Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Olvidados/Forgotten: A Powerful Political Story Untold Until Now

By Jose Alberto Hermosillo
A well accomplished artistic composition with beautiful scenery, contrasting with the pain, remorse, and the human toll during the repression Era in Latin America named “Plan Condor.”

A story that has been censored for decades of forced silence now comes to light in a major motion picture. 

“Olvidados” was the Bolivian submission for the 87th Academy® Awards for Best Foreign Film.

A phone call from New York to Bolivia triggers the flashbacks of a dying general. His turbulent past is haunting him - From his military training by the CIA to the Era of repression, abuse of power, torture, executions, and enforced disappearances that became a human tragedy in all South America during the 1970’s.

Those were the Golden years of the Cold War when the USA fought against the communist penetration of the Soviet Union in Latin America.
Copyright © Cinema Libre Studio, 2015

In the big picture, the US intentionally turned a blind eye to the dictatorial regimes which committed crimes against humanity in Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Brazil. These countries were fertile fields where such atrocities occurred.
Copyright © Cinema Libre Studio, 2015
The casualty counts were in the thousands.

The extraordinary reconstruction of settings of the Repression Era of "Los Olvidados" show in detail how these crimes were committed, the impunity and with no remorse, recreating perfectly the dark atmosphere of its mysterious past. 

Damián Alcázar (“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”) is a chameleon actor who played the victim roles in films like: “Herod’s Law/La Ley de Herodes,” “El Infierno,” “The Perfect Dictatorship/La dictadura perfecta,” and now he plays the magnanimous General José Mendieta in “Olvidados.”

Damián Alcázar is terrific as the bad guy too.

D. Carlos Bolado. Photo by Jose Alberto Hermosillo.
Director Carlos Bolado (“Bajo California, el límite del tiempo,” “Tlatelolco, Verano de 68,” “Colosio, el asesinato”) managed to put together an artistic composition of beautiful images, great performances, but with lots of pain from the victims, the oppressors and their families too.

Bolado states in an interview: “Reality is worse than fiction,” meaning it’s almost impossible to write or place in a movie the tragedy of the Operación Condor.

The camera captures the beauty, but remains rigid and stiff, giving an intentional and unnecessary claustrophobic effect to the film, leaving us to wonder for something else to happen, but nothing else is happening.

The editing lost its tempo, it needed to be organic, logic, and balanced with a better structure to make the sequences more harmonic to create a significant impact of the situations of agony experienced by the main characters. A stronger dramatic punch was needed it.

Copyright © Cinema Libre Studio 2015
There are similar films on the subject of repression and torture, the Argentinean Oscar winner “The Secret in Their Eyes” (2009), the also Argentinean brutal film “Garage Olimpo”(1999) directed by Marco Bechis, and the Mexican production “The Violin” (2005) directed by Francisco Vargas. All of these films projected the hunger for justice people have for those atrocities to be recognized.

The most significant accomplishment of “Olvidados” is its strong message about how people lived and died. And how the very few of the lucky ones survived the repression caused by the absurd policies implemented by the Condor Operation,

“Olvidados” left a feeling of the emptiness and desolation in people’s hearts for the lost ones and mostly for "los desaparecidos…"

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Copyright © 2015 Festival in LA

The New Girlfriend: A New Trend in Transgender Cinema

By Jose Alberto Hermosillo

“The New Girlfriend” is a fabulous, elegant, quirky, and twisted story about losing someone and overcoming grief while morphing into someone else. This French movie is magnifique! 

François Ozon (“Swimming Pool,” “Ricky,” “Angel,” “Young & Beautiful”) masterfully addresses the transgender affair in his latest work, “Une nouvelle amie/The New Girlfriend,” finding a man in need to become a woman, not like a foolish obsession, but as a conscious decision that will affect everyone surrounding him, including his baby girl. 

As Pedro Almodóvar did in “All About My Mother” and Xavier Dolan in “Laurens Anyways,” Ozon’s “Girlfriend” also has a male character deciding to be a woman, not a transvestite but a total transgender.

The emotional journey starts with a montage of an elegant funeral to a flashback where two little girls, Claire and Laura, make a blood covenant, swearing: “A le vie, a le amour….” In a flash-forward where the girls have grown up,  they go to the disco, have their first boyfriend, kiss, and break up.

The intensity of the music score uplifts the emotions without using unnecessary words to understand what the actors are feeling through their actions.

