Again this year, I attended the 11-day San Diego Latino Film Festival, watched about 35 films, and these are my top-tier picks, meaning I would spend money to buy the DVD so that I can show it to friends and family:
El Brindis (To Life) (Chile, 2007):
A wonderful family story about an 83-year-old who wants to be Bar-Mitzvahed before he dies, and the family reunion that results from this momentous event, including tensions with the half-goy daughter he fathered out of wedlock after his wife died. A real heart-warmer!
Carandiru (Brasil, 2003, Director: Héctor Babenco):
A prison drama, based on a true story, that takes place in a detention center in São Paulo. Unlike most films of this genre, much time is taken to let us get to know the characters, so they are more than just simple caricatures. Amusingly, this earned it many poor reviews on Amazon.com from those who would have preferred two and a half hours of fighting and shooting. Although clocking in at 147 minutes, I never once felt that the film was dragging.
And my runners-up, in no particular order:
Ciudad en Celo (City in Heat) (Argentina, 2006):
A bunch of friends sit around and talk about their lives, with the theme of tango not far in the background. Of course, the various relationships between them and others can get a little complicated.
Mariposa Negra (Black Butterfly) (Peru, 2007):
A schoolteacher whose husband, a judge, is ordered assassinated on order of Peru’s security chief, decides to get even. Although a bit unrealistic, it’s still an enjoyable film.
El Violin (The Violin) (México, 2006):
Sure, the basic theme (government troops vs. rebels hiding in the bush) is well-worn, but the focus on an old man and his violin gives this one a unique aspect that makes it worth watching.
La Zona (México, 2007):
The residents of a fancy gated community take the law into their own hands. Interesting to me mainly for the portrayals of the interactions of the rich with general society, which probably aren’t that far from the truth.
Dos Abrazos (Two Embraces) (México, 2007):
Two basically unrelated stories, the first one being a teenage boy with a crush on a supermarket cashier, and the second a taxi driver whose passenger has a stroke in his cab and the hospital makes him take on the responsibilities of a family member. Quite haunting and excellent!
Madrigal (Cuba, 2006):
A theater actor goes after a fat girl mainly for her apartment, but also to try and cure his erectile dysfunction. Sometimes you’re not sure what is real and what is imagined.