More intriguing than the filmmaking displayed in international Spotlight movies shown at the Newport Beach Film Festival every year are the glimpses of every-day life in places around the world. Take, for instance, scenes in The Invisible Collection (A Coleção Invisível), the Brazilian Spotlight film rolling tonight.
Director Bernard Attal, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Sergio Machado and Iziane Mascarenhas, begins by showing the hard-charging, big-city club life in Salvador, Brazil, moves to the rural countryside of Bahia and spends most of the 89-minute picture in a once bustling cocoa farming region where the "Witch Broom" plague turned plantations into something akin to Tara–after the fires.
You, or at least I, look at foreign places like these with a mix of familiarity (Hey, some people in far off places live just like we do!) and shock (How could anyone live like this?). I learned more about life in these parts of Brazil from The Invisible Collection than I ever did in school. It's not a travelogue, however.
Club DJ Beto (Vladimir Brichta) deals with deep grief and depression by plunging himself into his family's teetering antique business in Salvador. The possibility of a big payday from serving as an art-deal intermediary sends him to a formerly thriving cocoa plantation whose patriarch Samir (Walmor Chagas) had bought from Beto's late father many prints by an artist whose works are suddenly in demand.
Standing between Beto and Samir are the plantation owner's wife and daughter (Clarisse Abujamra and Ludmila Rosa, respectively), who have a reason to prevent a deal from going down that serves as The Invisible Collection's twist. Things unfold slowly, as they do in rural regions in real life (and often in international cinema). That gives you more time to drink in the locations and English subtitles.
At the risk of suffering the wrath of the OC Weekly marketing department, it should be noted that this film and others from Chile and Mexico are part of the festival's Latino Showcase tonight. The 7:45 p.m. screening of The Invisible Collection at Big Newport is followed by a very visible party at Via Lido Plaza that HOY and the Weekly co-host. Live entertainment, yummy hors d'oeuvres and perhaps my first sip of gluten-free Tito's Vodka await.
More recommendations for today follow …
The first picture I saw in a festival theater this year was David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley's disturbing documentary that still has me wondering if I watched a mother who is delusional or has been victimized for decades by West Des Moines, Iowa, police she accuses of having done little to investigate the kidnapping and human trafficking of her son. This film is haunting and very well done. (2:15 p.m. at Fashion Island)
For this short drama, which opens for the feature-length Behind the Blue Veil, director Ian Ebright barely changes desert locations yet gives you a sense the four characters are roaming somewhere in the vast open Middle East, where even the more vast open skies hold the threat of American drone strikes. If you've yet to figure out how "our freedom" radicalizes average folks on the other side of the planet, give this sobering and important film a look. (5:15 p.m. at The Triangle)
When I described the plot to my wife, she responded, "Oh, you mean like Nebraska?" That had not occurred to me while watching Gary Lundgren's quirky little indie but come to think of it if you replaced the Midwest with the Pacific Northwest, Will Forte with James LeGros and screen legend Bruce Dern with screen legend Shirley Knight, my better half may be onto something. Oh, and Knight's Marie Vaughn is not walking a great distance to a Publisher's Clearinghouse office but her granddaughter's wedding. Her (literally) moving performance carries this sucker. (5:45 p.m. at South Coast Village)
Also recommended (click on each title for more): Cheatin' (7:45 p.m. at Fashion Island); Hsu Ji Behind the Screen (as part of Strong Girls – Shorts at 5 p.m. at The Triangle); I'll Be Me (4:45 p.m. at The Triangle); One Good Year (3:15 at Fashion Island); A Retrospective Evening with MacGillivray Freeman Films (7:30 p.m. at the Lido).