Archive for March, 2016

There aren’t many films with the ambition to shoot in one single take (or something close to it). Birdman from last year attempted it, as well as Gaspar Noe’s hallucinatory Enter The Void. If we go further back, we have films like Hitchcock’s Rope, ingeniously framed in just one room, and Angsta cult Austrian thriller seen only through the eyes of a deranged psychopath.

Victoria is the latest addition to this distinctive genre. Set over just one night fateful night in Berlin, young Spanish waitress Victoria (Laia Costa) dances the night away in a smoky, industrial bunker club. We get the first glimpse of her character: she heads to the bar alone and chirpily tries to make conversation with the apathetic barman. Already we see that she has a lust for life and a willingness to trust.

She encounters four drunk young men, ‘proper’ Berliners, foolishly attempting to get into the club. Outside she sees them again, and they offer her a lift in ‘their’ car. Sonne (Frederick Lau) is the cheeky ringleader of the gang, quickly charming Victoria. Alongside him are his raffish mates; Boxer, the skinhead, volatile one, Fub, the goofy, weedy one, and Blinker, the Vincent Gallo lookalike.

Victoria, sensing an opportunity for fun and unpredictability to spark up her somewhat mundane existence, joins them in some minor japes. The local snoozing shopkeeper is relieved of a few German beers, and the group break into a rooftop to while away the night. Back at the coffee shop where she works, Victoria demonstrates her ability on the piano to the dumbstruck Sonne. She is a failed pianist, wanting some freedom and fun after years of study and discipline.

The film takes a ominous turn midway through, but Schipper has established the characters and the atmosphere securely enough for it to feel authentic. There is a current of tense energy running throughout every scene; how much can she trust these guys? What it is that they want? Is there an ulterior motive? The performances are all very good, if a little stereotypical at times. To sustain a level of authenticity over one long take is quite incredible.

The film that it most resembles is the aforementioned Enter The Void. The cinematography, while less floaty and elegant, shines a similarly seedy and effervescent glow on urban nightlife, capturing all the edginess that city life provides. It is a very good Berlin film. Recently we saw a film about the French house scene, Eden, which ultimately felt quite safe and sanitised, but this film doesn’t suffer from the same problem. It is fantastically gripping and almost unbearably tense.

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In 1963 Roberto Rossellini claimed that cinema was dead. That same year in Cali, Colombia, 14-year-old Luis Ospina got hold of his first camera and began to devote himself to film-making.

Todo Comenzó por el Fin is the story of Ospina’s 45-year-old relationship with cinema. But it is also, and most importantly, the portrait of a generation of movie-lovers and their struggle to fill their youth and city with films.

Jumping back and forth from exclusive footage of their early works, never-ending parties and scenes from a 2010s reunion, Ospina documents his relationship with the beautiful and damned Cali-based cinefiles who fathered Colombia’s 1980s cinematic renaissance: Caliwood.

Ospina is, to date, one of the few surviving icons of that golden era. Together with the late writers-directors-actors Andrés Caicedo and Carlos Mayolo, he revolutionised Colombia’s cinema and became a key figure for future generations of film-makers. He contributed to the birth of tropical gothic, a genre that combined the European gothic tradition with the gruesome heritage of Colombia’s colonial past. He edited (and starred in) two of Mayolo’s goth classics: Carne de tu Carne (1983) and La Mansión de Araucaima (1986), and as a documentarist, he coined (and successfully debunked) porno-miseria, the all-encompassing discourse of poverty and violence through which Colombia had been historically framed by fellow directors of the time (for a full exposure of such narratives, see his seminal Agarrando el Pueblo).

Todo Comenzó por el Fin traces a genealogy of Colombian cinema seen from the eyes of those who took part in the sea-changes of the 1980s. We see clips from Mayolo’s behind-the-scenes techniques, we watch Caicedo, Ospina and the rest of the Cali group setting up a cinefile-only commune and the city’s film-club, and we witness the evolution of Colombia’s cinema amidst the drugs-fuelled violence that plagued the country.

Ospina’s latest work is a nostalgic testament of the moveable cinematic feast that swept through 1980s Cali. But it is also a sad memoire of the relationship between its leading characters and death. Caicedo committed suicide at 25, Mayolo succumbed to a life of excesses aged 61, and some thirty years after Caliwood’s belle époque Ospina too had a near death encounter with cancer, which the film documents until its happy ending.

