Chicago Latino Film Festival
Presented by the International Latino Cultural Center, the 27th Chicago Latino Film Festival continues Friday through Thursday, April 8 through 14, at Instituto Cervantes, 31 W. Ohio; Landmark’s Century Centre, 2828 N. Clark; and Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 1212 E. 59th. Tickets for most screenings are $11, and a festival pass, good for a dozen screenings, is $100; for students, seniors, the disabled, and ILCC members, tickets are $10 and passes are $80. Following are selected films screening this week; unless otherwise noted, all films are in English and/or subtitled Spanish. For more information call 312-409-1757 or see latinoculturalcenter.org.
The Attempt Veteran filmmaker Jorge Fons, whose nonlinear storytelling has made him a groundbreaking figure in Mexican cinema, spins several narratives around the 1897 assassination attempt on President Porfirio Diaz by the anarchist Arnulfo Arroyo. Subplots transpiring after the event highlight the government’s corruption and the Mexican press’s self-censorship, while extended flashbacks chronicle Arroyo’s radicalization. Unfortunately Fons does no more with the story than if he had told it chronologically: the film plays like a collection of scenes shuffled by an expert card dealer. Despite all the political fervor onscreen, the drama is often surprisingly quaint. Fons fetishizes the period decor with a lot of warm lighting and close-ups of fabric, making his movie feel like an animated diorama. 125 min. —Ben Sachs
Black Buenos Aires For this feature debut as solo director, Ramon Térmens pulls out every jar from the spice rack: the movie begins as a white-collar intrigue along the lines of Michael Clayton, develops into a docudrama about Argentina’s 2002 bank crisis, makes several detours into drawing room comedy and soft-core porn, and concludes with roughly half an hour of Hitchcockian suspense. The plot—more of a blueprint, really, for the crazy stylistic leaps—concerns a Spanish businessman getting drawn into government corruption and organized crime on a very unlucky trip to Argentina. The ratio of good ideas to bad is almost one-to-one, but on the whole this is the kind of unabashed mess that’s more interesting than many modest successes. In Catalan and Spanish with subtitles. 104 min. —Ben Sachs
Chicogrande The films of Mexican director Felipe Cazals (Canoa) tend to be more admirable for their subject matter than for their execution, and this 2010 take on the unsuccessful U.S. military campaign against Pancho Villa is no exception. A grizzled Villista (Damian Alcazar) tries to protect his leader from a cartoonish villain (Daniel Martinez, made up like Nikolai Cherkasov in Ivan the Terrible, Part II). The mix of caricature, grisly violence, and stilted storytelling makes this a boneheaded examination of a complicated historical event. A sequence in which the villain drunkenly cavorts with three dwarfs nearly nudges the film into self-conscious camp—which would be an improvement. 100 min. —Ignatiy Vishnevetsky
Cold Water With its long takes, nature imagery, and noncommittal narrative, this 2010 debut feature from Costa Rica seems tailor-made for the festival circuit. A young married couple, vacationing on one of the coasts, encounter a little girl who deceitfully tells them her parents are dead, then disappears; the husband is largely unfazed by this incident, but the wife is unsettled. Shooting almost exclusively at eye level with the characters, writer-director Paz Fabrega makes striking use of natural light, but her film plays like a thin version of Lucrecia Martel’s The Holy Girl or The Headless Woman: class issues are hinted at but never really explored, and everything is kept as mysterious as possible. This is pretty-looking but reminds us that few things are more overrated than ambiguity. Also known as Cold Water of the Sea. 100 min. —Ignatiy Vishnevetsky
The Elevator In Tomás Bascopé’s sweaty, low-budget Bolivian noir (2009), two robbers and their victim get stuck in an elevator over a three-day weekend. As the power dynamic shifts back and forth with possession of a revolver, they terrorize each other over control of their meager resources (a pack of cigarettes, some junk food), but eventually the delirium caused by heat and hunger begin to break down the social distinctions between them. Bascopé’s handling of the confined space, supported by some punchy digital camerawork, is an object lesson in shoestring craftsmanship; however, a broadly comic subplot involving a vain security guard seems to belong in a different movie. 100 min. —Ignatiy Vishnevetsky
Transit Love Yet another shaky-cam feature about the romantic frustrations of educated 30-somethings. If there’s anything to distinguish this one, it’s a better than average score (tunefully combining flamenco and chamber pop) and a generally resourceful use of bohemian locations in Buenos Aires. Otherwise this is the usual self-regarding stuff about how the rootlessness of 21st-century life keeps bourgeois types from having steady relationships. Director Lucas Blanco tries to paper over the thin material with a number of flashy devices, such as computer-generated maps that introduce the setting of almost every scene. More than simply distracting, they make the movie feel like an advertisement without a product. In Spanish with subtitles. 91 min. —Ben Sachs