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Latino flair in the 2024 Spanish Film Festival

by Bernard O'Shea

The Cine Latino section of Australia’s annual Spanish Film Festival is always interesting as it transports us to parts of the worlds that we too rarely see on our big cinema screens nowadays: South and Central America.

Each country in the region has its own social and political dilemmas, which their filmmakers are tackling with growing flair and boldness. Add in their differing cultures, philosophies, temperaments, senses of humour and lots of striking scenery, and you’re onto a cinematic winner!

One of the best films I’ve seen so far at the festival is Upon Open Sky (A Cielo Abierto) from Mexico. Two grieving teenager brothers set out to avenge the death of their father in a car accident, joined by their stepsister, who’s initially oblivious to their murderous intent. She’s in for a shock! But do they have the gumption to carry out the preposterous plan the brothers have concocted? Their dad used to take them on hunting trips, they know all the tricks.

It’s sombre but utterly engrossing, as you’d expect from a script written by Academy Award nominee Guillermo Arriaga. The three lead actors, Theo Goldin, Máximo Hollander and Federica Garcia, are superb. Much of the action takes place under the open skies, accompanied by a terrific breezy score by one of my favourite modern composers, Ludovico Einaudi.

Movie telling at its finest

Just as marvellous is the film chosen to officially open the festival, The Movie Teller (La Contadora De Películas). It’s a grand Chilean-Spanish-French international co-production, and there are some big names involved; acclaimed Danish director Danish Lone Scherfig, Brazilian Walter Salles (of Central Station fame) oversaw the script, and internationally admired actors Bérénice Bejo, Antonio de la Torre and Daniel Brühl have the main adult roles.

They’re backed up by a terrific cast of pre-teen actors and their teen equivalents, for whom going to the cinema every Sunday is a treat amid the dust and grime faced by salpetre mining community in Chile’s Atacama desert in the 1960s.  When they can no longer afford to go to the cinema as a family, they decide that one of their kids will go, and will re-enact the film at home for the rest of the family. The kids’ auditions for this coveted role are hilarious.

Sophie Gaëlle Gómez and Jalsen Santana in Aire: Just Breathe

Cine Latino’s new force

Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have traditionally been the giants of Latin America’s film industry, but in recent years another country has gained prominence: The Dominican Republic.

“The Dominican Republic opened its borders during COVID and facilitated film production at a time when many other countries were closing their borders,” says Palace Cinemas chief executive Benjamin Zeccola. “This facilitated a surge in production in the country and they then went on to lure a number of high-profile projects. That momentum has continued.”

At the 2024 Spanish Film Festival you can judge the Dominican Republic’s cinematic progress in the film Aire: Just Breathe (pictured at top). It’s set in the year 2147, and the world has been devastated by chemical warfare leaving men sterile and humankind almost extinct. Tania, a conservation biologist, is trying to inseminate herself to prevent this from happening with the help of an AI system called VIDA. Then one of the few remaining men, one with a dark past, suddenly appears… “It’s a striking film that ponders the nature of loneliness trust and human existence,” says Benjamin. Sophie Gaëlle Gómez and Jalsen Santana played the two leads.

Pepe Lorente (right) plays musician Mauricio Aznar in The Blue Star (La Estrella Azul)

Other Cine Latino films to look out for are:

A Ravaging Wind (El Viento Que Arrasa) – a teenage girl accompanying her religiously fanatical father on a road trip in Argentina has to start confronting him if she’s to forge her own destiny.

Bad Actor (Un Actor Malo) – this highly topical Mexican film probes the #MeToo issues of sexual harassment on set and how the film industry reacts when the accusations fly.

The Other Son (El Otro Hijo) – like Upon Open Sky, this Colombian film probes the trauma of a death in the family, and the agonies that one has to go through before the healing processes begins.

The Blue Star (La Estrella Azul) – if you love music, this is definitely one for you. Inspired by the life of Spanish musician  Mauricio Aznar, leader of the bands Golden Zippers, Más Birras and Almagato, who develops a passion for folk music and new zest for life while  trip through the Argentinean interior. M5R

See also

2024 Spanish Film Festival line-up revealed

Strong Latino Line-up at 2023 Spanish Film Festival

Photos courtesy of The Spanish Film Festival and Palace Cinemas.

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