Seen from this angle, Todo Comenzó por el Fin is a survivor’s tribute to the ways cinema can offer a possible way out of death. It is, after all, through films that bed-ridden Ospina mocks his passing away, juxtaposing footage of his hospital life with old black-and-white American movies, and through film-making that he does justice to his friends’ memories and his city’s past.

In the words of Caliwood-member and theatre director Sandro Romero Rey, theirs was a band of cinema-lovers and cinema-makers who helped each other to stay alive. After watching Todo Comenzó por el Fin, one realises that staying alive is, for Ospina, inextricably bound with the need to preserve the past intact – a task which only cinema seems able to fulfil.

Premiered at Toronto’s 40th Film Festival in 2015 and winner of FICCI56’s Colombian Cinema Best Director award, Todo Comenzó por el Fin is a cinefile’s touching portrait of an extinct era that will speak to Ospina’s fans as much as non-Colombian cinema-lovers.

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Even when Hollywood tries to make a biting drama, there are always unconvincing elements that desperately attempt to add light to the dolefulness. Whilst Anomalisa is not a depressing, dark drama, it is one of the most honest and therefore damning presentation of human errs. We follow Michael Stone, a customer service specialist who is attending a conference away from home. Michael is a bored, socially inept individual who, by the end, is someone we can both dislike and empathise with. His character’s complexity is nothing revolutionary for film, but it is a man akin to Llewyn Davis – someone rarely seen in cinema – who is distrustful yet reasonable. His short quest to find excitement and fulfilment over the film’s run-time, is a relatable one; like most of Kaufman’s work, there is always something accessible.

Adapted from a stage play, Anomalisa has a very distinctive look and direction. For one, it is entirely played out by puppets. Secondly, it includes just three (voice) actors, two playing the co-leads, and the other playing everyone else. It reflects the artificiality of life Kaufman wants to explore, and comically highlights the universal personalities that peer pressure and social media has created. Stone – and later, Lisa – is a notable exception in the monosyllabic world, one which he is unaware of. Planting a very ordinary man in an even more uniform world is engaging thanks to its identifiable portrait. Stone has many of the same insecurities and bad habits that we all develop over life – wondering how he may overcome them, or to see how they are adding to his ennui, is the narrative’s drive. Whether he succeeds or not is a desire that grows and diminishes as Michael alters his behaviour and, sometimes, decency.

The second pivotal plot point is the titular Lisa (nicknamed Anomalisa by Michael). Once this self-effacing person comes into it, the presentation of humanity comes full frame. The only other person that looks and sounds different, with an air of grace about her, Lisa is a beautiful creature, unknowingly swimming against the tide – like Michael – and more or less happy. Once Michael meets and begins interacting with Lisa, this is also where the meticulous movement of the puppetry gets its spotlight, too. That spark of life Stone sees in Lisa not only lifts the mood, it lifts the strings of the puppets (figuratively speaking, as this is a stop-motion animation). You soon forget you are watching an animation, and get drawn into a very human drama. The romance that blossoms is quick, yet the motions are smooth – it’s a wondrous spectacle to see the otherwise clunky look transition into seamlessness.

As with other Kaufman efforts, the careful construction is maybe felt more so after watching, upon analysis. You are certainly engrossed as everything happens, although to pontificate on its meaning arguably comes later. For many, this will be a draw-back, as it continues with Kaufman’s unconventional methods. It is meant to be alienating in essence, as the faces and voices largely melt into one, and dream sequences and hallucinatory moments jerk you out of the monotony it strives to show. The subliminal qualities are what make Kaufman such a great writer and director – take the movement point, for example, and is something you only notice post-screening, or gradually through thought.

Comedy may not be as palpable as in Being John Malkovich or Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, but you will laugh heartily at many sequences. Laughing in the face of misery is often the best defence mechanism, and Kaufman certainly advocates that notion. The nervousness of our main characters is something to chuckle at occasionally, making sure you are not too depressed about the neuroses that plague many of us. It is, at its core, a love story – that always comes with ebullience as well as sadness. To walk away from the film feeling cold shouldn’t happen – what the complications and comedy aim to provide is a warmness that can only be felt by those that understand the multifaceted layers of life. Kaufman certainly understands, and his animated characters, somehow, reflect this better than most real-life actors.

