Struggling with the embarrassment of riches at this year’s Vancouver Latin American Film Festival? Too much goodness? Can’t make up your mind? Here—we can help.
These are the Straight’s top 10 picks for the 2016 edition.
I Promise You Anarchy
It takes some cojones to open your festival with a wild and sexy scream from the gutter like I Promise You Anarchy, in which skatepunks (and lovers) Miguel and Johnny (Diego Calva and Eduardo Eliseo Martínez, both cast via Facebook by director Julio Hernández Cordón) run the dangerous business of illegal blood donation and banking for the drug cartels, all while gliding around Mexico City to a surpassingly cool indie-rock soundtrack.
SFU Woodward’s, August 25 (7 p.m.); Cinematheque, August 27 (9 p.m.)
From VLAFF’s New Directors series, this vivid, widescreen portrait of Brazil’s vaquejada—an exhibition sport in which rodeo cowboys pull the bull to the ground by its tail—is almost certainly the only film in this year’s program that depicts two men trying to secretly masturbate a horse. That aside, Gabriel Mascaro’s film is overtly earthy and lusty in plenty of other ways, all of them unforgettable. “One of the most spectacular films coming from Latin America in quite a while, in terms of originality,” promises VLAFF director Christian Sida-Valenzuela.
Cinematheque, August 26 (3:15 p.m.) and September 1 (9:15 p.m.)
A man retreats to the snowy and inhospitable mountains of Patagonia on a quest to absolve himself of a guilt that goes unnamed in this haunting second entry in VLAFF’s New Directors series. Once there, Zamora (Diego Alonso) must reckon with an epidemic of missing girls and women in the region, and—an affecting theme for Vancouverites—the inexplicable ambivalence that goes with it.
Cinematheque, August 27 (3 p.m.) and August 31 (3:15 p.m.)
Pepe Mujica: Lessons from the Flowerbed
Among other things, the man described by the Guardian as the “world’s most radical president” was famed for living in a one-bedroom house, driving a 1987 Beetle, and giving away 90 percent of his income. This glowing portrait of the Uruguayan president and former Marxist guerrilla who legalized pot and gay marriage while telling Barack Obama that Americans should read more is likely the most uplifting (and perhaps necessary) entry in VLAFF’s politically charged ¡ACTIVISMO! series.
Cinematheque, August 28 (7:30 p.m.)
While the okay-not-great Spotlight was being lauded by North American critics and the Academy earlier this year, Pablo Larrain’s stunning film offered a much more challenging and rewarding take on the abuses of the Catholic Church. Five disgraced and unrepentant priests cool their jets in a seaside villa under the watchful eye of Sister Monica (the great Antonia Zegers), a retired nun with her own demons to manage—or not.
Cinematheque, August 28 (9:15 p.m.) and August 30 (7:15 p.m.)
Black God, White Devil
With Brazil as its guest country, VLAFF celebrates the work of Glauber Rocha, the grandaddy of the Cinema Novo movement. Folk mysticism and the era’s harsh political realities clash in this 1964 film, Rocha’s second and most acclaimed feature.
Vancity, August 30 (6:30 p.m.)
The Second Mother
VLAFF’s Anna Muylaert retrospective means a return visit for this 2015 comic drama, a hit at the Vancouver International Film Festival and a favourite at Sundance. As the Straight’s Ken Eisner wrote: “[The director’s] carefully composed images provide a cool stage for some hot acting—all of which manages to be amusingly uplifting rather than sociologically bleak.”
Cinematheque, August 31 (6:30 p.m.)
The Ballad of Oppenheimer Park
Filmmaker Juan Manuel Sepúlveda spent two years in Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park as he prepped this remarkable coproduction, a semi-doc screening in the Canada Looks South program, made with the inhabitants of one of the city’s most significant, if fraught, spaces.
Vancity, September 1 (8 p.m.)
Like El Club, VLAFF brings Pablo Trapero’s chilling, sideways take on the period after the Dirty War back to Vancouver as part of its International Hits series. An impressed Janet Smith wrote in the Straight at the time of its release in April: “As fascinating as a historical document as it is as a gruesome Scorsese-esque crime story.”
SFU Woodward’s, September 3 (5 p.m.)
Don’t Call Me Son
Bookending its queer programming, VLAFF’s closing film also happens to be the North American premiere of Anna Muylaert’s latest, in which the teenage Pierre discovers he’s not who or what he thinks he was. The class-conscious Muylaert, who will be in attendance, is fast becoming one of the great voices in international cinema, and this is a major scoop for the festival.
SFU Woodward’s, September 4 (6:30 p.m.)