One of them marries, gets pregnant, and dies, leaving a baby girl needing a mother. 

The "other girlfriend," Claire, naturally played by Anaïs Demounstier (“Bird People,” “Thérèse”), remembers the promise she made to her late girlfriend to look after her baby. In that sense, she gets closer to David to discover an uncomfortable truth for everyone but conforming for the baby.  

Romain Duris at COLCOA 2014. Photo by Jose Alberto Hermosillo

David, the widower, fantastically played by Romain Duris (“Chinese Puzzle,” “Russian Dolls,” “The Spanish Apartment”), notices that the only thing that makes the little girl stop crying is the smell of her late mother’s perfume still infused in her clothes.

He disguises himself as the woman who passed and cares for the baby.  The baby is content in the arms of his new “mother.”

The story gets complicated when Claire discovers David dressed in her late girlfriend’s garments. She runs away but returns, remembering her promise and honors her word to take care of the baby.

Things get convoluted when David becomes Virginia (“The New Girlfriend”) and wants to go out shopping. Romain Duris is terrific as David and Virginia.

"The New Girlfriend" is a well-crafted French queer drama is reflecting the importance of having high-quality costume design and makeup artists to get the proper characterization. Audiences value authenticity and honesty in a film with a good story and production value.

Other memorable performances of terrific actors taking the risk by doing a transgender role outside of Hollywood are:

Miguel Bosé in “High Heels,” Spain.

Roberto Cobo in “The Place without Limits/El lugar sin límites,” Mexico.

Gael García Bernal in “Bad Education,” Spain.

Finally, the highly expected British drama "The Danish Girl” with the Oscar winner best actor Eddy Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”), who is a strong contender to win his second consecutive Oscar, now playing a man transforming into a woman.

The dichotomy of the story plays an important role when David, as Virginia, is not sexually attracted to men, and he/She still likes women.

Virginia says, “Men are born in cabbages, women are born with flowers, and I was born in a cauliflower.”

Ultimately, we all learn a valuable lesson: “It’s a hard job to be a woman.”

François Ozon’s “New Girlfriend” was screened to a packed house at the Los Angeles Closing Night Gala of the renowned Outfest 2015.

The film lovers who attended the event laughed, cherished, and applauded this male-to-female transgender feel-good movie.

Closing Night Outfest 2015, Photo by Jose Alberto Hermosillo. Copyrights Festival in LA

Copyright © 2015 Festival in LA

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ixcanul: Pursuits Guatemala’s First Oscar Nomination

By José Alberto Hermosillo 

A timeless epic with a superior “joie de vivre.” 
Powerful, evocative, unforgettable.

It is a living poem with breathtaking cinematography and well-crafted magical realism. 

The Guatemalan Oscar® submission in the best foreign language film category, “Ixcanul,” is a daring coming-of-age story of a young teenager living in an isolated Mayan community who starts discovering her sexuality, emotions, and personal conflict with her challenging reality.

Italian Poster

“Ixcanul” is the Mayan word for “Volcano.” 

The character-driven story centers on Maria (Maria Mercedes Croy) and her brutal working family, who live in a small coffee community on the slopes of the volcano, where the hot weather and the richness of the soil produce some of the World’s best coffee. They are the Kakchiquels.

Although Maria is only seventeen and should be preparing for her “Quinceañera,” she is preparing for an arranged wedding. 

In many countries, it is okay for a young girl to marry a mature and wealthy man: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China are examples where honor is more important than love, choice, or freedom.

In the Oscar-nominated “Water,” Deepa Mehta illustrates how young girls are forced into marriage with older men in India  the beauty of this Canadian production makes us forget the horrors experienced by all those young little women. 
In Atiq Rahimi’s “The Patient Stone,” a young Afghan woman tells the truth to her older, decrepit husband as catharsis against oppression.

In “Ixcanul,” Maria’s issues and decisions are similar to the ones faced by millions of women, even in developed countries: anxiety, first-time sex, unwanted pregnancy, abortion, single motherhood, post-partum depression, and so on.

In the movie “Grandma,” by Paul Weitz (“About a Boy” and “American Pie”), in California, Lily Tomlin’s granddaughter is experiencing the same situation as Maria does in Guatemala. The only difference is that the American film is viewed as a comedy, and the one from Central America is viewed as a drama.  

The Bride’s mother is Juana, excellently played by actress Maria Telón. She is teaching her daughter how to be a good wife. 

