The other three are a varied lot. Language and an ambitious ruling metaphor aside, Pablo Giorgelli’s minimalist road movie Las Acacias—a sit-doc in which a taciturn truck driver hauls an Indian Madonna and her child from Paraguay to Buenos Aires—has little in common with the Brazilian quasi-horror flick Hard Labor, made by Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra. Stronger on paper than in execution, this first feature uses a São Paulo housewife’s attempt to open a grocery store in a depressed economy to suggest a middle-class tenuously perched atop a morass of corruption, underdevelopment, superstition, exploitation, and filth.
More successful as cinema, Chilean director Cristián Jimenez’s Bonsái—adapted from the short novel by Alejandro Zambra and also in “Un Certain Regard”—is a tricky tragicomedy of student-boho life in which deadpan exchanges are enlivened by percussive blasts of teen spirit. This could have been unbearably smug, but the director’s unsentimental evocation of youth’s eternal present and the movie’s funky Santiago ambience serves to mitigate the preciosity. Bonsái may be familiar, but it isn’t banal. The movie is not bad, and these days, “not bad” is the new “pretty good.”