The 28th Chicago Latino Film Festival runs Friday, April 13, through Thursday, April 26. Tickets for most screenings are $11, $10 for members of the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago; a festival pass, good for 12 general admissions, is $100, $80 for ILCC members. Following are selected screenings; for a full schedule see latinoculturalcenter.org.
Captains of the Sands Like Hector Babenco’s Pixote (1981) and Fernando Meirelles’s City of God (2002), this Brazilian drama considers the abbreviated childhood of feral street kids. The source novel by modernist writer Jorge Amado was published in 1937; directors Cecilia Amado and Guy Goncalves have moved the action up to the 1950s but retain Amado’s favorite locale, the coastal city of Salvador, Bahia. Bala, leader of a gang of petty thieves who inhabit a ruined building on the ocean shore, wrestles with romantic feelings after reluctantly loosening the rules of membership to admit a pubescent girl. Early in the movie, a lovely scene of the gang riding a merry-go-round in town exposes the element that makes these stories so reliably potent: the ease with which young criminals can revert to a childlike vulnerability. In Portuguese with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 96 min. Screens on Wednesday, April 18, 6 PM, at 600 N. Michigan as part of the festival’s “Noite do Brasil” (tickets are $75, $65 for ILCC members, and include a reception after the screening), and again on Friday, April 20, 7:30 PM at Landmark’s Century Centre for regular admission.
Hostage of an Illusion Eliseo Subiela, Argentina’s reigning master of sexy, softhearted magic realism, seems to be treading water with this moody romance about a 60ish novelist pursuing an affair with a photographer three decades his junior. Subiela’s warts-and-all eroticism is still a treat (like Paul Verhoeven, Subiela creates the impression that he actually enjoys sex rather than simply exploiting it), and his dialogue contains enough funny non sequiturs to recall his most imaginative work (Last Images of the Shipwreck, Don’t Die Without Telling Me Where You’re Going). But the story, which contains fewer surreal twists than usual, never really goes anywhere, even when Subiela brings in a military conspiracy and a mental illness subplot in the final act. This is a pleasant daydream from a filmmaker capable of much grander visions. In Spanish with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 80 min. Sun 4/15, 8:45 PM, and Mon 4/16, 6 PM, Landmark’s Century Centre
Mariachi Gringo Stifled by his white-bread parents and Kansas hometown, an aspiring young guitarist (Shawn Ashmore of the X-Men movies) falls under the sway of a local mariachi player and sets off for Guadalajara in search of musical authenticity and personal fulfillment. His dream might strike most Mexicans as the ultimate in white self-indulgence, though director Tom Gustafson manages to make the hero’s midwestern existence seem so stultifying that you can hardly blame him for hopping a bus out of town. His arrival on the famous Plaza de los Mariachis ultimately leads him into a friendship with a local firecracker (Martha Higareda) who manages a nearby restaurant, and from there to the town’s gay milieu. I must admit I was a little surprised by this development, but it nicely dilutes the rather obvious cultural ironies. In English and subtitled Spanish. —J.R. Jones 109 min. Screens as part of a special premiere program; tickets are $75, $65 for ILCC members, and include a reception after the screening. Mon 4/16, 6 PM, River East 21
Reus The title of this Uruguayan drama refers to a working-class barrio of Montevideo that’s become a center of gang activity in recent decades. That development informs the movie’s central conflict, as long-standing tensions between gang members and local merchants escalate into a full-on street war. The gangbanger characters and shaky, pseudo-documentary camerawork are both standard issue (directors Pablo Fernandez, Alejandro Pi, and Eduardo Pinero seem to have watched more than their share of The Wire), but the observations of barrio life are generally illuminating, focusing on the sort of neighborhood landmarks that are usually overlooked. The filmmakers even stage a few scenes in Uruguay’s oldest standing synagogue for a superfluous subplot that nonetheless conveys a strong sense of place. In Spanish with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 89 min. Sat 4/14, 6:15 PM, Instituto Cervantes, and Thu 4/26, 8:30 PM, Landmark’s Century Centre
Year of Grace A provincial and supremely cocky young man arrives in Barcelona to earn a degree in painting; needing a room, he lands an assignment as live-in caregiver to an ailing old battle-ax (veteran Spanish actress Rosa Maria Sarda). The ensuing story arc is exactly what you’d expect—conflict and estrangement, followed by empathy and affection—and the minor narrative set-ups are so blatant that I felt grateful whenever veteran director Ventura Pons chose not to follow through on one of them. The old woman is named Grace; perhaps the weak pun of the title will give some indication of the movie’s eye-glazing obviousness. In Spanish with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 87 min. Screens on Friday, April 13, 6 PM, at River East 21 as part of the festival’s opening-night program, with Pons appearing in person to accept the festival’s career achievement award; tickets are $75, $65 for ILCC members, and include a reception after the screening. The movie screens again on Monday, April 16, 9 PM, at Landmark’s Century Centre for regular admission.