Feedback
News

Great New Latin American Movies and a Restored Classic at NY Film Festival

Adriana Barraza in Todo lo dem??s
A scene from the film "Todo lo Demas," one of the films showcased at the NY Film Festival. Natalia Almada / Director: Natalia AlmadaCinemat

An historic number of Latin America's finest films will be shown during this year's New York Film Festival, including a brilliant and unusual biopic of the famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda with Gael García Bernal and a restored print of the 1968 Cuban classic, Memories of Underdevelopment by the late director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea.

Besides Alea's brave film, which is an exploration of the complicated loyalty of an intellectual to Fidel Castro's revolution, other features making their world premieres explore a wide range of the issues, from political unrest to a young girls coming of age.

"This is a testament to the vitality of the region," said Cinema Tropical's Carlos Gutierrez. "This year's festival is a great opportunity to catch the work of some the best Latin American directors."

Image: ITALY-CINEMA-FESTIVAL-VENICE-MOSTRA
Actress Natalie Portman and Chilean director Pablo Larrain attend the premiere of the movie "Jackie" presented in competition at the 73rd Venice Film Festival on September 7, 2016. The movie is being shown at the NY Film Festival. FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP - Getty Images

JACKIE by Pablo Larraín

The acclaimed and award-winning Chilean director is having a major moment as two of his films exploring iconic figures, Jackie Kennedy and the acclaimed poet Pablo Neruda, will show at the festival. In "Jackie," making its world premiere and Larraín's first English-language film, Portman channels the beloved First Lady's days following her husband's assassination. Larraín delivers a daring and glorious film of a 20th century historical and glamorous figure.

NERUDA by Pablo Larraín

Critics have hailed Larraín's unusual biopic of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda so extraordinary that they have found it difficult to know exactly where to begin the praise: it has extraordinary performances, including that of Oscar winner Gael García Bernal, mesmerizing cinematography, stunning art direction, and a stirring script. All the ingredients to an award winning film. It's poetry and politics South American style.

MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea:

Don't miss this brilliant Cuban classic. The 1968 restored print is Alea's Magnus opus. His use of multidisciplinary story telling tools- narrative fiction with touches of documentary style shots, music, and poetry-- to explore the profound contradictions and struggle of an intellectual man who battles the complicated loyalties to the Castro's Revolution. Given how much attention the communist island has made this year, its as timely today as when it first came out.

AQUARIUS by Kleber Mendonça Filho

Brazil's powerhouse director and first lady of acting, Sonia Braga, team up and dazzle in this film about a retired music teacher's battle to hold on to her apartment from corrupt real estate gentrifiers. New York residents of Harlem and Brooklyn will especially love this film given its topic. And Braga is masterful and on top of her acting game and is as stunning as she was in her earlier films. Braga is a goddess--ageless with enduring sensual beauty.

KÉKSZAKÁLLÚ by Gastón Solnicki

The Argentinian director Solnicki delivers a dazzling third film exploring young women coming of age. The film is based on Bela Bartok's opera Bluebeard's Castle and explores how class both imprisons and offers advantages to young women making their way into adulthood. The glorious cinematography alone is worth the film.

Natalia Almada, director of the movie, "Todo lo Demas," showcased at the NY Film Festival.

TODO LO DEMAS by Natalia Almada

We also sat down with Latina MacArthur Genius Natalia Almada, one of the filmmakers making her directorial fiction debut. Almada's Everything Else (Todo lo Demas) is a haunting and moving film about an unlikely subject, a lonely middle aged government bureaucrat.

What was the inspiration for your film?

I made a film about violence El Velador and I've been interested in making another film about violence. This time I wanted to explore the effects of bureaucratic violence on the individual. How the individual becomes a cog in the machine and becomes invisible and dehumanized.

After your film, I will never see a bureaucrat the same.

Good. (She laughs) I swam in a pool in Mexico City in la Colonia Roma that belongs to Hacienda, the Mexican IRS. Government workers swim there for free or very cheaply. All the women who swam there were retired beaurocrats. And I became interested in telling the story of a woman who becomes invisible to others. I wanted to tell her interior life. After being disconnected for so long an act of kindness awakens this woman and she is lives a second coming of age but she doesn't know how to break free of not being seen she's lived in that place for so long.

