High Museum of Art: Films


Carancho shows on Saturday, October 30 at 8 p.m. in the Rich Theatre as part of the High’s 25th annual Latin American Film Festival

 by Julie Chautin

“They’re like the Chilean miners down in a dark hole,” Linda Dubler said to me.  We were talking about the main characters in Carancho, the film that brings the 25th Latin American Film Festival to a thrilling conclusion. 

This time the hole is one that an ambulance-chasing lawyer and a doctor with a drug problem have dug for themselves.  They traverse the streets of Buenos Aires in Argentinean director Pablo Trapero’s thriller.  And you wonder if they will make it out.

Sosa (the incredible Ricardo Darin) has lost his license to practice law.  To get by, he works with a dubious organization called the “Federation.”  It sues insurance companies on behalf of poor accident victims, although most of the money from the insurers goes to the Federation, not the victims.  Even the hospitals are in on the payoffs.  Sosa is the carancho, or vulture, on the lookout for victims.

 Lujan (the equally incredible Martina Gusman, wife of the director) is an emergency room doctor new in town.  She endures long blistering hours, hassles with administration, and physical assaults by patients.  Drugs are her secret source of comfort.

Sosa and Lujan meet at an accident scene one night.  His eyes light up but she is wary.  When they meet again, Sosa offers her a plea straight from his heart, “How can I change the way you look at me?”

The road may be rocky in some love stories, but this one is strewn with potholes.  Sosa wants to reform his life and leave the Federation.  He is in deep, however, and crawling out is no easy task.

Trapero’s films Rolling Family and Lion’s Den have been screened in previous years at the High’s Latin American Film Festival, and won numerous awards at others.  Carancho is certain to win more.  Darin and Gusman are exceptional.  The direction and editing are swift and sure.  The violent scenes are unnerving.  But hope remains.  One evening Sosa convinces Lujan to go out for coffee.  We watch them through the window of the coffee shop, as passing car lights reflect onto the window like stars in the universe.  Then a miracle happens.  Sosa makes her laugh.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES shows on Saturday, October 23 at 8 p.m. in the Rich Theatre as part of the High’s 25th annual Latin American Film Festival

by Julie Chautin

“I don’t want St. Anthony, I want Aunt Dinah’s red sofa,” Baby shouts into the phone.  She is a forty-something Sao Paulo native, a paulista, who fills her days fighting with her sisters about items from their dead aunt’s estate, such as it is.  When she’s not watching infomercials, she teaches guitar lessons in her apartment to various wannabe Segovias, from a boy who won’t practice to an elderly lady slowly pinging away at the strings.  Oh yes, all the while, Baby smokes — a lot.

Sao Paulo-born director Anna Muylaert’s award-winning dark comedy, Smokes Gets in Your Eyes, hits all the right notes, from its direction and screenplay to snappy editing.  Even the music of Muylaert’s countrymen moves the story along.  A guitar strums a samba as Baby’s cigarette smoke curls upward. Villa Lobos, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso take their turns.  Lovers differ on who they like better, the bossa nova style of Chico Buarque or the samba rock and funk of Jorge Ben.

Baby enjoys a smoke

One day a single guy rents the apartment next door to Baby.  His name is Max and Baby knows he’s single because the doorman told her.  How else do you get at the truth in a high-rise? Baby and Max meet outside her door.  He smiles.  She smiles. Guitar strings play Carmen in the background.  Poof, they’re a couple.

They have things in common.  They both play the guitar.  They also have differences.  She smokes, he doesn’t.  It doesn’t take him long to make that quiet request — to quit smoking.  She learns to chant that cigarettes are not her friends.

The further proof that Baby wants to make this relationship to work is in the plucking.  Her sessions with the hair-waxing ladies are not to be missed.

Muylaert struck the right chords with actors Glória Pires and Paul Miklos as Baby and Max. All the while she shows us the faces of Sao Paulo.  The city is filled with high-rise apartments where residents meet in the elevator.  In fact, it is the elevator security tape that becomes a player in Baby’s fate.

One day while she’s alone in her apartment Baby hears low moans that seem to come from Max’s place.  It turns out they are low female moans.  Another truth slowly comes out courtesy of Baby’s drill.

The moaner is Max’s ex-wife.  She won’t leave him alone, he complains to Baby.  Jealousy consumes her, until a tragedy happens.  And all the things that Baby wanted may slip away.

Brazilian film judges gave the film countless awards.  There should be a special one for nailing what it’s like to drive in Sao Paulo.  Traffic doesn’t move, it undulates likes waves on Rio’s Ipanema Beach.  A little forward, then back, a traffic samba that will slowly dance you home.

