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SXSW: Soy Cubana

Director Jeremy Ungar and Ivaylo Getov’s new documentary Soy Cubana spotlights four talented women as they travel from Cuba to the US to perform. It also gives viewers offers a window into modern day Cuba. Vocal Vidas is a Cuban acapella quartet made up of Ana Josefina Hernández (Soprano), Maryoris Mena Faez (Contralto-Bass), Koset Muñoa Columbié (Mezzo-Soprano) and Annia del Toro Leyva (Contralto). Together their harmonies are magical. Through song they share various cultures and traditions and captivate audiences with their dulcet tones. In their native Cuba, the Vocal Vidas make money by selling CDs and through tips. They garnered much attention in 2016 when  short documentary hit the film festival circuit. In 2017, they were invited to perform and a full-length documentary was shot to chronicle their life in Cuba, their application for a Visa and their journey to Los Angeles  where they perform at Mambo’s Cafe, the Vibrato club, and for Grand Performances.

The film lightly touches on the problematic relationship between the US and Cuba. It’s interesting to hear the women gently criticize life in Cuba while also defending their homeland. Soy Cubana is well worth the watch if anything to be captivated by this quartet of resilient women. Be prepared to get up and dance. There is plenty of wonderful music to enjoy.

Soy Cubana hd its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.

SXSW: Executive Order/ Medida Provisória

“I’ve always believed in the power of words… I used to be black… now I’m high melanin.”

Set in Rio de Janeiro some time in the future, Executive Order/Medida Provisória follows Antônio (Alfred Enoch), a young black lawyer seeking reparations from the government for Brazilian citizens descended from African slaves. In retaliation, the corrupt government offers an alternate: social reparation in the form of repatriation to Africa. At first this is offered as a voluntary option and advertised on television and presented to local communities. When it meets with resistance from black citizens including Antônio, his cousin André (Seu Jorge) and his wife Capitu (Taís Araújo), the government quickly changes the offer to an executive order. Martial law ensues to force anyone with “high melanin” back to Africa and the trio must find a way to fight back.

Directed by Lázaro Ramos, Executive Order/Medida Provisória is a harrowing drama that explores race relations and political corruption through a dystopian lens. The plot lacks cohesiveness but overall the film is fairly effective as a thriller. Fans of the Mexican dystopian thriller New Order/Nuevo Orden will definitely want to check this one out.

Executive Order/Medida Provisória at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.

SXSW: Luchadoras

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.  Between the years of 1993 and 2005, hundreds of women were brutally murdered, many discovered mutilated in the dessert and others never to be recovered. This violence against women in particular came from two dangerous forces: a drug cartel that wields incredible power still to this day and a deeply entrenched culture of machismo. Although the women of Ciudad Juarez live in constant fear of violence, they still manage to survive and thrive. For some, they find physical, emotional and mental strength as luchadoras: female Lucha Libre wrestlers known for wearing colorful costumes and masks in the ring.

Directed by Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim, Luchadoras is a powerful documentary that follows three women wrestlers, Lady Candy, Baby Star and Mini Sirenita, as they transcend their circumstances and find strength through their sport. The resiliency of these women is astounding. A must-see for anyone seeking out feminist documentaries or who were inspired by stories like GLOW on Netflix.

Trigger warning: the film discusses violence against women. For those with hearing sensitivities like myself, there are several scenes in which the low battery chirp from a fire alarm can be heard.

Luchadoras had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.

Latin Noir

“In the 1970s, a new type of crime novel was created in Latin America. It was called Latin Noir.”

The 1970s was a tumultuous decade for many Latin American countries. Many were ruled by dictatorships and corruption infiltrated government, military and law enforcement. It was a time of violence, oppression and abuse of power. Those who spoke up against the powers at be fled for their safety and lived in exile. Writers from Mexico, Cuba, Peru, Argentina, Chile and beyond created their own genre of literature: latin noir/novela negra. These were urban narratives that explores violence, crime and power. It was a subversive type of literature; one that could criticize the dictatorships without being direct. The genre had its roots in crime fiction and film noir. These authors reinvented the genre offering readers thought-provoking literature.

“Violence, dictatorship, corruption, crime, embezzlement and economic woe are painful and present in all the countries of Latin America, creating widespread interest in detectives, guilt and justice.”

Director Andreas Apostolidis

Directed by Andreas Apostolidis, Latin Noir explores the sociopolitical environment that gave birth to this unique literary genre. Apostolidis and crew traveled to five Latin American countries to interview authors, journalists and other experts. Featured in the documentary are Leonardo Padura (Cuba), Luis Sepúlveda (Chile), Paco Ignacio Taibo II (Mexico), Santiago Roncagliolo (Peru) and Claudia Piñeiro (Argentina). Apostolidis sheds light on a lesser known aspect of Latin American history. I wish there had been more information about the books themselves. There is very little and I would have liked to learn more about the path to publication, the impact on readers and the legacy of this literary genre.

Latin Noir is an informative documentary that offers much needed context for a literary genre born out of turmoil.

Latin Noir had its world premiere at the Miami Film Festival

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.

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