Manuel, the father, played by Manuel Manuel Antún, is hard-working, righteous, and honest.

French Poster

Living as in John Huston’s “Under the Volcano,” mother and daughter participate in an ancient Mayan ceremony.

Some of those rituals are reminiscent of the big Hollywood epic movies set in the Pacific Islands, Hawaii, Africa, and South America, where the spectacular landscape and human tragedy blend together with captivating and hypnotic images conveying deep emotions.

The groom is Ignacio, “El Capataz” (the person in charge of the fields), and actor Justo Lorenzo plays him as a low-essential character who, without raising his voice, takes advantage of the starving farmers, the girl and her family. He represents a continuation of a classicist system that oppresses the vulnerable people of Guatemala. 

Human exploitation has been going on for centuries, not only in Mayan communities but also in other isolated parts of the World. 
With such conditions, it is hard to have dreams — there is no dreaming in this town when the World is against you. 

The little money they earn harvesting coffee is spent on food and getting drunk. People struggle to survive in this environment — reaching for dreams is not an option. 

Maria’s dream is to go to the big city and follow El Pepe (Marvin Coroy) to the United States, but destiny and her condition as a Mayan woman will play a significant role in crushing her dreams.

El Pepe is a young boy who likes Maria, enjoys the moment, and takes advantage of any situation. He is the only one to have lived in the United States and longs to return. 

Maria sarcastically tells Pepe (in Mayan): “You better start learning Spanish before learning English.”

In “Ixcanul,” the sub-theme is migration. In Guatemala, young people want to emigrate to the United States for a better future and sometimes to save their lives — older people stay.

This is not a movie about migration, but it has a strong relation to other great films on the subject: “La Jaula de Oro” “El Norte,” “Sin Nombre,” “Buen Día, Ramón,” “Bread and Roses,” “A Better Life,” “Frozen River,” “Journey of Hope,” “In This World,” “Al otro lado,” “Under the Same Moon-La misma luna,” “Dirty Pretty Things,” and this year the Cannes Palm d’Or winner Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan.”

When their lives are at risk, the language barrier makes them Lost in Translation. 

In their community, everyone speaks Mayan, but in the big city, no one else does. Ignacio is the only bilingual person translating what is convenient to him, betraying his own people.

The transcendence of “Ixcanul” further connects community, family values, hard-working people, traditions, emotions, and beliefs. 

“Ixcanul” reflects the hunger for justice the Guatemalan people have. Maria and her Mayan community deserve to be treated with fairness.

It also shows the poverty and the oppression of the indigenous communities, victims of the abuse of authority by their own government. 

They deserve justice and respect from the rest of the World.
First-time writer/director Jayro Bustamante can maintain the same narrative style throughout the entire film, masterfully done, leaving out the melodramatic moments with no regrets. 

Jayro Bustamante director of Ixcanul, Guatemala. Photo by Jose A Hermosillo, Copyrights 2015 

Jayro does not show Maria as a victim nor a heroine—she is an intelligent girl who follows her instincts and tries to overcome adversity by believing in the importance of life and, above all, in the truth, even though the price she has to pay is exceptionally high for the valuable lesson.

Jayro Bustamante director of Ixcanul, Guatemala. Film critic Jose A Hermosillo, Copyrights 2015

An underlying biblical reference is noticeable: Maria is the Virgin Mary, El Pepe is a nickname for Jose or Joseph, Ignacio becomes Judas, and baby Jesus still needs to be found. 

The film also reflects, on a minor scale, the recent political turmoil in Guatemala, which has escalated fast to an unprecedented level to bring down the corrupt government. 

The Guatemala/France coproduction wins the Silver Bear in Berlin, the Blue Angel in Slovakia, the Best Ibero-American Film, and the Best Director of the Guadalajara International Film Festival. More awards are expected, including Oscar® and Golden Globe nominations, making “Ixcanul” the most awarded film in Guatemala’s history. 

“Ixcanul” is an impeccable work of art with exceptional craft, extraordinary beauty, and an enduring story. 

The terrific performances make “Ixcanul” a solid contender to reach for one of the five nominated films for Best Foreign Language this year.

“Ixcanul” was the best film at The Guadalajara International Film Festival in Los Angeles (FICG in LA). Its beauty kept us talking for a while after we saw the movie.

Ixcanul/Volcano, trailer

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Copyright © 2015 Festival in LA