Latin-American Film Festival: Life, Blood For Rent

With the recent surge of interest in indie films, independent foreign films are finally starting to creep out of film festivals and into local venues. To that end, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and Department of Latin-American Studies, in collaboration with the Film and Video Center, is presenting the 9th Annual Latin-American Film Festival from Wednesday, April 16 to Saturday, April 19 and again the following week from Wednesday, April 23 to Saturday, April 26.
Each night features a select film. In keeping with the festival’s traditions, most of the films are the directors’ premiere films. Showings begin at 7 p.m. in HIB 100, with a $2 admission fee.
The film that opened the festival, El Brindis, which means “To Life” in English, is directed by Shai Agosin. Emilia (Ana Serradilla), a professional photographer in Mexico, reluctantly travels to Chile to visit her ailing father, Isidoro (Jose Soriano) and his Jewish family, whom she hardly knows. Tension between father and daughter is alleviated by the local Rabbi David (Francisco Melo), although his interaction with Emilia may cause more problems than it solve
The film is well-written, if formulaic, but the characters are honestly portrayed with fresh dialogue. Serradilla plays her awkward family interactions well, although this translates to some exceedingly stiff scenes with Soriano, but the chemistry is apparent in her scenes with Melo, which turns into a believable romance.
Soriano is the feature of the film, and takes every scene he’s in, delivering strength, pain and guilt, but intentionally without tact. Overall, the film succeeds where bigger budgets fail: honesty in relationships strained with conditions and past problems. It isn’t great, but it’s cute, an enjoyable film to experience and a promising start for Agosin. As an added plus, the shots of Chile and Mexico are beautiful, and Agosin deserves extra credit for shooting on such a gorgeous location.
Jacobo Sefami, a professor in the department of Spanish, strongly desired to bring Latin-American cinema to the UC Irvine community and started the Latin-American Film Festival in 1998. Sefami partnered with the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles to advertise for the festival, which featured exclusively Mexican films from the 1990s.
The festival has grown to include all Latin-American countries: some of this year’s entries include collaboration between Mexico and Canada, Germany and Cuba and Argentina, France and Spain.
“Our main goal is to bring films that are not available in theaters, films that are very well-done but, unfortunately, don’t make it,” Sefami said. “Foreign films are scarce, because of Hollywood’s influence and because people don’t like to read subtitles.”
This year, Sefami has passed the reins of running the festival to Michael Harrison, a graduate student in the department of Spanish. “[The Festival]’s purpose is to expose the university community and local community to experiences from different places they don’t have access to.”

“Pura Sangre”

By Anabela Kim
Though the title may bring to mind gruesome revenge flicks or noir-like fantasies, instead, Leo Ricciardi’s “Pura Sangre” is the story of a love affair with the mundane beauty of the rural landscapes of Argentina. Captured through soothing hues of blues and greens, the film paces itself as patiently as the soft breezes coaxing the country fields. As the second installment of this year’s Latin-American Film Festival at UC Irvine, the film, within its quiet beauty, explores the tension of an estranged family its chasms deepened by obstinacy and misunderstanding.
As nine-year-old Santiago (Yaco Levy) takes a ride with his parents to reunite with his grandfather and settle a decade-long rift with his family, the ride is abruptly cut short after a disastrous car accident leaves him orphaned. His grandfather (Oscar Alegre) makes the decision of his life to look after him, panged at having to face the offspring of his daughter, and the man she ran away with. This prepares the film for the journey the family goes through to possibly heal the deeply engraved chasm. And “pura sangre,” which means pure blood in English, rings deep in the film, where the familial bond is eternal.
The film revels in its unorthodox portrayal of the ordinary. Dialogue is minimal and colloquial, while actors, although they carry emotional weight, don’t seem to be acting at all. The film achieves most of its momentum from its strong visual storytelling, inventive cinematography and editing. This subdued atmosphere reflects the emotional intensity of the grandfather, as he mourns over his dead daughter and struggles to accept her son.
Typically, a film with this much burrowed tension would expectedly climax to a satisfying revelation. However, the grandfather remains stoic in his “climactic” scene in the church. It is a powerful cliffhanger that cuts abruptly. The words, which don’t seem to say much at all, hit like darts. The director’s sincerity to this form is admirable, but one has to wonder if the revelation would have had more impact if it had more screen time.
Despite its fearless appeal to subtlety, the film isn’t entirely unforgettable. Hopefully, a more tightly constructed film may come out of this same director in the future but, so far, the emotional impact is just not there.

“Se Arrienda”

By Louise Lao
When the average college student imagines his or her life in 15 years, he or she most likely envisions themselves with a house, a successful career and a happy relationship or marriage.
At age 34, Gastón Fernández, played by Luciano Cruz-Coke, has none of the above. “Se Arrienda” or “For Rent” is directed by Alberto Fuguet and was released in 2005. The film, which is in Spanish with English subtitles, tells the story of Fernández, a man struggling to live with the truth that his life did not turn out as planned. In college, he dreamed of becoming the next Danny Elfman and composing music for films. The idealistic protagonist makes a vow among his friends, who share the same naïveté at the time, never to sell out for financial gain.
Fifteen years later, while spending six of those 15 years in New York City, Fernández returns home to Santiago, Chile, where everyone has changed but him. From one friend who became a Grammy-winning pop singer to his ex-girlfriend who designs shopping malls, Fernández finds that those who became successful did so by conforming to modern Chilean society. Broke, with no life or health insurance, Fernández reluctantly takes a job at his father’s real-estate company. He sells apartments to various characters, including Elisa, a college student who is fascinated by Fernández’s older work. By learning about the lives of his customers, he develops a new insight on life itself.
Fuguet intertwines scenes from the film’s main narrative with scenes from a film that Fernández made in his student days at Santiago’s Musical Conservatory (where, ironically, he was voted “most likely to succeed”), called “The Killer Ants.” In a city where killer ants devour anyone who is unable to love, the camera depicts several survivors (and unfortunately, none of the actual ants) in the eerily beautiful, practically deserted streets of Santiago. The scenes from this black-and-white student film correspond to moments of Fernández’s current life and provide a structural model that is uncommon in today’s mainstream American movies.
While the film drew criticism for touching upon various trite cinematic themes