I Like Locally Grown Produce, Not Films

It's that time of year where I want to receive a marketing email promoting the San Diego Latino Film Festival, but try as I might to get on their mailing lists, I can not. Fortunately, they couldn't keep this event a secret from me. Here are my thoughts about the three films I've seen so far.

El Ciudad En Celo

If you ask me about the plot of this movie in about a year, I won't have a clue. If you ask me if I'd want to see it again I'd probably say yes. It was the typical complicated love triangle, or let's just say polygon in this case, but done in a light-hearted way so as not to be as depressing as real life. It is entertainment after all.

There were about a dozen tango friends in the theater with me, and for us there was hardly enough tango. In the film, when they finally cleared away the tables for some presumably authentic dancing, I doubt I was the only one who cringed to hear American jazz, fine as it may be.

For me the movie pretty much relied on my nostalgia for being in Buenos Aires. Their Spanish is the easiest for me to understand by far. I realized that with my bicycle and a couple of months of free time I was able to scour that city pretty thoroughly. Little details that reminded me of that time pretty much made the whole movie worthwhile. If you've ever been to Buenos Aires, this film will amplify your memories of it, good or bad. Your mileage may vary.

El Clavel Negro

This movie was certainly the kind of thing that I find fascinating. When I was riding my bicycle around Bs.As. the sights I sought out were the landmarks of El Proceso, the Argentine civil liberties nightmare of the late seventies. I'm just fascinated by this kind of thing. It seems that it's so easy for people to forget how seriously wrong things can go and I appreciate movies like this for their ability to remind. This movie is about the mess in Chile in the 70s, but it seems that the point is that it could be anytime, anywhere.

This movie had some affiliation with Amnesty International and I think their message got through well. Their message seems to be, don't bury your hand in the sand and face up to the really bad stuff going on in the world. Life can be depressing enough; it's little wonder that people don't want to think about the events of the Chilean political mess and current events which bear an eerie resemblance to them.

The movie's plot was based on a true story and revolved around the charismatic yet enigmatic Swedish ambassador who did not turn his back on refugees. It seems that at great personal risk, he was responsible for saving hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives.

The film was well made and the acting was excellent. The leading actor was superb as the ambassador. The only complaint I had about the movie is that it was bizarrely in English most of the time. I tried to imagine that Swedish diplomats just resign themselves to always speaking English, but there was not a single conversation in Swedish even among Swedes in the embassy. And there were many situations where Spanish would have been spoken in real life, yet it wasn't in the movie. If you don't like reading subtitles, you understand English well, and enjoy well-made Latin American films, this one might be ideal.

Quien Mato A La Llamita Blanca

This Bolivian movie really deserves a lot of credit. In less than two hours, I learned more about Bolivian culture, history, politics, society, and geography than I ever thought I could know. However, this was no dry documentary. The plot followed the adventures and misadventures of a young indigenous couple who turn to a life of crime. This provided ample opportunity for car chases, gun fights, drunken mayhem, etc. as the main characters zoomed around the country.

I think maybe the main characters were metaphors of Bolivia. On one hand, they were relatively good as criminals and were pretty fastidious in their profession. They were criminals, but they took pride in being criminals that say they're criminals as opposed to the rest of the society who they felt were criminals who wouldn't own up to it. For example, the two policemen who pursued them seemed not too much less criminal. Fitting the Bolivian metaphor, the main characters kept making self-defeating decisions. If "shooting oneself in the foot" translated well into Spanish, I'd have expected to see that gag.

Although the movie was light-hearted and outright hilarious in places, it had an undercurrent of seriousness that was probably designed as a bit of an exposé of the country. One of the ways the film achieved this effect was with the brilliantly creative narration technique. The film actually had an on-screen narrator who would talk about the story and even more about political, social, regional context. What was hilarious about this is that his voice-over would begin to narrate as a complex and action packed scene pulled back to end, but then the camera would swing a bit and focus on an extra and then start to zoom in. This extra had been in the shot the whole time, but at this point, the viewer realizes that it's the narrator. For example, the main characters are dancing in a local festival with the entire village out partying. After the scene is over, the camera focuses on one of the dozens of brightly-dressed indigenous women dancing in their idiosyncratic bowler hats and you realize that it's the narrator and he's giving the narration while actually in the scene dancing with these women. It's a brilliant effect that will probably be imitated, but probably should not be.

If you're interested in Bolivia at all, this movie is surely one of the most entertaining ways to learn all about it.

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