Latin American Film Fest redefines ‘Nuestra América’

October 3, 2013

A special screening of Matías Piñeiro’s Viola opened the 24th AFI Latin American Film Festival last week. At sixty-five minutes long, Viola is on the shorter side. Yet, like many of the films showcased at the festival, it requires a substantial emotional investment from its audience by accumulating small moments and glimpses into an intimate narrative of the characters’ lives.

This modern take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night depicts the style and allure of the young Bohemian population of Buenos Aires. Piñeiro focuses on the romantic pursuits of María Villar, allowing his audience to savor the dramatic intrigue of young, rebellious love.

This year the festival continued its tradition of crossing borders with a wide range of subject matter and cinematic styles. The festival features over thirty Spanish, Portuguese, and English-language films from Spain, the United States, and Central and South America that showcase the diversity of contemporary Latin American cinema.

El Cartel de los Sapos (The Cartel of Toads) speaks to the familiar theme of Colombian drug trafficking. The film’s plot follows the life of Martín, who grows up in a well-to-do family of drug traffickers. As Martín enters the trafficking world, his life in the cartel puts his relationship with his life-long love interest, Sofia, in jeopardy.

In many ways, director Carlos Moreno modeled the film after the typical Hollywood action-film paradigm: boy meets girl, bad guys go after girl, shots are fired. He even uses heavy English-language rock to set the tone of the heists.

This choice of style, although nothing new from a North American perspective, highlights the staunch contrasts between the glamour of drug trafficking and its consequences on Martín’s relationships. El Cartel de los Sapos boils down to questions of loyalty. And when it comes to cocaine, where your loyalties lie can mean the difference between life and death.

Iván Wild’s debut comedy, Edificio Royal, finds levity in life’s mishaps. This dark comedy shies away from addressing the hard-hitting social issues that El Cartel de los Sapos does, but it still holds depth by showing clever comedic insight into the eccentricities of individual people. With marital arguments, deadbeat psychics, and frequent references to Tom Cruise all under one dilapidated roof, Edificio Royal  lets la locura that slips into everyday life push its audience to the limit.

Beyond fiction, Harvest of Empire: the Untold Story of Latinos in America takes a critical look at the untold history of migration from Latin America to the United States. The documentary tackles the issue from both a macro and micro perspective, speaking about social movements that drove masses of people to abandon their home countries as well as personal stories of triumph starting over in the United States.

The diversity of films at this year’s festival engages the audience on issues of Latino identity. In few other places will you find Shakespeare, cocaine, migrant workers, and laugh tracks on the same screen.

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