Director Muylaert noted in an interview her admiration for the work of Stanley Kubrick. That is a head’s up to be prepared for anything.  You will like Baby, laugh at her foibles, and ache for her too.  You will also want to see more of Muylaert’s films in years to come.

Undertow (Contracorriente)

A review of Undertow by Julie Chautin

Undertow (Contracorriente) is another not-to-be-missed film in the High’s Latin American Film Festival.  Javier Fuentes-León’s first feature film won the Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award for World Cinema Drama earlier this year. It is a story full of emotion and beauty.  The director captures the glistening blue sea, the wild and rocky coastline, and the intense inner turmoil of a married man in love with another man.

 It was filmed in Cabo Blanco, on the coast of Peru.  Peruvian director Fuentes-León, however, would have been happy if you thought it was made anywhere else.

In an interview with Jason Farbman of The Latin America News Dispatch, Fuentes-León notes that he wanted the seaside village to look “like a small town that could be set in South Africa, or Italy, or Colombia, or Thailand, or even maybe Louisiana.”

Miguel and his wife Mariela live in this pretty village where Miguel is a fisherman, like everyone else.  They are expecting their first child.  “Miguelito,” Miguel calls softly into Mariela’s growing tummy.  They don’t know the sex of the child yet, but Miguel is sure it will be a boy.

Life revolves around the water, and so does death.  Burials are done at sea in a traditional way.  Miguel understands the importance of a good departure from this earth.  And his friends rely on his help to assure their departed rest in peace.

So it is all the more wrenching when we discover Miguel’s secret life.  He is having an affair with an artist visiting the village – a male artist.  No one knows, and that’s the way Miguel must have it to survive.  It’s a tightrope no one would want to be on.

When an unexpected tragedy happens, Miguel’s tightrope starts to fray.

In the interview,  Fuentes-León notes that when dealing with homophobia, what may change people’s minds will always be “having somebody else next to them say, ‘hey, I’m gay,’” — someone you love or respect or admire, he adds. And not surprisingly, those are the feelings I have for Miguel.

Alamar Opening Night
October 1, 2010, 12:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The September 24th opening of the 25th Latin American Film Festival was a great success. Our thanks go out to the Consulate General of Mexico, Consul General Salvador De Lara, the Institute of Mexico, and its Executive Director Gabriela Gonzalez for their generous sponsorship of the fabulous post-screening reception at the Promenade II. The party  followed a sold-out screening that began with a Skype introduction from Alamar’s director Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio, who, quoting a traditional African-American gospel song, urged the audience to “wade in the water.”

Linda Dubler

Consul for Political, Economic, and Social Affairs Raul Saavedra and his wife Megan


Alamar screens on Friday, September 24 at 8 p.m. in the Rich Theatre.

By Linda Dubler. Interview by David Jenkins.

Alamar means “to the sea” in Spanish, but to those who don’t speak the language, it’s a word that suggests the rhythmic pounding of waves and the incantatory power of a magic spell. The film, made by Pedro González-Rubio, opens our 25th Latin American Film Festival, and is unlike any Mexican movie I’ve seen over the many years I’ve been programming the LAFF.  It’s a hybrid of fiction and documentary, and in its grace, purity, and ravishing beauty, it’s an antidote to the pervasive darkness we find in both life and cinema these days.  
Jorge and Natan in Alamar


Alamar is a love story about the relationship between a father and his young son and their connection to a way of life and a place that seem to be timeless, but are in fact fragile and endangered.  Jorge, who has the profile of an Aztec warrior and the body art of a modern hipster, is calling it quits with his son’s mother, who will be taking Natan with her to live in Rome, Italy. But for a few weeks, Jorge and Natan will spend time together in a fisherman’s shack on the Gulf of Mexico, a place called Banco Chinchorro, which is home to an unspoiled coral reef. Along with an older man who Jorge addresses as “grandfather,” they’ll catch barracuda with nothing but a nylon line, hook, and bait, dive for lobster, sleep in hammocks, and court the attentions of a beautiful white egret that Natan names Blanquita — the only female in their manly company.

How much of Alamar was pre-meditated and how much unfolded in front of the camera? On the screen the film looks organic and completely unstudied.

This interview with the director, which originally appeared in Time Out London, reveals his working process. The young Mexican director explains his dreamy father-son fishing trip movie to David Jenkins.

 Mexican-born director and London Film School graduate Pedro González-Rubio made his debut in 2005 with ‘Toro Negro’, a documentary about a hapless bullfighter. His new film ‘Alamar’, which picked up the top prize at the 2010 Rotterdam film festival, blends elements of documentary and fiction to tell the story of a young boy’s visit to his fisherman father.

 What sort of techniques did you learn at film school that you used in ‘Alamar’?

‘Film school is good. They teach you the basics, the technical aspects of filmmaking. But it doesn’t teach you taste or give you interests. That comes from your own creativity, life and experience. I enjoy finding out about places and people who are not part of my everyday life.’