Bureaucrats and bureaucracy are such universal themes.

If you go to the DMV in the US it's like that. In Mexico, if you go get anything, a voting card or pay a telephone bill, it's the same. Whenever the individual is up against the institution there is no one accountable for anything. We are now dealing with health insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, health insurance - and not one is accountable. There is no accountability. There are people working in the system that don't have agency or power, they all overridden by the institution of bureaucracy.

Doña Flor is such an unexpected subject. The inner lives of women in her class are not explored in films.

In some ways I have always been interested in people and characters that don't have a voice in society. I was interested in social issues as a documentarian. How do we give a space to a person who is representing others in society and would never have a voice? It's one of the things I can do, I won't say it can change the world, but in a small way maybe I can contribute. Giving voice to people who don't have voices is something that I am committed to in my films.

Award winning actress Adriana Barraza {Amores Perros and Babel} delivered a nuanced and extraordinary performance as Doña Flor.

It was incredible working with her. She was the reason why we shot when we shot. We didn't have the funds and she was about to film a series and be tied up so I used my MacArthur money to film then raised funds for post-production. I could not think of anyone else to play the character. There is so much in a minute gesture, a movement. She was so restrained.

I wanted the viewer to like and not like her, which is hard, to play both someone you sympathize and dislike. And another thing that caught me was that she too was afraid of water.

Where was the movie shot?

It was shot all in Mexico City. And the only trained actress is Adriana. All the others were cast but were non-actors.

It was amazing shooting in the Mexican subway during rush hour. Millions of commuters, it's massive. Adriana was so deeply in character that people did not even notice and she is very famous in Mexico. We were a small crew and people just didn't notice her or pay attention. It was incredible, incredible and testament to how she was in character.

The only professional actor in the film is Adriana. We shot it with a documentary style. I wanted to work with non-actors because I have worked in documentaries and the pool of actors is different. There is more theater and telenovelas and a different style of acting here. And the non-professional actor provides a wider scope of people who can work with different kinds of characters.

Why does the subject of solitude interest you?

What I am trying to talk about more, like the woman in the film, is about someone who is in place of extreme loneliness. The effects of it what happens when a person becomes invisible by burocary, narco violence or government. What happens to that person who doesn't feel like they have agency to express their individuality? The interest is looking at her loneliness and how she wants to free herself. We all experience the struggle to change and it can be terrifying. What it's like to live in a massive city and not feel like you exist.

You are part of the Latin American film boom. Are you seeing and living the excitement of a renaissance?

I can talk about Mexico, which is what I know. Part of what is happening has to do with funding. The Mexican government is giving quite a large number funding to films and it makes it possible to work from a non commercial place and it frees you to take risks and explore themes and not be concerned about making a return on the investment. Most fiction is a true investment, which means that even in the investor is taking a large risk and they want a return on their money so you have to make a certain kind of film and there is a pressure to achieve that goal. What happens in Mexico it that it allows us not to have pressure and it opens up creativity. The counter argument is censorship. I am not saying there is a perfect solution but it's working. Also there are great film schools and a quite young thriving film community. In Mexican films we are able to be critical about society and comment about what is happening. Film here is a counter point to politics and to mass media. It has an important role and working in Mexico we intersect and sharing ideas. In some way there is a sense of a collective. It's really an exciting time and there is a lot of opportunity and not just in film but also in all the arts. Mexico is getting a lot of attention and to balance all the narco violence we produce incredible art. There is a lot of talent in Mexico

So far the film has been well received.

In October the film will make its world premiere in Rome, then travel to Mumbai, Morelia, and Rio—it's a mini world tour in a little window of time. To think of Doña Flor traveling to Brazil and India and actually meaning something to people in far corners of the world is exciting. It's a testament to what film can do. You must think that that can happen to you. You make this little film about something so local and particular and hope it means something when it travels.

The NY Film Festival is taking place between Sept. 30th and Oct. 16th in New York City.

Follow NBC Latino on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.