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AFI Fest: The Intruder/ El Prófugo

“I feel like there’s someone outside asking me to open the window. And I know who it is.”

Something is wrong with Ines (Erica Rivas). After her vacation with boyfriend Leopoldo (Daniel Hendler) ends in trauma, Ines tries to go back to her normal, everyday life. She works as a voice actress dubbing horror films in Spanish and sings for a professional choir. Ines’ voice is her livelihood. However, a mysterious force is disrupting her work, adding strange noises to her recordings and affecting her otherwise dulcet singing voice. Another voice actress reveals to Ines what’s plaguing her: an intruder. First Ines hears the intruder, then she feels it and if she allows it, the intruder will take over her life. In the days following the trauma, Ines is possessed by the intruder who enters through her nightmares and makes her question what is reality and what is just a dream.

Directed by Natalia Meta, The Intruder/ El Prófugo is a bizarre psychological thriller about the real effects of trauma. I couldn’t quite make sense of this movie. I’m fascinated by the idea of “the intruder” and  the movie requires the audience to come up with their own interpretation of what it is and what it represents. My interpretation is that trauma is a parasitic host that preys on its victim. Things can escalate if the victim is not able to get the support they need to heal In this case the intruder literally grabs its victim by the throat which Ines’ most vulnerable spot since she uses her voice for her livelihood. Natalia Meta’s film is an adaptation of an even darker story, El mal menor by C.E. Feiling, which I’m interested in reading to see how it compares to the film. I do appreciate the fact that, while Meta could have turned this into a graphic horror film, she instead she made it into a female centric psychological drama, something I’m much more drawn to. The protagonist is played by Erica Rivas who delivers a brilliant performance.

The Intruder/El Prófugo was screened as part of the 2020 virtual AFI Fest.

AFI Fest: New Order/Nuevo orden

It’s Marianne’s (Naian González Norvind) wedding day and as her elite circle of friends and family celebrate this joyous event, chaos and disorder descends upon their quiet community. The tables have turned in nearby Mexico City. Protestors armed with green paint are taking over. The disenfranchised are now in control and they’re exacting revenge on the privileged. There is a battle going on between the poor and the rich, the brown and the white. When Marianne leaves her reception to help former employee Rolando, she narrowly escapes the orchestrated attack on her home but is soon captured by a violent militia who are hell bent on torturing the rich and draining them of their wealth. In this war between the haves and the have nots, who will win?

Directed by Michel Franco, New Order/Nuevo orden is a brutal and unflinching study in social and racial inequality. Franco wrote the film four years ago but it feels so prescient that it might as well have been written this year. According to an interview with AFI Fest, Franco initially delayed the release of New Order/Nuevo orden to 2021 but changed his mind when he learned of the Black Lives Matter protests back in June. Franco calls the film a “cautionary tale” and while some aspects of the film are strictly dystopian, the latter half in particular is frighteningly realistic.

New Order/Nuevo orden is gritty and real. The film was shot on location in Mexico City, uses subtle visual effects and over 3,000 extras, all of which give the film a sense of merciless authenticity.

Social inequality is a huge problem in Mexico and there are some excellent films that explore this subject including Roma and Las Ninas Bien. New Order/Nuevo orden breaks down the protective shield of wealth and status to lay bare the true cost of privilege.

“It shouldn’t be fun to watch all this violence.”

Director Michel Franco

New Order/Nuevo orden was screened as part of the 2020 virtual AFI Fest.

Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival: The Mole Agent

Step aside James Bond. There’s a new spy in town.

Sergio Chamy can’t believe his luck. While reading the morning newspaper he finds a job listing calling for a man between the ages of 80 and 90. Out of curiosity he goes to interview for the position. A private investigator is looking for an elderly man to pose as a resident the San Francisco Retirement Home in Chile to find out if the staff there is abusing the residents. In particular he has to keep an eye on one patient on behalf of her daughter.

