A routine operation on a dog ends in tragedy when veterinarian Mario (Guillermo Arengo) makes a crucial mistake. Whether it was negligence or an error in judgment we’re not sure. What we do know is that the dog is dead and the owner is mad.
Mario and his recent retiree wife Silvia (Pelusa Vidal) live cushy lives in Montevideo, Uruguay and they want to keep it that way. The dog’s death is a catalyst for the chaos in their lives. Protestors make a scene outside Mario’s clinic. Someone has broken into their home and Silvia suspects their maid. When Mario and Silvia stay at their daughter’s home for a while, paranoia sets in. A violent act sets Mario and Silvia in motion to preserve their status quo.
Written and directed by Matias Ganz, A Dog’s Death/La Muerte de un perro is a quiet and subversive thriller that demonstrates the lengths people will go to keep their comfortable lifestyles. There is a clear message about the social and economic inequalities of present day Uruguay. The subjects who suffer the most are the maid and her boyfriend who are lower on the social ladder as indigenous blue collar workers. Mario and Silvia as more prosperous Caucasians benefit from their status and can easily cover up their irrational behaviors.
Ganz was inspired to tell a story about the social and political turmoil of his home country with an influx of immigrants and a strong culture that takes pride in their European ancestry. In his director’s statement he says…
“A large part of the country’s population is of European descent and does not feel like they belong to those who have been wrongfully named Latinos… Politicians latch on to any petty crime to enhance their electoral chances… thus feeding the people’s growing sense of insecurity.”
A Dog’s Death/La Muerte de un perro captures the social turmoil of a country in flux through its focus on the absurd actions of a microcosm of its upper middle class culture.
A Dog’s Death/La Muerte de un perro had its North American premiere at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival.
“We money brokers are the root of all evil. We’re to blame for everything that’s rotten in this world.”
Humberto Brause (Daniel Hendler)
Humberto Brause (Daniel Hendler) makes money off of money. He gets his start in the currency racket by way of his new boss Swostaiger (Luis Machin). He even marries the boss’ daughter Gudrun (Dolores Fonzi), an emotionally reserved woman who is no nonsense and all business. Brause’s success catches up with him and he gets greedy, taking advantage of the Uruguay’s fragile economy and his boss’ good nature. After going to jail for three years for his involvement in a corruption scandal, he’s back at it. Narrated by Brause himself, we follow his journey over two decades spanning from early 1960s to the late 1970s. The story is mostly set in Montevideo, Uruguay but Brause’s adventures also take him deep into the Amazon of Brazil, to Buenos Aires and to Switzerland. Brause gets deeper and deeper into trouble. His biggest nemesis Bompland (Luis Machin) threatens to take him for all he’s worth. When he isn’t facing financial problems he’s dealing with his failing health and a wife who doesn’t love him but is determined to keep the business of their marriage going. To get out of his bind with Bompland, Brause will have to go to great lengths to protect his future and that of his family.
Directed by Federico Veiroj, The Moneychanger (Así habló el cambista) paints the portrait of a man who is simply up to no good. It has a terrific sense of place and time and offers wonderful performances from its stars Hendler, Fonzi, Machin and in particular Benjamin Vicuna who is brilliant as the evil Bombland. The film suffers from a lack of consistent tension and overall clarity. The actual currency fraud is confusing and the viewer is left in the dark of what exactly Brause is doing to get himself in all of this trouble. This isn’t a thriller and I found it effective as a saga focusing on its one main character. The story incorporates references to Jesus and the Cleansing of the Temple. As a trilingual viewer (English, Spanish and Portuguese), I was curious to see the two Brazilian characters, including Moacyr (German de Silva) who becomes Brause’s business partner and confidante, speak Portuguese to Brause while he responds in Spanish. Fascinating!
Last year I watched Veiroj’s Belmonte at TIFF which worked similarly to The Moneychanger as the portrait of one man whose life starts to spiral out of control. You can read my review of that film here. It’s also currently available on Netflix. I quite enjoy Veiroj’s approach and look forward to more of his work in the future.
