Terrible Realism

Current American cinema opiates its audiences with trifling releases that aspire to no other reality than the bottom line. Latin American moviemakers, meanwhile, continue to produce films that hauntingly show how fucked-up their respective countries are. At least that's the general theme running through the selections in this year's UC Irvine Latin American film festival—but isn't failure, oppression and beauty the recurring theme of all Latin American art?

Del Olvido al no me Acuerdo (I Forgot, I Don't Remember)Part homage, part self-reflection and all about the meandering interviews, Del Olvido al no me Acuerdo is director Juan Carlos Rulfo's attempt to understand his late father, the famous Mexican writer Juan Rulfo. To do this, Rulfo filsreturns to his father's Jalisco hometown and talks to people who knew Rulfo père before his days of fame. Problem is much of the testimony Rulfo pequeñoelicits from his father's aging contemporaries contradicts one another and inevitably gravitate toward the speaker's own life. The results are convoluted, overlapping and make little sense—in other words, it's what one can expect when you interview a bunch of self-promoting coffin-dodgers. The appearance of intellectuals such as Carlos Fuentes, all who attest to Rulfo's greatness, save Del Olvido. . . from descending into talking-heads hell. Thurs., April 24. Latitude ZeroThe search for gold in Brazil's Amazonian interior during most of the country's history produced little ore but irreparably damaged everything it touched: the environment, indigenous communities and—especially—workers. Latitude Zero is a well-filmed dramatization of the destruction. The pregnant Lena (Débora Duboc) is on the verge of closing her bar near a gold mine when she meets a stranger who knows the whereabouts of her unborn child's father. She falls under the mysterious man's ambitions for riches only to have him double-cross her. Filmed around decrepit mines and mining camps, the camera captures all the devastation—both emotional and environmental—in its depressing wonder. April 26. El Gavilán de la Sierra (The Mountain Hawk) Mexican pulp at its juiciest: Rosendo Nevárez (Guillermo Larrea) is a Mexico City street musician who discovers the police killed his brother Gabriel in a violent shoot-out. Curious about the truth, Rosendo returns to his ranchoin the mountains of Durango to learn more about his hermanito. In a series of flashbacks, El Gavilán de la Sierrashows that Gabriel wasn't the nice kid Rosendo thought him to be. Piecing together the various accounts of Gabriel's criminal life, Rosendo writes a corrido immortalizing him and performs it in a Really Big Show. Starring the legendary-in-a-Charles-Bronson-type-of-way Mario Almada as the Nevárez patriarch. May 1.
Un Día de Suerta Un Día de Suerte
(A Lucky Day) The Los Angeles Times ran a great article last year on how young Argentine Italians are fleeing Argentina's crushing poverty and repatriating to the land of their ancestors. Un Día de Suerteis a fictionalized account of such a scenario. Elsa (Valentina Bassi) works a dead-end job but relishes the memory of a one-night stand that promptly fled to Italy. Inspired by visions of a fairy-tale Italy about which her anarchist grandfather rattles constantly, Elsa enlists a guy friend who grudgingly assists Elsa in her quest even though he loves her. Though Un Día de Suerteshows romance to be Elsa's primary motivator in longing for Italy, the bureaucratic and economic chaos Elsa encounters is a better indicator of why thousands of Elsa's peers want to join her. May 3.
Tosca Tosca
Proving that film-school pretentiousness is a universal university malady, Tosca is a modern reworking of the Puccini classic done by a collective of 36 students from the Universidad Central de Venezuela. In this version, Tosca is an actress (Marialejandra Martín) who witnesses the murder of a government official while filming her latest project, Mario is her director/lover, and the fiendish Scarpia is a police chief monitoring our heroine. Curiously, there's little mention of the real-life opera involving the Scarpia-esque Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez that has entertained the country for the past year. And none of Puccini's fabulous arias are used. May 8. Lavoura Arcaica (To the Left of the Father) Take East of Eden, set it in Brazil during the 1940s with a Lebanese immigrant family, eliminate rat fink director Elia Kazan, and you have Lavoura Arcaica. Resentful of his privileged brother and suffering under the weight of his father's puritanical oppression, André (Selton Mello) returns after years of indiscretions to disrupt the family that was glad he left. Director Luiz Fernando Carvalho uses sumptuous cinematography (you can feel the sweat) and twitchy performances from his large cast to address issues of homosexuality, incest, family favoritism and repression. Great date movie! May 10. Una Casa con Vista al Mar (A House with a View of the Sea) The recently widowed Tomás Alonso (Imanol Arias) lives with his son, Santiago, under the yolk of a brutal hacendado and his son. The only thing that keeps the two going is a desire to live next to the ocean, an impossibility considering their peon status and the fact they make their home in the Andes. But when a mysterious photographer enters the family's lives after Alonso's imprisonment for murder, Alonso and Santiago just might have found a chance to escape their crushing reality and move toward the shores of their dream. Maudlin plot but with haunting cinematography. May 15. En la Puta Vida (In the Fucking Life) Elisa (Mariana Santangelo), a single mother of two, has dreams of opening a hairdressing salon. Along the way to her goal, however, she's forced into prostitution, involves herself in a nasty gang fight between Uruguayan prostitutes and Brazilian transvestites on the streets of Barcelona, and turns informant for the Uruguayan government against her pimp. Based on a true story, En la Puta Vida comes from the school of Almodóvar with its sexi-comic pathos, fascination with street people and grinding tango soundtrack. May 16. Rerum Novarium Yet another documentary originating from the “let's get a bunch of old musicians together and give them the due they never received in their prime” genre, Rerum Novariumfocuses on an orchestra made up of cotton workers that has been playing since 1937. Between shots of a reunion concerts, members wistfully recall an Argentina that was poised to become one of the world's leading nations decades ago but now can't even provide pensions for these men. Nevertheless, the members of Rerum Novarium—who named themselves after the Pope Leo XIII's encyclical urging compassion for the world's workers—endure, finding joy in their bitter tangos. May 17. UC Irvine Latin American Film Festival at the Film and Video Center, Humanities Instructional Building, Room 100, Campus N W. Peltason drives, Irvine, (949) 824-7418; www.humanities.uci.edu/fvc. Opens Thurs., April 24. All films (screened with English subtitles) begin at 7:30 p.m. Through May 17. $3-$5.

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