The brisk and healthy pulse of the Latin American film industry beat soundly in a solid thirty-fourth edition of the Guadalajara International Film Festival that closed on March 15.
Vigorous co-productions between countries and a dynamic festival circuit generate stories with the magic, candor and capacity for surprise that U.S. and European cinema has lost in the race for profit.
Among the narrative feature films at the festival, Tremors (Guatemala / France / Luxembourg) by Guatemalan Jayro Bustamante and Divine Love (Brazil / Uruguay / Denmark / Norway / Chile) by Brazilian Gabriel Mascaro — both second films that revolve around Evangelical fervor in Latin America — shone on their own merit.
Tremors, a terrifying portrait of fanaticism within a Guatemalan upper class family committed to healing the homosexuality of their married son, reaffirms Bustamante as a filmmaker of great caliber after his surprising debutIxcanul (2015).
The film presents an exquisite production value: solid performances, tight dramatic line, refined camera work, crisp sound mix and cool urban aesthetics.
Meanwhile, Brazilian director Gabriel Mascaro, after his breathtaking first feature Boi neon (2015), his second film portrays a country where people confess to pastors from the car in praying drive-thrus and love raves supplant Carnaval as the national holiday.
Divine Love, with echoes of Todd Haynes’s Safe, presents an immediate future invaded by the evangelist creed. After the initial expository half hour, the film is imbued with a beautiful poetry, using long takes, keeping “the camera at the right distance from the actors”, in the words of the talented director, tinged with neon lights and with several memorable scenes of liturgical meetings.
In addition, Brazil stood out with the sensual and vivid ode to life The Great Mystical Circus (Brazil / Portugal / France) by veteran filmmaker Carlos Diegues (Bye-Bye Brazil), a 100-year-old journey through the fascinating world of the circus that spans four generations, narrated with a magical rhythm and with unforgettable musical numbers — it reminds of Alejandro Jodorowski’s Endless Poetry; Ricardo Calil’s Cinema Morocco, a heartfelt documentary about a group of people who occupy an abandoned film theater; Gustavo Steinberg, Gabriel Bitar and André Catoto’s Tito and the Birds, a fascinating oil-paint animation featuring children who learn how to get rid of fear through unity; and the excellent short film I Am a Superman by Rodrigo Batista.
Spain was well represented with two excellent films: Jaime Rosales’s Petra, a sober portrait of a human interactions within the Catalan bourgeoisie, with an air of Greek tragedy and echoes of Eric Rohmer; and Carmen & Lola, a suave, touching first feature by Arantxa Echevarría that portrays the attraction that flourishes between two young gypsy girls in Madrid, with subtly shot scenes of love, great performances and a tight dramatic pulse.
Mexico presented the correct and interesting Beyond the Mountain by David R. Romay, about two unaccompanied teenagers who wander in Ciudad Juárez, with a strong lead performance by newcomer Benny Emmanuel; and the humble and intriguing At’ Anii” [Your lover] by Antonino Isordia Llamazares, about the relationship of a young indigenous Teenek couple in the Huasteca potosina.
The innocuous Miriam Lies (Dominican Republic / Spain) by Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada, The Sharks (Uruguay / Argentina / Spain) by Lucía Garibaldi, Florianópolis Dream (Argentina / Brazil / France) by Ana Katz and Rojo by Benjamin Naishtat (Argentina / Belgium / Brazil / Germany / France / Switzerland), all represented a vein of effective, entertaining, feel-good cinema with engaging story lines of ‘costumbrismo’ that are ultimately dispensable since they feel out of a mold.
Chile, the festival’s guest country this year, presented Juan Cáceres’ debut film Perro bomba, about the abuse suffered by Haitian immigrants in Santiago, representing “a popular cinema, not a documentary, but a document”, in words of the enthusiastic young director; and an excellent retrospective that regrettably went unnoticed in merciless outdoor screenings under the sun and heat. No one saw gems of Chilean cinema such as Canta y no llores, corazón (Juan Pérez Berrocal, 1925), Isla de Pascua (Nieves Yankovic / Jorge Di Lauro, 1965) or Jackal of Nahueltoro (Miguel Litttin, 1969).
Whether it’s a cinema with great production value made from the affluence of well-to-do filmmakers, or a raw cinema with a powerful message made from necessity, throughout history Latin America continues telling excellent film stories from the South and about the South, without a need for the North.