“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
“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.
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.
When 17-year-old Nayeli (Ruth Ramos) is raped by the neighborhood gringo Rayan (Cesar Mijangos), she seeks help from her brother Uri (Daniel Fuentes Lobo). Uri sides with his friend rather than his sister calling her a whore. Spurned by her brother, she visits the local coven of witches to enact her revenge. Not only is Rayan about to pay the price for his violent act against Nayeli but Uri will have to watch it all go down.
Directed by Ashley George and set in present day Mexico, Diabla packs a punch in a mere 17 minutes and will linger in your mind long after the film is over. For female viewers especially, Diabla will serve as a visual representation of all of the revenge fantasies that we have for the men in our lives who have hurt us in one form or another. In this way, Diabla is highly gratifying even when it shocks and disturbs.
Ashley George’s impressive short horror film speaks directly to women who have been hurt physically and emotionally by men.
Diabla is part of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival.
Set in 1986, writer and director Hari Sama’s newest film This is Not Berlin follows Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de Leon) a teen trying to find his own place in a world that doesn’t seem to have a place for him. He and his best friend Gera (Jose Antonion Toldano) attend Catholic school in the suburbs of Mexico City. Carlos is disinterested in his soccer friends’ rivalry with another school. Instead he spends his time tinkering with electronics, hanging out with Gera and getting advice from his uncle Esteban (Hari Sama).
One day Gera’s sister Rita (Ximena Romo), the lead singer of a local punk band takes the two friends to a club, as a thank you to Carlos for helping fix her synthesizer. Both Carlos and Gera are thrust into the underworld of Mexico City. The drug and booze fueled scene is where rebellious youths escape for the freedom to express their sexuality. There Carlos meets Nico (Mauro Sanchez Navarro), a photographer who is attracted to Carlos. Through Nicho, Carlos becomes part of a community of artists whose unconventional forms of artistic expression including outlandish performance art. As Carlos and Gera drift apart and tragedy befalls Carlos’ family, will his newfound rebellion help him find his true self? Or will it keep him away from what truly matters?
This is Not Berlin is inspired by director Hari Sama’s teenage years in Lomas Verdes, a suburb in Mexico. About the writing process, Sama says “the research took me to painful places of my adolescence but also allowed me to revisit the moments that made me a filmmaker and musician.”
One of my favorite aspects of the film was Sama’s role as Esteban, Carlos’ uncle, mentor and confidante. Esteban seems to be the only one in Carlos’ who truly understands his struggles. They have some wonderful moments together and some deep philosophical discussions.
“Have you ever felt like you want something but there’s something inside you that won’t let you do it? Like a voice that doesn’t shut up and it’s not even yours.”
“Love is very wacky… but when you find it, when you have that moment of silence with someone… taking that leap is worth it.”
Had the plot shifted and focused more on the friendship with Carlos and Gera with Esteban as the anchor, essentially making in a buddy movie, it would have been a stronger movie. Like Y Tu Mama Tambien but with a much different ending. I was particularly drawn to the theme of loyalty and the difference between those who stick around and those who abandon you when times get tough.
This is Not Berlin is a deep exploration of artistic expression and finding your true self. The opening scene is quite breathtaking. Carlos stands in the middle of a fight between the two rival Catholic school soccer teams. It’s clear that Carlos is lost in the chaos around him. He doesn’t participate in the fight and eventually it overwhelms him. The performance art scenes are quite provocative. I hope we see a lot more from Hari Sama.
This is Not Berlin recently premiered at Sundance and had it’s New York premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.