Arts Desk

Thriving and Crying: The Latin American Film Festival, Selectively Reviewed

Fall is D.C.’s biggest season for niche film festivals. But if the Latin American Film Festival at AFI Silver Theatre keeps expanding, it’ll soon outgrow that label.

This year’s lineup is the festival’s largest.From music docs to family dramas—of which there an abundance—the 50-film lineup represents the best Latin films culled from Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, and beyond.

But in a preview event, we watched some of this year’s offerings, and left feeling a little depressed. There’s divorce. Drugs. A severed head. A man impaled on a spear. Heavy stuff! Sure, the Latin American Film Festival is larger than ever, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone populist. Select reviews follow!

Fecha de Caducidad (Expiration Date)

A low-key riff on the Amores Perros model, except with the added novelty of a severed head. Ramona is nearly mad when her loser son disappears—we know the head is his, but she doesn’t. A young woman moves into her apartment building, and Ramona convinces herself that this woman is the wife of her son. Genero, an amateur forensic expert who knows both of them, is the key to solving this puzzle. Director Kenya Márquez’s characters are matter-of-fact about dead bodies, which is helpful. But her most crucial misstep? The head is more interesting than her three protagonists. Shows Sept. 20 at 10 p.m. and Sept. 26 at 5:15 p.m. (AZ)

Pescador (Fisherman)

For a small fishing village in Venezuela, bricks of cocaine represent opportunity. When dozens of bricks wash ashore, the villagers take as many as they can carry. That’s the strong opening to Pescador, a film that has the elements of a thriller but unfolds into something else entirely. Blanquito, a bumbling fisherman, wants to get out of town, and he knows the brick is his ticket. He enlists the elegant Colombian Lorna, and together they leave for a bigger town, with trouble not far behind. But the true subject of Pescador is not drug running, but class: When Lorna demeans herself for the chance to see her daughter, we see how ugly the underground economy can get. Shows Sept. 24 at 9:45 p.m. and Sept. 26 at 9:30 p.m. (AZ)

La Casa del Ritmo

They say never judge a book by its cover, but that’s precisely what David Byrne did with Los Amigos Invisibles. The Venezuelan disco-funk band got its lucky break when Byrne picked up their record in the mid 1990s and liked what he heard. La Casa combines documentary with concert film: There are interviews, but it’s centered on a show the band recently shot in New York City. Things get intriguing when the guys start talking about their hit “Anal Disco.” Shows Oct. 6 and 7 at 9:30 p.m. (AZ)

La Demora (The Delay)

Evoking a sense of desperation and anxiety throughout, The Delay follows 40-something Maria—an overworked and underpaid single mother of three—as she reaches her breaking point while caring for her aging, senile father. Atmosphere and a keen Bressonian sense of direction drive the otherwise lacking script; Uruguayan director Rodrigo Plá’s third feature is a slow-burner with moments of brilliance that are hobbled by uneven writing. Shows Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. and Oct. 9 at 9:30 p.m. (MC)

De Jueves a Domingo (Thursday Till Sunday)

Divorce is not easy for kids. De Jueves a Domingo is the story of a young husband and wife who take their kids on an impromptu road trip as a last-ditch effort to save their marriage. Favoring sumptuous shots of the barren Chilean desert, the film is from the perspective of precocious older sister Lucia and her oblivious younger brother Manuel. It’s a clever narrative device: For the first half hour or so, it’s hard to tell that anything is awry between Ana and Papa. The deliberate pacing can be frustrating, but it pays off as we watch the parents’ facade slowly deteriorate. Shows Sept. 25 at 7:45 p.m. and Sept. 30 at 5 p.m. (MC)

La Sirga

To say La Sirga is bleak would be a vast understatement: The film opens with a brutal shot of a dead man impaled on a spear. The camera lingers there for an excruciatingly long time, and things don’t get much sunnier from there. But understated beauty abounds in director William Vega’s eerie visual essay. The film follows Alicia, a young Colombian woman whose village and entire family were destroyed by unknown assailants. She tracks down her estranged uncle, the only family she has left, deep in the marshy wetlands of the Andes. He lets her stay with him as long as she helps him fix up the place. Throughout the hazy, 90-minute runtime, Alicia is haunted by sleepwalking, isolation, her family’s brutal murder, and her peeping-Tom uncle and his son. The film is light on narrative, but heavy on impending doom; depressing, sure, but deeply stirring. Shows Oct. 3 at 9:30 p.m. and Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. (MC)

The festival runs Sept. 20 to Oct. 10 at AFI Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring.

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