El Inca

The provocative poster art for this year’s Chicago Latino Film Festival shows a border wall with a couple of sections that have been flattened by an advancing path of celluloid film. The image might seem particularly timely this year, given the steady progress of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, but cinema has always provided a gateway between the U.S. and its southern neighbors. Politics takes front and center on opening night as well, when the festival presents the Puerto Rican comedy Broche de Oro: Beginnings (reviewed below). Released in September 2017, as the island was being hammered by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, this lightweight comedy reminds us of the emotional buoyancy of our beleaguered fellow citizens—many of whom still lack the electricity needed to watch it.

This year’s festival runs April 5 through 19 at River East 21, with more than 60 new features from Spain, the U.S., and Central and South America making their Chicago premieres. We’ve reviewed nine of them below:

Another Story of the World In this appealing satire from Uruguay, a history teacher challenges the authority of his small town’s mendacious and despotic military governor by teaching alternative facts. After the teacher and his drinking buddy pull pranks on the governor, the friend is caught, arrested, and removed to an undisclosed location, so the teacher convinces an adult study group, led by the governor’s wife, that his friend’s ancestors were crucial figures in the country’s history. The question of who controls the historical, and thus political, narrative is one that Latin Americans have been grappling with for decades; for Americans, this comedy may have a new relevance. Guillermo Casanova directed. In Spanish with subtitles. —Leah Pickett 105 min. Sat 4/14, 9:15 PM, and Mon 4/16, 6 PM.

Broche de Oro: Beginnings The Puerto Rican geezer comedy Broche de Oro (2012) has never gotten a U.S. release, but this second installment is a prequel, so no advance study is required. Rafael, once a physician, moves into a Catholic retirement community following his wife’s death and gains two sidekicks: the former soap opera heartthrob Pablo and the spastic, stridently wacky Anselmo. Coveting the doctor romantically, and joining the trio in a series of escapades, are three women residents who maintain the local gossip pool. In Hollywood geezer comedies, aging characters are often thrown into hectic physical activities such as skydiving or robbing a bank; by contrast, director Raúl Marchand Sánchez manages to score laughs here from the overwhelming danger and excitement of a field trip to the local shopping mall. In Spanish with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 87 min. Screens as part of the opening-night program on Thursday, April 5; tickets for this event are $60 and include a postscreening reception. Thu 4/5 and Sat 4/7, 6 PM.

Dear Mom

Dear Mom In this Brazilian melodrama, an uptight doctor leaves her husband for a female painter, further straining her contentious relationships with her mother and teenage daughter. Director Jeremias Moreira seems less concerned with the doctor’s sexual awakening than with her family ties, devoting much of the running time to dialogue-driven scenes in which the heroine and her mother ruminate on the past and dig up buried resentments. This is based on a play (by Maria Adelaida Amaral), and the stage origins show in all the worst ways: the performances are overstated, and the action feels cramped (even though the movie was shot in wide-screen). Still, the movie is fitfully insightful in depicting relationships between parents and children, showing how people carry issues from their formative years into adulthood. In Portuguese with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 95 min. Sun 4/15, 6:45 PM, and Tue 4/17, 8:45 PM.

RGood Manners This unpredictable horror fantasy is the most exciting Brazilian feature I’ve seen since Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Neighboring Sounds (2012). It begins as a naturalistic drama about a black, working-class woman from the outskirts of São Paolo (Isabél Zuaa) who becomes personal assistant to a rich, white, pregnant woman in the city center (Marjorie Estiano). Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra, directing their own script, use the women’s relationship to explore racial and class-bound tensions in contemporary Brazil before taking the story in surprising directions: first the women enter into a sexual relationship, then the employer reveals that her unborn baby’s father was a werewolf. Things get even stranger from there, but the tone grows increasingly delicate and sweet; in fact the film ends up feeling like a fairy tale. In Portuguese with subtitles. —Ben Sachs Sat 4/7, 8:30 PM, and Sun 4/15, 8:15 PM.

