Monday, November 12, 2007

Jason goes to the Latino Film Festival--Sat, Nov. 10

I've been meaning to do that for a few years, and this time I finally had the drive to catch at least one day in San Jose (it continues through next weekend). I caught three films last Saturday, and here they are:

First up was a documentary co-presented by my beloved San Jose Earthquakes. "Fútbol, el nacimiento de una pasión" ("Footbal--the Birth of a Passion") is a PBS-style documentary using re-enactment to tell the history of all games that were played with a round ball--leading up to modern football (soccer). Playing games with a spheroid goes way back in many cultures--Aztecs and Druids independently used it to worship the sun god. Romans used a violent ball game to train their troops. The Japanese invented a ball game that looks a lot like hackey sack but with a big ball as a form of peaceful meditation. But the roots of the modern game lie in the English school system. Various forms of ball games (often called "the dribbling game") were played on campuses. One fateful day, a player at Rugby school, tired of constantly being beaten, made the fatal decision to pick up the ball and run it into the goal. This was blatantly illegal in the dribbling game (hands were allowed to stop the ball, but not to advance it), but it soon became "Rugby rules". Of course, it was difficult for different schools to play each other, with so many variations of the rules, so representatives from all the schools met (in a pub) to standardize the rules. In a vote, they rejected the more physical Rugby rules in favor of the Cambridge rules (which allowed stopping the ball with the hands but not advancing it, didn't have a goalie, but were the first to allow a rope across the goalposts as a height limit on the goal). Hence a schism formed between the Rugby rules (or "rugby" or "rugger") and the Football Association rules (or "soccer", shortened nickname for Association). Chances are if I weren't a soccer fan already, I'd get pretty tired of this movie and the constant low-budget historical re-enactments. But as it is I'm a fan and this movie was pretty interesting. If nothing else, I at least know why we call it soccer.

Next up we stayed with the sports motif but moved from soccer (a game I like) to boxing (which I find kinda tough to watch). "J. C. Chávez" (I assume the initials are a subtle hint) is a documentary about Mexican boxing legend Julio Cesar Chávez, and the directorial debut of actor Diego Luna ("Y tu mamá también"). Diego is obviously a big fan of Chávez, as is (to judge from the movie) pretty much every Mexican who's every seen a boxing match. Still, he's not afraid to show Chávez in a somewhat unfavorable light, from his political foibles and his drawn out farewell tour that jumps between brilliant and pathetic (of course, he's just fighting palookas for that tour). And his casual racism against Puerto Ricans seemed odd. But all in all, he's a charismatic character who brought himself up from poverty (his first goal was to be able to buy a house for his family), and although I'm not a boxing fan, this is still a well made movie and I can appreciate that.

And finally, "Malos Habitos" ("Bad Habits") is a movie about dysfunctional relationships. In particular, dysfunctional relationships with food. I don't think I've seen a movie that can inspire so much mouth-watering hunger in one instance, and retching revulsion the next. It all takes place during possibly the biggest extended rainstorm Baja California has ever seen, and features a really messed up cast. There's an anorexic woman, her kinda pudgy daughter, and her husband--an architect who teaches at the local school and sleeps with one of his students (and yeah, food's involved there, too). The school is Catholic, and the one of the nuns is a wonderful chef who sells her treats to raise funds for the church--that's the mouth-watering part. Another nun is obsessed with taking on punishments to bring about God's good graces. First she fasts or drinks straight vinegar in order to help her aunt who's in the hospital. When her aunt actually recovers, she takes it up a notch to end the rainstorm (after seeing TV images of the victims of the flooding) and starts eating slop straight from the garbage--that's the retching part. At times humorous, but mostly sad. It kind of gives you emotional whiplash. But it's very well done.

And that was me at the Latino Film Festival. Perhaps I'll have time to see a little more this weekend. But if not here's looking to next year.

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