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New Zealand-born composer Hanan Townshend was plucked from relative obscurity in a Texas university when an unnamed director got in touch to request his involvement in his new film. That director turned out to be the notoriously elusive Terrence Malick, and Townshend joined The Tree of Life project as an intern. He became the main composer for Malick’s next film To the Wonder and collaborated on his latest film, Knight of Cups. We spoke to him about his latest project and working with Malick.

You’ve recently finished working on Knight of Cups, how was it working with Terrence Malick this time around? Was it a different relationship?

It was and it wasn’t. I’m pretty familiar now with Terry’s process and we have our own way of working, collaborating together so a lot of it was an extension of what we’d already been doing with To the Wonder. Tree of Life was a little bit different because I was more of an intern and working in the capacity of an intern, I wasn’t the composer of course. I did write some music for it but I wasn’t the composer. But with this project I’m pretty sure that Knight of Cups was shot without a script. Obviously there was a vision for it and Terry would have the anchors, the pages of the script, but it wasn’t anything set in stone. So I feel like there was a bit more freedom in this project, in particular during the editing process, to just experiment and see the directions in which the film might take. So in many ways it was very similar and in other ways it was a little bit different. I wasn’t working in the office on To the Wonder. I was actually in an office building right next to the editing house so I was kinda creating things, sending it through every day, talking with Terry every day, or every second day. Whereas on this film I was working from my own studio and I was a little bit more separated from it, which has its advantages and disadvantages.

How did you communicate on this film?  Did he give you directives?

We were certainly speaking on the phone a lot and he would usually call every couple of days, usually during the times when the music was having a really important part to play in a certain section of the film.  I usually go into the office where they’re editing the film and we just talk about the vision of the music and Terry’s vision for the film musically speaking. Then I usually just go away to my studio and we just start experimenting with a whole handful of different ideas. Terry has a lot of ideas and there is never any lack of ideas there (laughs). He has things that he wants to experiment with, so a lot of it is creating some music and then he might call and we’ll refine it further. But obviously I’m not creating music to picture so it’s a bit of a different thing, just kind of creating, y’know. Terry talks about it being like he’s the carpenter and I’m providing him with the wood and the nails to be able to kind of build the structure. Other than me building it, I’m allowing myself to just create this music and Terry and the editors will work to fit it to the film.

What kind of language does he use when he’s talking about the music? I’ve heard he uses particular kinds of words, like ‘river’ or ‘dance’ for the type of music he wants…

He does. Pretty much. He uses a lot of metaphors when he’s talking about music. He can be very specific and at times he can be very vague. I don’t mean vague in a way that he seems like he doesn’t know (what he’s doing). He has a very clear idea of what he’s doing. Sometimes I think as a composer and a creator in general if someone tells you too much you end up doing exactly what they tell you to do. Terry is very aware of that and he’ll talk a lot in metaphors. He speaks a lot about water. Water is a really important symbol in a lot of his films and it represents the river of life, this eternal kind of thing that continues on and on.

There is other things, like he is very interested in the tritone (an interval often referred to as “the devil’s music”). He likes to use intervals, simple intervals to kind of represent something in his film. For Terry it could be something as simple as a melody that he likes which really distinguishes his films. In this film there is a Ralph Vaughn Williams piece called Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, which is based on an Episcopal hymn. So we take that theme and kind of try to find ways to create a score that isn’t just original music but is also taking some of the big themes that Terry uses in the film, creating a sense of continuity between them. So it’s not just this big piece of music. We have a reappearance of it in the film.  He can often be quite vague in what he wants but at the same time he’s not vague, he’s allowing some freedom to experiment and I really enjoy it.

Is it intimidating to be put up against these revered composers or quite flattering? He uses a lot of different types of music in his films…

Yeah it can be, but the thing working with Terry is that it’s a constant, morphing changing thing. Often I’ll go off and watch a scene from the film and it’ll be completely different. I guess I don’t really think about it as much because I’m not constantly watching it through. You know, the pre-existing licensed music, I feel quite separated from that. But there is a little bit of everything in there, I do at times feel like, y’know seeing Ralph Vaughn Williams, Debussy…there’s a lot of heavy hitters. Being part of it is kinda cool, it’s exciting.

Were there any times when you were particularly surprised how your music was used?

