High Museum of Art: Films

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Linda Dubler

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) by Linda Dubler

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 by Linda Dubler

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 Linda Dubler

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.

Looking Ahead to the Latin American Film Festival by Linda Dubler

Those Who Remain, screening on October 27 at 8 p.m. in the Rich Theatre as part of the upcoming 25th Latin American Film Festival.

by Julie Chautin

 The High’s Latin American Film Festival is twenty-five years old and many of us who love Latin American films have been coming for most, if not all of those years.  Every fall we look forward to greeting old friends with lots of abrazos (hugs) and catching up with news, just like at a family reunion.

 And family reunions, or the lack of them, gives poignancy to Those Who Remain, the beautifully filmed documentary about family members who stay in Mexico when their loved ones go north to work in the United States.

 Directors Carlos Hagerman and Juan Carlos Rulfo visited homes and villages all over Mexico and let wives, children, parents, and friends of the workers tell their own stories.

 One of the wives, Rosa, is overseeing work on the house she and her husband are building with the money he earns up north in the U.S.  But since he is away, she tells us, she makes the decisions for everything.  The camera quietly pans the house.  It’s new and modern, and very empty.  More empty houses appear on the screen.  They are ready to be lived in, but instead, stand alone and empty, waiting.

 Then village streets appear with no one on them.  Everyone has left to go north, says one remaining neighbor.

 Yet, in another town a man has come back for good, and he is happy to be home.  He uses the money he made to buy land and build an arena so his village can hold a rodeo, just like in the old days.

 And there are more reassuring sights.  A group of girls play a lively game of soccer. One talks about continuing her studies because that’s what her father wants her to do.  That’s why he’s working up north.

 When the Los Angeles Film Festival gave their Documentary Award to Hagerman and Rulfo in 2009, the jurors applauded the film’s “generosity of spirit and lyrical grace that illuminates a human landscape with fresh eyes, … documentaries can be both journalism and poetry.”

Those Who Remain

 There is poetry as the camera films a young girl twirling in her communion dress.  And an old man looks contentedly over his land.  This is a story that cries to be told, and laughs too.

 Director Carlos Hagerman received his BA in Mexico City and then won a Fulbright scholarship to the NYU film school that has graduated other directors whose films we’ve shown in Atlanta.  He worked several years as a director in Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu´s film production company.

 Director Juan Carlos Rulfo is also the cinematographer.  He is the son of writer Juan Rulfo (1918-1986) often cited as one of the finest writers in 20th century Latin America.  He wrote the novel Pedro Páramo, a forerunner of magic realism, in which a man goes back to his father’s hometown and finds only ghosts.  One of the films Juan Carlos Rulfo has made is in homage to his father.  He visited his father’s hometown and interviewed its inhabitants.  They were not ghosts, they just had trouble remembering.  Thus, the title Del Olvido Al No Me Acuerdo (I Forgot, I Don’t Remember).

 In his later years the elder Rulfo became a photographer.   Both his visual eye and storytelling abilities may have easily nurtured the filmmaker and cinematographer his son became.

 But family ties don’t stop there.  Juan Carlos Rulfo is married to Valentina Leduc Navarro, the film editor for Those Who Remain.  She also worked on sound editing.  She is the daughter of the Mexican film producer Berta Navarro and film director Paul Leduc.

 In 1991 Berta Navarro visited Atlanta as a guest of the High along with her film, Cabeza de Vaca.  During her stay I took her out for lunch and she told me about her family.  Now her daughter, the next generation, has made one of the films we are showing.  Like I said, every festival seems like a family reunion.

The High will show the film with English subtitles. View the Spanish language trailer here:

Review: Nora’s Will (Atlanta Jewish Film Festival) by hmablogmaster
Nora's Will

Nora's Will

If you missed Nora’s Will at the High’s 2009 Latin American Film Festival, here’s your chance to catch it. It screens at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival on Sunday, January 17 at 1 p.m. (introduced by Linda Dubler) and Friday, January 22 at 3:40 p.m. (introduced by Eleanor Ringel Cater).

