad (Mexico, 109 min. 2015), a movie about a couple who have been married for thirty years. An accident threatens the status quo between Angelica and Jose Luis. This slow but honest portrayal of the compromises we make in life is very realistic. In trying to rebuild their lives, the couple discovers that there were “cracks in the foundation” that the car accident lays bare. Extremely well-acted and with production values that surpass many “high special effects” films is another film worth seeing if you can be a patient viewer.
Is that the extent of what can be seen at SDLFF 2016? Of course not… As mentioned there are many films from other countries. Camino a La Paz (Argentina, 92 min. 2015), Landfill Harmonic (USA/Paraguay/Brazil, 84 min. 2015), Como Ganar Enemigos (Argentina, 78 min. 2014), La Buena Vida (Colombia/Germany/Switzerland/Netherlands, 97 min. 2015), El Clan (Argentina/Spain, 110 min. 2015), La Pantalla Desnuda (Nicaragua, 93 min. 2015), and Allende mi Abuelo Allende (Chile, 90 min. 2015) among others showed great potential. However, it is impossible to see it all in 11 days.
Dates: March 10 – 20, 2016
AMC 18 Fashion Valley Cinema
If interested in more information, go to SDLatinoFilm.com for more details.