I don’t tend to feel shocked in the sense ‘Oh my goodness this music has been used in a certan way and it shouldn’t’. I think that’s part of it really, when I put my name down to work on the film I’m agreeing to ‘OK, I’m going to be sending this music to these guys and you guys should feel free to find the right places’. If I’m being honest there are a couple of editors in particular who work with Terry who I think are real music spotters, who can really place (the music), because it can make a massive impact you know, how the music comes into and whether it ties two scenes together, whether it changes the whole meaning or the symbolism. So yeah,  I trust them and I never feel like ‘Oh they’ve used this in the wrong way’ or anything, I’m usually pleasantly surprised.

Do you have any favourite composers working today that you admire?

Yeah, yeah definitely. I like actually a lot of UK/British composers. I really like Clint Mansell, think he’s doing some really cool stuff. I always enjoy his scores. His score for The Fountain is probably the first score that ever got me really interested, and there’s something about that score that for me, the ways in which he uses the orchestra as just part of the ensemble and then he’s got guitars and voice. I realised film scoring can be more than just an orchestra. It can be anything you want.I also really like Jonny Greenwood. Just once again, as a guitarist he can do the orchestral or conventional stuff but he can also do this hybrid classical which is really cool. Probably one other name would be Max Richter. Really, really cool take on orchestral music. I love tons of composers, but those three in particular. I don’t know, there’s something in their sound that just resonates. Maybe something in their education sets them apart.

When you’re watching other films are there any bugbears you have in listening to the soundtracks?

Using samples too much. I remember Hans Zimmer saying this and don’t quote me exactly (laughs) but he said something along the lines of ‘the composer with the best sample wins’. When I say sample I mean sample libraries, orchestral synths. I’m just amazed, time and time again, I hear these scores it’s like not good synth, it’s fake synth. There are a lot of composers out there who do a pretty good job but I kind of learned early on if you want to get work and you want to do this job for real, you’ve got to know how to work a sample library and make it as realistic as you can. Because at the end of the day, if there’s no emotion in it, just strings going NEEE-NEEE-NEEE, no one’s going to get anything out of it.  Just bringing in a single player can really help, bringing in a violin and putting it on top. It doesn’t cost you, it’s economic, but having that one element of realism can take your mind away from all of the fakeness that you’re hearing in the samples. That’s probably my biggest bugbear because there’s no excuse for it.

When you’re working with the musicians do you always go in with a plan of what you want to hear or is there room for improvisation?

Well there are times where l’ll do both you know. There are times when I’ll be recording with an orchestra and there’s a very specific amount of time that we have to get through however much music. So I’ll work with an orchestrator and it’s completely planned out and there’s not going to be curveballs thrown in or anything. You get there, you record, you get the best takes you can get and then you mix it. But there are times where I’ll go into the studio and maybe there might be an extra 30 minutes left over with the players so I’ll use that chance in real time just to experiment. It all depends on the players, some players feel more comfortable. One piece in particular, Awareness, was used in To the Wonder and the Apple iPad ad, that was an improvisation with some woodwind players and it turned into this thing. So I love doing those sessions, you just don’t know what’s going to come out of it, you know?

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In a plethora of works more or less directly related with the armed conflict, a suffocating as much as fertile leitmotiv of Colombia’s cinema, Siembra is a breath of fresh and much-needed air. Co-directed by Ángela Osorio and Santiago Lozano, it touches upon a particularly delicate aspect of the country’s internal warfare – and does it with a humane and original touch that makes it stand out as a memorable work of its kind.

Osorio and Lozano set their film in a slum in the outskirts of a Colombian big city. We do not know the city’s name, because it’s the sort of story that needs no specific place to be credible, and which Colombia knows all too well. Turco is a farmer from Colombia’s Pacific coast who has been forced to leave home because of the war, but dreams of returning, until his son’s death will force him to abandon his hopes and roam a city trying to give him a proper burial. He is one of the 6.4 million Colombians the armed conflict has forced to abandon their dwelling: all he’s ever asked for is to be buried under a bread tree, and for his family to be buried next to him when the time will come.

Siembra could have easily turned into a petty fetishization of Colombia’s internally displaced people. But it does not. El Turco’s universe is treated with a compassionate touch which pays justice to the plight of a farmer who only wishes to cultivate his land. But the land is miles and miles away, and as his neighbours warn him, “the owners of your world already took it away from you, your land is someone else’s now”. As time goes by and the drama unfolds it is the hope to have his plot back that fills the void a son’s death has left behind. The earth, in some fundamental sense, becomes a daughter whose memory can only be evoked through the traditional chants of the Colombian Pacific.