Visit www.ajff.org for more information, and read on for Eleanor’s review of the film.

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Five Questions for Julie Chautin by Linda Dubler

Julie Chautin is an avid film viewer who programs films for the Murphy, N.C. Public Library and writes about them for local publications. She and her husband Jerry are longtime supporters of the High’s annual Latin American Film Festival.

Julie Chautin

Julie Chautin

Is there a film that changed your life?

I don’t know if it changed my life, but I nearly shouted out at a screen in a crowded theater when I saw Alfonso Cuaron’s film, A Little Princess.  Near the end of the story, the father returns from war and doesn’t recognize his daughter.  Thanks to Cuaron’s direction, I was so pulled into that film that I had to stop myself from yelling, “Look at her!  That’s your daughter.”  My reaction shocked me.

What’s more, I almost didn’t see it at all.  Eleanor Ringel wrote an item in the Atlanta Journal Constitution to go see A Little Princess before it left the local theaters. She added something like “You’ve trusted me before, haven’t you?”  It made me laugh, but trust builds up between a reader and a movie reviewer.  And they open doors you may not even see.

What’s the first movie you remember seeing?

My parents used to take my brothers and sister and me to the movies at the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit.  And sometime in the 1950’s, Gone with the Wind was re-released. I remember sitting wide-eyed as Scarlet walked among the wounded soldiers.  I also loved old movies on television.  Marx Brothers movies like A Night at the Opera.  My sister and I would watch It Happened One Night whenever it came on.

How has programming films for audiences in Murphy, North Carolina, changed the way you view movie going?

It’s a lot of fun to program movies, and I do look at movies wondering if the Murphy audience might also enjoy them.  The weekly newspapers publish my movie reviews and that has made all the difference in getting the word out.

Film Movement, an indie film distributor has a special program for libraries.  Their film A Simple Curve used woodworking as the framework for a story.  Murphy is about ten miles away from the John C. Campbell Folk School where they teach arts and crafts.  So the film got a lot of attention.

S Simple Curve

A Simple Curve

Sometimes I’ve been able to add another dimension to the movie going experience.  When we showed Sideways I brought a bottle of Pinot Noir and everyone had a little taste.  My friend Nora King, a former Atlantan who now lives in Murphy, brought over a special snack when we showed Babette’s Feast: fried quail.  After watching Babette cook for two hours, we had a taste of what she had been serving.

In a small town library you often can get a sense of people’s own stories.  Recently for the 9/11 anniversary I showed The Guys, the film about a fire chief writing eulogies for his men lost in the Twin Towers.  A local fireman came with his daughter to see the movie and at some point he had to leave the room when his emotions got the best of him.

You’ve been part of the High’s Latin American Film Festival for many years. Would you share a favorite moment or memory of the festival?

Anyone who’s attended the Latin American Film Festival knows it’s full of great films.  The friendships that grow among the moviegoers are the added bonuses.

One of LAFF’s early films was Hello, Hemingway about a young girl in 1950’s Cuba.  She lived in the beach area where Earnest Hemingway had his house. After the film a man, a stranger, told me his family had emigrated from Cuba decades before.  And just like in the movie, they had lived down the road from Hemingway!   He was so excited to see his old neighborhood in that film.  His name is Marcus Maya and he comes every year to the festival.  He’s not a stranger anymore – he’s family.

Hello Hemingway

And, Linda, another of my favorite memories is opening night about ten years ago.  After you’d been studying Spanish awhile, you gave your welcoming speech in Spanish.  I thought the audience would clap.  I was wrong.  No one clapped.  They were too busy cheering!  They already appreciated the festival bringing cinema from their native countries to Atlanta.  And now you’re learning their language?  Everyone was touched.

Five movies that Films at the High audience members should see this year?

I loved The Visitor; The General with Buster Keaton.  Film Movement films, Arranged, A Simple Curve and Adam’s Apples.