Essential Cinema tours contemporary Latin America
The nine films that make up CineSur: Films of Latin America, the Austin Film Society's latest Essential Cinema series, have embarked upon a perilous journey of the cinematic heart, riding 35mm rails across ghost-haunted border crossings and through countries whose views on art versus subversion remain fuzzy at best. Surely the most remarkable lesson these films impart to us, as in Bolivian director Juan Carlos Valdivia's Zona Sur, is that our economic and class/cultural turbulence is hardly unique. Things are tough all over, amigo, but perhaps nowhere are they more emotionally, spiritually, and culturally complex than in Latin America.
You've probably either heard of, or perhaps seen, the Soviet-sponsored propaganda/revelation of Mikhail Kalatozov's Soy Cuba, but watching cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky's godlike, omniscient camera wander from the capitalistically corrupt, tourist-clogged hotels of downtown Havana, circa 1964, into the real world slums and peasant villages of the surrounding countryside is still a breathtaking visual ride. Soy Cuba has stuck fast to our permanent mental Top Ten list since we first saw it, and its indictment of the evils inherent in El Norte's creeping capitalism is, if anything, even more relevant to the world today than when Kalatozov's masterpiece first premiered.
A companion piece of sorts is Fernando Pérez's rapturously beautiful and nearly wordless Suite Habana. Released in 2003, Pérez's film is a visual tone poem that explores the personal lives and interactions of ten Habana residents, who range from a male performer in the Ballet Nacional de Cuba to a street worker who transforms nightly into a handsome, elegant ballroom dancer. This is one of the most intimate portraits of a city – as experienced by those who make up its very lifeblood – ever captured on film. Brilliantly shot by Raúl Pérez Ureta, Suite Habana is a hauntingly evocative mash note to Pérez's gorgeous and vibrant hometown.
CineSur isn't all Cuba, to be sure, nor is the series as deadly serious as it might at first seem. Darkly comic elements infuse Daniel Burman's Argentina-set Dos Hermanos, about feuding siblings intent on each other's destruction, by means fair, foul, or otherwise.
While not exactly a horror film, Hilda Hidalgo's Del Amor Y Otros Demonios – set in 18th-century Costa Rica and based on a Gabriel García Márquez novel – posits a young girl believed to be possessed after she is bitten by a rabid dog, after which the local Catholic diocese imprisons her and begins to make arrangements for her exorcism. But even the Vatican (or especially the Vatican?) is rendered helpless when the priest assigned to her case falls in love with this alleged agent of Satan. Les diablos d'amor are as potent and pitiful as the Church itself, but the stakes are very high, with life, love, and el muerte in the offing.
CineSur: Films of Latin America
The Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema series runs Tuesday nights, 7pm, June 5-July 31, at the Alamo South Lamar (1120 S. Lamar). Tickets are $5 for AFS members (free with AFS Film Pass or Sustainer membership), $8 general admission. See www.austinfilm.org for more details.
June 5: Zona Sur/Southern District (D: Juan Carlos Valdivia, Bolivia, 2009)
June 12: Dos Hermanos/Brother and Sister (D: Daniel Burman, Argentina, 2010)
June 19: Del Amor Y Otros Demonios/Of Love and Other Demons (D: Hilda Hildago, Costa Rica/Colombia, 2009)
June 26: Vaho/Vapor (D: Alejandro Gerber Bicecci, Mexico, 2009)
July 3: Soy Cuba/I Am Cuba (D: Mikhail Kalatozov, Cuba/USSR, 1964)
July 10: Suite Habana/Havana Suite (D: Fernando Pérez, Cuba, 2003)
July 17: Mutum (D: Sandra Kogut, Brazil, 2007)
July 24: Las Malas Intenciones/Bad Intentions (D: Rosario García-Montero, Peru, 2011)
July 31: Juventud, Desengaños y Anhelos de Hernán Cortés Delgado/Youth, Disillusionments and Desires of Hernán Cortés Delgado (D: Jaime Humberto Hermosillo)