Federico Veiroj’s The Moneychanger had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Platform competition series.
Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) are heiresses living in Asunción, Paraguay. Over the course of their 30+ year relationship, they’ve enjoyed the comforts of wealth. But lately they’ve fallen on hard times and are forced to sell their antiques in order to pay the bills. Chiquita manages the finances while Chela mostly keeps to her daily rituals and her painting. It’s obvious that Chiquita dotes on Chela and Chela in return depends on Chiquita. Unfortunately when the bills stack up, Chiquita is convicted of fraud and sentenced to a month in jail leaving Chiquita mostly on her own (Chiquita hires a maid to look after Chela). While Chiquita is in jail, Chela begins to drive again and starts a side gig as a freelance taxi driver for the wealthy older women in her social circle. One of her new customers Angy (Ana Ivanova), is a gorgeous younger woman, provocative and sexy, who befriends Chela. Angy refers to Chela as “Poupee” and shares steamy tales of her sexual exploits. Their friendship awakens something in Chela that’s long been dormant.
The Heiresses is a quiet and spare lesbian drama. It will resonate with anyone who has settled into their ways and suddenly finds themselves having to reinvent their life. The protagonists are older women and the film doesn’t shy away from showing them as sexual and emotional beings. The story serves as a glimpse into the life of the Paraguayan bourgeoisie but also showcases some of the absurdity that comes with the lifestyles lived by the wealthy elite. For example, even though Chiquita going to jail for fraud and Chela must sell off some of her valuables to make ends meet, they still hire a maid they really can’t afford. On the flip side, Chela is incredibly proud and won’t accept handouts, even when Angy offers to give her a pair of sunglasses. We see Chela find some independence in her new job. She’s out and about, socializing and earning her own keep.
“I am interested in the everyday life that occurs outside these areas of power, even within the ruling class. And it was irrelevant to place The Heiresses at a specific moment in our political history because the feeling of living in a giant prison remains the same. And this is essentially a film about confinements.”
Director Marcelo Martinessi
The film was written, produced and directed by Marcelo Martinessi, a Paraguayan filmmaker, and is his full length feature debut. Martinessi was inspired to tell a story about income inequality in his country. In an interview Martinessi said, “Paraguay is one of the most unequal countries in the world, and these women belong to that protected / privileged elite that has its roof and food secured. But the story unfolds as they begin to lose those assurances and cannot find a way to adapt to a new reality.” This is a female-centric story with a distinct absence of men. Martinessi said, “I grew up in a world shaped by women: mother, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, ladies in the neighborhood. I wanted my first feature to get into that female universe that interests me…” Would it have been a different story, a different movie had it been written and directed by a woman? Of course. However, Martinessi allows his female characters and his female actresses their time to shine and it never felt like it was weighted by a male gaze or POV.
The Heiresses was released by 1844 Entertainment and is available today on VOD (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, FandangoNow and Vudu).
“For a cop things are black or white. In the middle there’s nothing.”
The year is 1975. In a small province of Argentina, a group of people are quietly emptying a house of its most valuable possessions. It’s rumored that the family who lived there were the targets of a government raid and have since fled the country. This introduction tells us what we need to know about mid-1970s Argentina and the government corruption that endangers its own people.
Claudio (Dario Grandinetti) is a town counselor and lawyer. A tense confrontation with a stranger, later known as El Hippie (Diego Cremonesi), at a restaurant escalates and ends in tragedy. Claudio leaves this unfortunate event behind him and transitions back to his normal life with his wife Susana (Andrea Frigerio) and teenage daughter Paula (Laura Grandinetti). Corruption lurks around every corner as friends go missing. After arranging an underhanded deal with his friend Vivas (Claudio Martinez Bel) to buy the aforementioned house, Claudio discovers the true identity of El Hippie and that Vivas has hired former cop turned celebrity detective Sinclair (Alfredo Castro) to investigate. It’s only a matter of time for things to unravel for Claudio as Sinclair zeroes in on what really happened.