Armed with a smartphone, camera glasses, a notebook, an inquisitive nature and a good dose of charm, Sergio infiltrates the retirement home. There he makes friends, becomes part of the social atmosphere, checks in on residents who are going through a difficult time and reports everything back to the private investigator. But Sergio gets more than he bargained for. He learns where the true neglect is coming from and its not from the staff.

Directed by Maite Alberdi, The Mole Agent is an incredibly endearing if not heartbreaking film. It’s a hybrid-like documentary that tells a true story in real time but has all the elements of a quiet feature film. It requires some love and some patience. If you have both you’ll be handsomely rewarded. The Mole Agent is very effective in its messaging. One can help but be charmed by Sergio Chamy who is stylish, debonair and has a heart of gold. I can’t recommend this film enough and I’m counting down the minutes before I can watch it again.

The Mole Agent recently screened as part of the 2020 virtual Double Exposure Film Festival.

Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival: The Art of Political Murder

The brutal Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996) resulted in the deaths of many civilians, especially those of the indigenous Mayan population. In the days after the war, Bishop Juan Gerardi became an outspoken activist for the Mayan people, seeking justice for the crimes against humanity and giving a voice to the voiceless. He was a truly remarkable individual and one of the key members of REMHI, an organization that sought to bring to light the many human rights violations enacted by the military and government. This unfortunately made him a target and on April 26th, 1998 Bishop Gerardi was brutally murdered.

Directed by Paul Taylor, The Art of Political Murder investigates Bishop Gerardi’s state ordered assassination, the mishandling of the crime scene, the theories behind what exactly happened and the arrest and trial of the three assassins. George Clooney served as one of the film’s executive producers and the documentary is based on Francisco Goldman’s book of the same name. It features interviews with journalists, experts and those who knew Bishop Gerardi both personally and professionally. There isn’t much by way of background on either the Guatemalan Civil War or how Bishop Gerardi came to be involved with his activism. Instead the focus here is on the crime itself. In essence one could call this a biography of a crime as it dissects all the details of the murder, investigation, media coverage, trial, etc. I would have preferred more background on Bishop Gerardi but this was an interesting approach.

The Art of Political Murder is well worth the watch for anyone interested in true crime in general or Guatemalan history in particular.

The Art of the Political Murder recently screened at the 2020 virtual Double Exposure Film Festival.

Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival: Baby God

Dr. Quincy Fortier was a fertility specialist based in Las Vegas in the mid 20th Century. He helped countless women battle infertility. Little did they know that the babies they had, thanks to Fortier’s “treatment”, were also biologically his. Years later, in an age of advanced DNA technology, his offspring find themselves on a harrowing journey of self-discovery.

Directed by Hannah Olson, Baby God is an engrossing and shocking documentary about deceit, manipulation and fractured identity. Dr. Fortier passed away in 2006 at the age of 93 and during his lifetime he got away with using his own sperm to fertilize his patients. It was only in his final years when his patients and their children started to catch on and he was brought to court numerous times. After his death, his actions continue to have ripple effects. The documentary investigates the culture in which Dr. Fortier was able to operate and how he was able to get away with this for so long. Unfortunately, there was no law against what he did and he was not the only doctor to have “worked” in this manner. Fortier genuinely thought he was helping these women.

In the film, we hear from his children, the offspring he raised with his wife, his two adopted daughters, and the half-siblings who discovered their origins in the most shocking of ways. We also hear from the women he treated as well as two of his Las Vegas colleagues. It’s easy to relegate Fortier’s actions to a mid-century naivete. But this documentary clearly demonstrates that Fortier was a deeply disturbed man. 

“Do you want to say your father was a monster? And what does that say about you?”

Baby God can be disjointed at times. I would have preferred a more structured approach rather than its more free-flowing slow build. There was so much to grasp in terms of information, context and meaning that we, the audience, require more guidance. It’s still a highly compelling film that will leave viewers in a state of shock and awe. A must see.

Baby God recently screened at the 2020 virtual Double Exposure Film Festival and is slated to be released on HBO.

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