South American Films at the BFI London Film Festival Part One (Revolución, The Lips, Waste Land and The Call)

By 19 October, 2010

BFI’s London Film Festival is one of the most important film festivals in the world. Now in its 54th edition it has the honour of bringing a number of Latin American films to England for the first time. Amongst a plethora of Argentine films, reflecting the current highpoint in their film-making, are a number of pictures from Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. Sounds and Colours is at the festival to get first view on these new films. For our quick guide to the festival’s South American films please go HERE.

Revolución (Mexico, 2010)

Although we try to focus on the South American side of Latin American life we can’t help but get involved with some of the interesting things going on in Mexico and Central America every now and again. Revolución is one of them, a collection of 10 short films, produced to celebrate the passing on 100 years since the Mexican Revolution. It’s certainly an interesting mix of films, either based around domestic situations or taking a more fabled approach with themes of survival and echoes of the past. In the former domain falls Patricia Riggen’s Beautiful & Beloved which follows a woman’s attempt to get her deceased father’s body back to Mexico, as per his dying wishes. It’s a truly delightful mix of humour and optimism amidst the death of a loved one. Gael Garcia Bernal’s Lucio offers an enchanting tale of children searching for identity in an over-whelming Catholic society. Carlos Reygadas stages one of the most raucous parties you’re ever likely to see with cars being smashed to pieces, drunks covering the ground, fire bombs swinging from one end to the other and somehow people riding horses through the chaos.

Some of the other films don’t work quite so well, but remaining constant throughout is the effect the past has on the present and whether this present is a reaction on the past or simply a re-enactment. This is best reflected in The Hanging Priest, Amat Escalante’s tale of two children who find a priest hanging from a tree. After their donkey dies from dehydration they struggle to survive in the bare desert before finding modern civilisation and using money made from begging to pay for their dinner, at McDonald’s. It’s the perfect dichotomy of this past/present relationship.

The Lips / Los Labios (Argentina, 2010)

Santiago Loza and Iván Fund’s The Lips has already been performing tremendously well at all the festivals where it’s been shown, most notable winning the Cannes Best Actress award collectively for it’s three stars, the three female medics who make up the core of the story. Deciding to leave the city for an impoverished hamlet in the Santa Fé province they get to witness the stark conditions in which some people live.

At times this film feels like it’s veering towards a documentary, with echoes of cinema vérité, and its subtle use of cameras and acting, at times it can feel like the film has actually forgotten its role, but herein lies its charm. As the three medics realise just how badly people are living, how malnourished some of them are, the lack of medical care or hospital treatment when needed, and so on, the real drama lies in the way that the main characters deal with these elements in their own different ways. Very little is revealed by the film itself, instead giving options to the viewer. This is after all real life, and no life can be dissected in 100 minutes.

It’s a disquieting film that can at times leave you breathless with its nakedness but ultimate carries a real warmth thanks to the ladies who manage to lift the setting through their character and defiance. It’s a highly recommended viewing, and a definite new success to add to Argentina’s already burgeoning list of great recent films.

Waste Land (UK/Brazil, 2010)

Any decent documentary is honest, candid and revealing, but what makes a great documentary are the characters. Waste Land follows the mission of Vik Muniz, an internationally-recognised artist, to create art in collaboration with the catadores (“pluckers”) of Rio’s Jardim Gramacho, the largest rubbish dump in the world. Within its endless garbage we find Tiao, who has organised the pluckers to defend their rights; Irma, who cooks the worker’s lunches from wasted but edible food; and Valter, the spokesman for everyone who would ride to work on his wonky bike with eagle horn and countless trinkets.

Vik wants to select a number of workers who will recreate portraits of themselves using materials from the dump, and which will eventually go to auction and to exhibitions all over the world. The idea being to build a sense that the material waste they deal with on a daily basis can be recycled into something with a huge monetary value, as well as being something very personal to them.

One of the issues that arises out of a documentary like this is the aftermath of the filming, how have people’s mindsets been changed by the experience, i.e. are they now more bittr towards their ordinary lifestyle? One of the clever things that Lucy Walker, the director, does is get a discussion going between Vik and the film’s producers as to the effects that it could have, which really helps break the barriers between the reailities of these people’s lives and the creative process of making a film.

It’s these little touches that stop the film from feeling gritty, despite spending the majority of its time either on the rubbish dump or visiting its workers lacklustre accommodation. By showing this creative process that Vik is overseeing, as well as the warmth of the characters, the film manages to shine brighter than it has any right to. It’s spell-binding to hear Tiao talk about a book by Machiavelli that he found at the dump, how he took it home, dried it in the fridge and then read it, loving every word and relating it’s characters to all of those in his own life. These are people who rarely get to show their wisdom, wit and intellect but here are given that opportunity, and truly make the most of it.

The Call / Il Richiamo (Italy/Argentina, 2010)

This is more an Italian production than Argentinian, it’s Director Stefano Pasetto as well as two main stars Sandra Ceccarelli and Francesca Inaudi are all Italian, but due to its setting in Buenos Aires and Patagonia is of huge South American interest.

This is strangely riveting drama. Strange because the simple narrative of ‘woman is bored of life with her husband and has an affair’ is here made to seem mind-blowing. In fact this movie is so well-written and acted that almost every decision seems potent no matter how dull. Essentially this is due to the fact that every decision is ultimately a betrayal in some sense. Lucia has betrayed her life by falling into a submissive role with her husband, who is also betraying her by failing in being able to treat her as a doctor despite problems with her health. Once Lucia starts to believe that her husband is then cheating on her she decides to make some changes and switches her profession from stewardess to piano teacher. Her first student is the hyper-active Lea who at first shocks Lucia with her boldness and open nature. What starts off as frosty though soon turns into something else, and with it the film moves location from Buenos Aires to Patagonia.

The shooting on this film is truly breath-taking with especially poignant scenes of whales surfacing near the coast. It’s a film where seemingly everything is done to the top-quality; the photography, acting, writing, locations, all is truly top-notch. The only possible criticism could be the ending which opts for something of an optimistic note, which in a film of betrayal seems out-of-place, but then ultimately maybe this was what was needed for the character to at least have felt some kind of rehabilitation following so many complications. Exquisite ending or not, this is a film worth watching for the other hour and a half of quality that it offers.

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