Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jason goes to Cine+Más, Sunday September 18

Four films at the Latino Film Festival, which I haven't been back to in a couple of years. In fact, the last time I visited the SF Latino Film Fest, it might not have actually been Cine+Más. No matter, I was there Sunday, so let's go.

We started with a light romantic comedy, HABANA EVA. Eva has an uncanny ability to see beauty when other people are just muddling through life. While she works as a seamstress in a wedding dress factory sewing government-approved dresses, she designs her own superior dresses, which of course gets her into all kinds of trouble. Walking home, she spies a red crystal in the street. No one before her has bothered to pick it up, and when she does she suddenly meets a handsome, wealthy young photographer from Venezuela. Nice, but she already has a fiancee. But he insists on paying her to be his guide as he photographs various buildings in Havana. And of course that turns into an affair. And so she has sexy adventures with her happy hooker friend, her two boyfriends, a couple of green aunts (that was really weird), and so on. But ultimately, she does have to choose which man she wants. But who cares what the decision is. It's the journey there that's the fun (okay, the choice was fun, too, but no spoilers here).

The next show started with the short LALO, a comic adventure of a delivery boy on a bicycle.

That was the lead in to the Chilean feature, FUCK MY LIFE (QUE PENA TU VIDA). A bitter romantic comedy for the facebook generation. It stars Ariel Levy as Javier, a young man who just broke up with his girlfriend Sofia. In fact, he dumped her, and then went crazy, begs for her back, parties too much (especially given that he has lost his advertising job and is in danger of losing his car and his apartment). Worse yet, he watches her become a famous singer, a duo with her new boyfriend, the singer Jean-Paul whom everyone loves. As he continues to spiral in bad decisions and self-pity, his long-suffering friend Ángela is always there to pick up the pieces. That is until/unless he becomes too much for her, too.

You know, Javier is not a very good person. He's flawed, and not very likable. Based on that alone I shouldn't enjoy this movie. But there are just enough wickedly, bitterly twisted lines that I couldn't help but be won over. Just examples of my two favorites: First, while dining with one of his desperate drunken hookups, he starts connecting with her based on things they both hate. He agrees with everything, until she blurts out, "And I hate Down Syndrome kids!" Second, after a drunken night with his friend/roommate/bartender, Javier wants to go to bed but his friend insists they stay up and play "hide it in the mouth." Not a gay thing, not a BJ, just "hide it in the mouth" (a game he learned in prison). When Javier refuses, his friend gets mad and challenges him, "Don't be such a faggot, just take off your pants so we can play 'hide it in the mouth!'"

Okay, not the humor for everyone, but I liked it.

The third film of the day was THE BAD INTENTIONS (LAS MALAS INTENCIONES) from Peru. It's the story of little 9-year old Catayena, an only daughter of a wealthy family who has a bit of an active imagination. For instance, when her mother announces she's going to get a baby brother, she figures that her parents are throwing her out because she's defective (she has asthma) and the day he's born, she dies. Set against a background of early 80's terrorist attacks in Peru, she retreats into her fantasy world of heroes, determined that if she has to die she'll at least die honorably like the heroes of Peruvian independence--who somehow managed to win independence despite seemingly winning no battles. A nice bit of dark humor about growing up and dealing with change, and a charmingly winning performance by young Fatima Buntinx as Catayena.

And finally, we ended the night in HELL (EL INFIERNO), a highly anticipated winner of 9 Ariels (the Mexican equivalent of the Oscars), including the Golden Ariel (best picture) and Silver Ariels for best director, actor, supporting actor, art direction, editing, make-up, sound, and special effects. So the bar was set pretty high, which is at least partly to blame for why I found it a bit disappointing. The core of the story is pretty solid and dramatic--Benny, away in the U.S. for 20 years, returns and finds his small town overrun by drug gangs, his little brother dead, and his best friend a local thug. Benny seems too gentle to be a gangster himself, but he finds himself needing money (to bail out his nephew and continue sleeping with his brother's widow) and so he finds himself drawn into the drug gang life. And for a while he actually has a pretty sweet life--he's making tons of money, has respect, has women (not just his brother's widow, whom he really likes, but tons of whores), and no one messes with him. Except, of course, the rival gang. And as the local war (between two rival brothers, no less) escalates, you know things will turn for him. I don't know, I'm sure there's a great movie in there somewhere, I just didn't find this very believable. And here I have to be a bit circumspect, because I did end up chatting with a guy afterwards who is involved in the war on drugs (I helped him find out that the movie is available on DVD, he wanted it for an upcoming conference in L.A.), and he did say it was realistic. I'll grant that the environment is realistic--that many small towns in Mexico are overrun with drug gangs, and that people who never thought they'd join that life end up caught up in it. And drug wars get pretty damn bloody and pit brother against brother, I'll believe that. Mostly I found the characters unrealistic. Particularly Benny, who even at the end still seems to gentle (with a silly grin on his face far too often) to get caught up in the life. And the ending...without giving away any spoilers, the only way I can contemplate the ending they tacked on is as pure fantasy. The ending just wasn't realistic at all.

Oh well, still, a damn fine day at the festival, and there's still another week of it to go (don't know if I'll make it to any more of it, though. I'm just busy with other things). And after a bit of a hiatus, it's nice to have another 4 movie day.

Total Running Time: 460 minutes
My Total Minutes: 248,409

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