MOVIES | MSP Latin Film Festival brings the best of Latino film to the Twin Cities

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Over the past few months there seems to be a different film festival starting or ending every week in the Twin Cities.  I’m not complaining and I’ve enjoyed covering every one of them and checking out new films that have played at various international and U.S. film festivals over the past year or two and having the opportunity to see many of these films that perhaps otherwise may go unseen.

Last November, the MN Film Society (formerly MN Film Arts) gave us a themed fall film festival in the form of the Asian Film Festival, brought over 30 films from a dozen countries along with bringing in numerous directors, producers, writers, and actors to Minneapolis.  The Asian Film Festival was a highlight in the Twin Cities fall film schedule last year and it’s great to see another themed festival once again: the MSP Latin Film Festival starts this Thursday, November 3 and runs through Sunday, November 13.

Surpassing last year’s festival in total amount of films in the lineup (40 films, including short films) and around ten guests coming to the festival, the MSP Latin Film Festival is sure to be another hit and will feature some of the best Latin films on the festival circuit today.

Having seen only a few films in advance, for me nothing was on par with last year’s hilarious and unforgettable Crazy Racer; however, the standout of what I’ve seen is writer/director Cristian Jimenez’s charming and sad Chilean feature Bonsai, adapted from Alejandro Zambra’s acclaimed novella. We follow Julio (a pitch-perfect Diego Noguera), a would-be writer who falls for Emilia (a gorgeous Nathalia Galgani) from the opening frames, but we are told the fate of Emilia at the beginning. The journey of their romance is remarkable and handled with such poise and confidence through Jimenez’s writing, especially some terrific deadpan humor and pathos, that Jimenez’s film should be his breakout, marking him as a talent to follow. Bonsai’s story carefully jumps eight years from the present to the past and the back and forth never hurts the narrative as both actors embrace their characters needs for wanting something more other than sex and literature, which brought them together, feels like an authentic take on modern relationships and never feels forced.

The closing night film, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, is Brazil’s highest grossing film ever and its country’s submission into the 2011 Best Foreign Language film at this year’s Academy Awards. It’s a rare sequel that surpasses its original and never slows down from the opening sequences. Despite some flaws in the story’s structure and plausibility (and constant voiceover), Elite Squad: TEW manages to be thrilling and action-packed for a better part of two hours, following a SWAT-type commander played by Wagner Moura (looking like a subdued Mark Ruffalo clone at times) who leads his SWAT team into some of the dangerous parts of Rio de Janeiro. He gets promoted to a wire tapping team, where he decides to bring down not only the gangsters and drug lords, but also the corrupt politicians and police in Rio. Co-writer and director Jose Padilha (the director of the riveting documentary Bus 174) brings the goods as far as precise action set pieces and enough intrigue to the story, making up for the lack of any decent character development, but nonetheless, the editing and the cinematographing are top-notch and knowing that this is a piece of fiction, might as well, be true stories ripped from Brazil’s headlines, makes it all the more thrilling.

A few films at this year’s festival that are on my radar include the opening night film from Mexico, Abel, directed by actor Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien). It follows a young boy who must become the father of the house, that is until a mysterious stranger shows up claiming to be Abel’s father. The documentaries Lost in Time (or Perdida) and A Portrait of Diego: The Revolutionary Gaze, should have an impact on audiences. Director Viviana Garcia Besne will be attending the festival with Lost in Time, telling the story of her granduncle mogul Jose Luis Calderon, on his influence on building movie palaces in Mexico and the U.S. Lost in Time explores the Calderon family as they produce successful and nutso films that become surprisingly popular for years to follow. A Portrait of Diego will have two guests attending—director Gabriel Figueroa Flores and screenwriter Margarita Mansilla—and showcases Mexican painter Diego Rivera, and how his work created an impact on Mexico’s Revolutionary War. It commemorates the 50th anniversary of Rivera’s death in 2007, when the film was released.