Written and directed by Benjamin Naishtat, Rojo is a moody and atmospheric drama that explores how government corruption enables the worst in human behavior. I found this film deeply unsettling. Right from the very beginning I got a sense of dread. As though danger were lurking at every corner. Why is the camera so still? Why is it looking at this house for so long? Is the house going to explode? It didn’t but that was the palpable tension that made me so engrossed in the film.
Rojo means red in Spanish and the film utilizes the color in many ways. The most interesting use of the color comes from the scene when a solar eclipse casts a red glow. This is a pivotal point in the film as detective Sinclair has just entered Claudio’s life, stirring the pot and making Claudio very uncomfortable. Claudio and his wife escape to the beach where they witness the eclipse and this moment the beginning of an end of sorts.
Naishtat was inspired to make Rojo from his fascination with the 1970s and “the symbolic burden” the political persecution and exile of the Argentine people had on future generations. The overall theme of a greater evil threatening the personal freedoms of citizens is compelling and universal but really gives the viewers a sense of one of the darkest times in Argentina’s history.
Rojo opens in New York City at Quad Cinema and the Film at Lincoln Center on Friday and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal on July 19th.
The 2019 SXSW Film Festival starts next week and I’m thrilled to be attending this year for the very first time. Many thanks to SXSW and Rotten Tomatoes for this amazing opportunity. I’m furiously building my itinerary with plenty of great films, panels, interviews and new experiences. Follow me here and on my social media for all the details.
I would have to clone myself a dozen times to experience a significant chunk of SXSW has to offer. But alas there is only one of me. I did my best to curate a list of films that piqued my interest. I’m focusing primarily on documentaries, movies directed by women, Spanish-language cinema and indie films in general. 60 % of the films screening at SXSW are directed by women which is a fantastic feat. Here is how my current slate of films breaks down:
Films Directed by Women: 9 (out of 15)
Now on to my SXSW picks!
Sunset Over Mulholland Drive
Directed by Uli Gaulke
SXSW Documentary Spotlight
If you know me it’ll come to no surprise that this new documentary about residents of the Motion Picture & Television Fund home is my #1 pick. I’m a big champion for elderly and the residents of MPTF all have amazing stories to share about their contributions to the entertainment industry. I had the honor of visiting my friend Lillian Michelson at MPTF last year. Gaulke’s documentary follows a group of MPTF residents as they collaborate on new projects. I’ll be reviewing this one over at my classic film blog Out of the Past.
Directed by Amy C. Elliott
SXSW Documentary Spotlight
Elliott’s new documentary explores the open landfill of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada and the group of townspeople who salvage items from it. Yellowknife dump is one of the only open dumps in North America and regulations to control it pose a threat to the local community. I’m very curious to see what this film has to offer in terms of insights into what the objects we throw away have to say about us as a society. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Stay tuned as I’ll have an interview with the director as well as a review!
What drives someone to the breaking point? Paul Solet’s new documentary Tread takes a look at Marvin Heemeyer, the Colorado man who in 2004 ran a fortified bulldozer through his hometown, systematically destroying homes and businesses. This bizarre case has always intrigued me and Solet’s film offers various perspectives in an attempt to answer the biggest question: why?
The Beach Bum
Directed by Harmony Korine
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Stefania Lavie Owen, Jimmy Buffett, Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence
There will be big competition for the Headliners at the festival and while I’m happy to watch those at a later date, I can’t pass up the opportunity to see a Harmony Korine film at SXSW! I love Korine’s Spring Breakers and Mister Lonely and am excited for his latest movie. The Beach Bum stars Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, a free spirit who marches to the beat of his own drum. It features a stellar cast! I’m ready for another quirky yet subversive story, Korine-style.
Docs about 20th Century entertainers are my jam and I’m hoping to get a chance to see this one about legendary comedian Richard Pryor. I’m especially curious to see how this film explores his life and career in the context of the era.