 Which elements of the film did you write and which were real?

‘I came up with the idea of the trip. I also came up with the story. I didn’t write any dialogue – that’s why there hardly is any. I wanted to portray how the bond between father and son would get stronger and stronger than suddenly, when you least expect it, they get separated. When it came to the earlier scenes, where the boy is packing his bag for the trip, my direction was hands-off. I wouldn’t tell them where to sit or where to stand: they would just do it naturally. I was more like a guide.’

 Can you tell us about the father?

‘Even though it feels like he comes from the area where the film is shot, it’s not true. He comes from a village in the jungle. And he doesn’t fish. The location was very important for me as it’s a very visual film and I believe that a lot can be said with a good image rather than with dialogue. I like to portray the inner qualities of the characters and the location: the innocence of the kid, the purity of the landscape and the expansiveness of nature.’

 Did the presence of your camera affect the performers?

‘Not really. A bit for the father. He was very conscious of us and of his role. But when I focused more on fishing and on the physical activities in the film, he appeared more comfortable.’

 The impression from Europe is that directors from Mexico form an ad hoc community. Did any other directors help out with ‘Alamar’?

‘Yeah, there’s a filmmaker named Elisa Miller. She saw my work-in-progress and she told me what worked and what didn’t. She’s seven years younger than me. She made a film called “Ver Llover”, which won the short film Palme d’Or Award in Cannes in 2008. I think I am drawn much more to this younger generation, those in their mid-twenties. The older generation would ask me, “Where’s the drama? Where’s the conflict? Where’s the structure?” So I have to tell them that it doesn’t have a structure. I’m trying to use a different language to the norm.’

 Did you feel that the final product achieved what you set out to do?

‘Well, I knew that I wanted to let myself go rather than manipulating the elements in the location. I focused more on adapting to their daily routine and from there constructing a movie.’

 Are you working on a new film?

‘Not exactly. I am working on something new, but I think I’m going explore love from a female perspective. These two films have been about male characters. I think the next one has to be female.’

The Wind Journeys

By Julie Chautin

The Wind Journeys begins in a field where workers are digging a hole. A procession brings a coffin. Ignacio Carillo’s wife, the light of his life, has died. Ignacio used to travel from village to village playing his accordion and singing. Then he married and settled down. He is well known for his songs, however legends say his accordion came from the devil. The horns on the instrument make you wonder. And now his wife has been taken from him. Who else but the devil would do such a terrible deed? The depth of his mourning leaves him no choice. He will give up singing and return the accordion to its rightful owner, the man who taught him to play, far off on a mountaintop.

The Wind Journeys

The day he leaves for the north a boy appears in the dusty desert. His name is Fermin and he wants to learn the music of the road. The last thing Ignacio wants is a boy tagging along. Fermin, however, has his mind made up.

Director Ciro Guerra’s The Wind Journeys looks and feels like poetry as it tells of Ignacio’s and Fermin’s journey. The dialogue is minimal, music abounds and the beauty of northern Columbia fills every scene. The dusty red deserts, green crested mountains, and crystal lakes will blow you away just like the gusts of wind push the man and boy along.

Director Guerra had not yet turned thirty when he made this film, so the dreams of youth are not strangers to him. But he also has the wisdom of an ancient storyteller and that is a winning combination.

Those Lips . . .
August 23, 2010, 4:47 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

By Linda Dubler

With Dali: The Late Work on view at the High, spotting the surreal in daily life seems to be an occupational hazard (or perk – depending upon your point of view.) Case in point — a recent trip through the galleries brought me to the vitrine where jewelry designed by the Divine One is on display. A glistening pin in the form of a pair of  lips, encrusted in rubies and parted to reveal gleaming pearls,  is at once seductive and sinister.

Dali’s bejeweled lips

It reminded me immediately of a movie I’d seen earlier this month for the first time  —  Leave Her To Heaven, starring Gene Tierney — shown as part of TCM’s “Summer Under the  Stars.” 

 Shot in Technicolor so saturated that everything on-screen seems intensified and on the verge of vibrating, it’s a tale of what  the Surrealists liked to call “amour fou,”  mad love. 

Gene Tierney’s Technicolor lips

What’s most remarkable about the script is that Tierney’s Ellen isn’t just a conventional noir femme fatale who plots a leading man’s downfall.  No, Ellen is a monster from the id, and the malignant power of her love destroys everyone who threatens her supremacy. Tierney’s mask-like beauty, her blue-green eyes, which are emphasized by both her costumes and the production design, and that glimmering enamelled mouth, shiny and dangerous, are haunting. In the reflected light of Dali, they seem positively surreal. 

Share your observations of surreal movie moments with us.