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Sundance: La Guerra Civil

When Oscar de la Hoya and Julio César Chávez went head-to-head in the boxing ring, it was an event. Referred to as the “Ultimate Glory”, this 1996 match not only pitted two of the most talented boxers against each other, it also started a cultural war. Julio César Chávez was the pride and joy of Mexico. He holds the record of the longest undefeated streak which began with his very first professional match. He was a champ that Mexicans could get behind. Oscar de la Hoya represented the expats. The Mexicans who left their home country years ago to seek opportunities in the States. De la Hoya showed promise at an early age and admired the great Chávez. But the Mexicans scored de la Hoya. Despite his 100% Mexican heritage and being fluent in Spanish, they felt he wasn’t Mexican enough. Not like Chávez. So when it came to that fateful day in 1996, Chávez stood with his country rallying behind him. But de la Hoya came armed with youthful vigor and a secret weapon: a brilliant coach who taught him how to take Chávez down.

Directed by Eva Longoria Bastón, La Guerra Civil expertly demonstrates not only the importance of the Chávez vs de la Hoya fight but also how the careers of these two boxing champions were intrinsically tied to their cultural identities. Both Chávez and de la Hoya were interviewed for the documentary along with sports journalists, latinx celebrities, family members and various experts. There is an air of familiarity in the film. Perhaps the friendly vibe prevented the documentary from going more in-depth into serious matters involving the two subjects including their drug addictions and various tragedies. These are briefly mentioned but not discussed at length.

The documentary is bilingual with interviewees speaking English and Spanish. 

La Guerra Civil premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

AFI Fest: The Death Cleaner/El limpiador

Based in Mexico City, forensic cleaner Donovan Tavera does the work that few others are willing to do. With the highest respect for the deceased, Tavera will come into a home and clean up the aftermath, offering loved ones one of the final steps in the healing process. Directed by Louise Monlaü, The New York Times documentary short The Death Cleaner/El limpiador, paints a portrait of a unique businessman who offers a compassionate service. This short is available to watch on YouTube (player embedded below).

The Death Cleaner/El limpiador premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of the Shorts Competition.

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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