Starring Anna Margaret Hollyman, Michael Mosley, Andrea Suarez Paz, Julie White, Amy Hargreaves, Macon Blair, Lee Eddy, Blake Delong, John Merriman, Nathan Zellner
SXSW Festival Favorites
Inspired by the story of 1920s evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, Sister Aimee looks like a fun twist on a bit of obscure 20th century history. I reviewed The Miracle Woman (1931) over on my site Out of the Past which stars Barbara Stanwyck and is also inspired by McPherson. Would love to examine how these two films compare with each other and what Sister Aimee has to offer to a contemporary audience.
Directed by Patricia Ortega
Starring Lucia Bedoya, Belkis Avilladares, María Elena Duque
Director Patricia Ortega’s drama explores the intersection between religion and gender. The story centers around a young religious dressmaker who discovers she was born intersex. Her parents kept her corrective surgery a secret and raised her as a girl. I love South American films and the exploration of identity and gender definitely piqued my interest. Would love to see how this compares with Lucia Puenzo’s film XXY (2007).
La Mala Noche
Directed by Gabriele Calvache
Starring Nöelle Schönwald, Cristian Mercado, Jaime Tamariz, Ariana Freire, Diego Mignone, Gonzalo Gonzalo, Christian Cabrera, Javier Ordóñez
SXSW Global – World Premiere
This Ecuadorian/Mexican thriller is about a prostitute trying to escape the seedy underworld run by her mob boss. La Mala Noche is perhaps the darkest film in my line-up and I’m excited to see what director Calvache has to offer!
Principal Cast: Laura Tobón, David Escallón, Carlos Fonnegra, Christian Tappan, Julián Giraldo, Natalia Castaño, Margarita Restrepo
Another South-American film directed by a woman! My fingers crossed that I can fit this one into my schedule. The story follows two friends, graffiti artists, who plan to paint a mural of a whale to cover up a threatening message. I’ve been hungry for more Colombian cinema ever since I watched Karen Cries on the Bus (2011) last year.
Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy
Directed by Elizabeth Carroll
SXSW Documentary Feature Competition
Nonagenarian Diana Kennedy has spent the better part of her life researching and documenting the history of food and cuisine in Mexico. This new documentary explores her life’s work which includes nine Mexican cookbooks and her unique lifestyle (she’s lived off the grid since the 1970s!).
Directed by Ben Asamoah
I’m fascinated by internet scams and those spam e-mails we all get in our inboxes trying to extort us out of our life savings. This new documentary follows the story of three Ghanaians who are turning to the internet fraud as a source of livelihood. I’m hoping this film touches upon the ramifications of this sort of “career” and how it’s judged, or not judged, in another culture.
Directed by Jenna Ricker
SXSW Documentary Spotlight
I love sports documentaries especially when the subject is a woman! Director Jenna Ricker’s new film for ESPN explores the career of Janet Guthrie, the first female race car driver to qualify for the Daytona 500 and Indy 500.
Directed by Hilary Brougher
Starring Talia Balsam, Scott Cohen, Andrus Nichols, Michael Oberholtzer, Naian González Norvind , Midori Francis, Macaulee Rusnak Cassaday, Isis Masoud, Violet Rea, Guthrie Mass
SXSW Narrative Feature Competition
Set in the Catskills, this drama tells the story of a family coming apart at the seams. The film’s star Talia Balsam is a big draw for me but I also love that this film is written and directed by a female filmmaker.
Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall
Directed by Alfred George Bailey
SXSW 24 Beats Per Second/Documentaries
Jim Marshall photographed some of the biggest names in the history of music: Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, etc. This new documentary offers a look at the man behind the camera. I love stories about people behind-the-scenes. Pair that with some pop culture history and I’m sold!
Directed by Brandon Vedder
SXSW 24 Beats Per Second/Documentaries
As someone who walked away from a strict, conservative Christian upbringing, I’m fascinated by stories of others who have done the same. Vedder’s new documentary paints a portrait of David Bazan, a former evangelical Christian and member of the band Pedro the Lion.