Help Me Make It Through the Night

Help Me Make It Through the Night This Mexican drama observes a middle-class family in crisis: the mother is a gambling addict, the father locks her out of their house, and their two sons, one a child and the other a young adult, struggle to cope. The narrative shifts among these four perspectives with soothing fluidity, rendering the film a more pleasant experience than perhaps it should be. Confrontations between the mother and father aim for dark comedy but lack the requisite bite; conversely, some of the more dramatic moments feel stunted, resulting in an unconvincing emotional payoff. Still, José Ramón Chávez Delgado, making his feature directing debut, and screenwriter Claudia Sainte-Luce are unmerciful in exploring the mother’s addiction, and actress Elena de Haro sells it—especially when her scene partner is a slots machine at the local casino. In Spanish with subtitles. —Leah Pickett 94 min. Tue 4/10 and Thu 4/12, 6 PM.

El Inca Venezuelan boxer Edwin Valero held two world titles and never lost a fight, but his private life was a shambles: in April 2010, at age 28, he was arrested for the murder of his wife and hanged himself in his jail cell. His professional rise and personal fall recall those of Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull (1980), and this 2016 biopic, which represented Venezuela in the Academy Awards, draws heavily on the earlier movie in its flashback structure, its narrative development, and the editing of its fight sequences (the slow-motion shot ending in a smash cut to an explosion of violence in normal time, etc). Alexander Leterni drives the film as Valero, whose total belief in himself enables him to overcome numerous career setbacks even as his private rages engulf his marriage. Ignacio Castillo Cottin directed a script he cowrote with Ada Hernández. In Spanish with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 128 min. Fri 4/6, 8:45 PM, and Sun 4/8, 8:15 PM.

Spider Thieves

Spider Thieves This Chilean drama centers on a giant shantytown erected on the outskirts of Santiago in 1999, where some 1,750 families set up their own water, electricity, and policing while the government dithered over what to do about them. Seven years later, three 13-year-old girls from this rough community venture into the city and burglarize wealthy apartments, boldly scaling high-rise buildings and winning TV news coverage as the “Spider Thieves.” Screenwriters Daniela Aguayo, Guillermo Helo, and Ticoy Rodriguez note with great poignance how deprived the girls are: when they arrive at an upscale shopping mall, one asks timidly, “Can we just go in?,” and later, after they’ve been jailed, another of them is content just to be sleeping in a bed with sheets. The movie begins to lose steam once the girls get caught, after which they try to deal with their newfound notoriety and resolve their problems at home. The cards are stacked against them; when one girl invokes Spider-Man, another replies, “He wouldn’t last a day here.” Helo directed. In Spanish with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 94 min. Fri 4/6, 6:15 PM, and Sun 4/8, 3:15 PM.

The Summit Fleeing a scandal, the president of Argentina (Ricardo Darín) travels to the mountains of Chile to attend a conference and gets embroiled in a geopolitical power struggle. This Argentine political drama is straightforward and dry for its first act, then cowriter-director Santiago Mitre introduces a plot twist in which the president’s grown daughter finds herself able to recall events from before her birth while under hypnosis. This swerve into supernatural mystery turns out to be a mere detour, though, as the president returns to the conference and navigates his way out of an international conflict. Mitre, following up his Brechtian drama Paulina (2015), maintains that movie’s even-handed tone, presenting different sides to various arguments and making viewers decide where they stand, but the rhetoric is less compelling and the characters are less interesting. In English and subtitled Portuguese and Spanish. —Ben Sachs 114 min. Screens as part of the closing-night program; tickets are $60 and include a postscreening reception. Thu 4/19, 6 PM.

RTigers Are Not Afraid In this topical horror-fantasy from Mexican writer-director Issa López, a ten-year-old girl whose mother has been murdered by a local drug cartel joins a street gang of similarly orphaned kids; they launch a resistance campaign, and much to the cartel’s disadvantage, their Mexican village teems with as many specters as sicarios. The ghosts in this story, all victims of the drug war, oscillate between frightening and comforting; they appear as bloody lines crossing rooms or as childlike drawings that leap out of city walls, and though they support the kids against the cartel, they also symbolize the grief and trauma the kids may never shake (the spirit of the girl’s slain mother is a doleful presence throughout). López’s fable has already drawn comparisons to Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) but has a phantasmagoric energy and modern urgency all its own. In Spanish with subtitles. —Leah Pickett 83 min. Fri 4/6, 9:15 PM, and Sun 4/8, 8:30 PM.  v