Osorio and Lozano handpicked non professional actors with years of experience as musicians. And Siembra is a profoundly musical film. It is music (and dance) which offer Turco’s son the chance to gain the respect of his peers, and it is music (and litanies) which are used to accompany his journey to the otherworld. It is not just Turco’s plight which is respected, but his culture and the cultural heritage of his homeland.

Premiered at Locarno’s 2015 Film Festival, where it won the Independent Critics Boccalino Award for best direction, Siembra won the Jury’s Special Award at Cartagena’s 56th International Film Festival. A much-deserved recognition for a film that touches upon one of Colombia’s greatest tragedies without turning it into a spectacle, but into an opportunity to reflect on the magnitude of a never-ending war.

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There’s a scene in Panahi’s 2015 Golden Bear winner Taxi when the director meets a young fan looking for stories to film. The youngster asks Panahi which movies he should watch and which books he should read, and Panahi replies that no books that have already been written or movies already directed could ever provide the inspiration the boy is after. “One should look elsewhere”.

And elsewhere, or to be more precise, inside a taxi, is where Panahi stages his latest work. Officially banned by his country’s regime from making films and traveling for at least the next decade after being convicted on propaganda charges in 2010, Panahi must yet again resort to unconventional techniques to direct his thirteenth film. After This is Not a Movie, shot entirely with a home video camera and an iPhone, Panahi acts as a taxi driver and fills his cab with cameras to record his conversations with Tehran’s inhabitants who jump in and out of the car after sharing their thoughts on the country’s state, cinema and life itself.

We do not know whether the passengers are professional actors or whether all scenes are entirely improvised (though the latter is hardly the case). Early in the film a movie-smuggler (arguably one of Taxi’s most interesting characters) asks whether everyone else is just an actor, and reproaches Panahi for not warning him it was all fiction. Panahi, however, says nothing.

This unresolved question and constant jumping in between fiction and reality is, however, a hit-and-miss. There are moments in which it is hard not to see Taxi as a self-referential, self-aggrandizing effort: Panahi magnanimously rejects the money he is offered by his passengers and smiles happily when some of them recognise his face as that of the great movie director.

Where the dynamic does work is when Taxi gives in to his profound cinefile essence and turns into a means to deconstruct Iran’s present. At some fundamental level, Taxi is a love declaration to cinema itself. It is hard for a cinefile not to smile when the movie-smuggler invites a client inside Panahi’s cab and deals with art-house cinema as if it were class A drugs, with Pahani nodding at the names of Kurosawa, Kim Ki-duk and Woody Allen. But there are moments when cinema turns into an explicitly political instrument and the smile turns into a much more chilling sensation, as when Panahi and his passengers clash against the regime’s oppression and its coercive apparatus.

Are these moments improvised too? Panahi does not say, but the doubt here is probably even more powerful than a clear-cut answer. By the end, as the real seemingly merges with fiction and the drama reaches its climax, Taxi turns into a vehement, albeit somehow self-congratulatory, cry against a regime’s totalitarianism.

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Four years after his last work, Habemus Papam, Nanni Moretti returns to some of the themes he’d dealt with in his 2001 Palm D’Or winner, The Son’s Room. Only this time at the heart of the drama no longer lies the abrupt loss of a child, but the much slower and equally dramatic passing away of a mother.

Margherita (Margherita Buy) is a director shooting a film on Italy’s unemployment. She must come to terms with an eccentric foreign star (John Turturro), a divorce, an actor-turned-lover (Enrico Ianniello), a teenage daughter (Beatrice Mancini) and an elderly bedridden mother diagnosed with a terminal illness (Giulia Lazzarini).

The meta-filmic component is nothing new to Moretti’s films. A few works ago in Aprile (1998) he had brought to life the story of a director trying to shoot a film on the decay of Italy’s left, whilst grappling with the worries and dilemmas of his forthcoming parenthood. This time, however, film-making is no longer interwoven with the act of giving birth, but with a mother’s forthcoming passing away. Buy is not ready to accept her mother’s illness any more than she seems prepared to fully commit and engage with the movie she is meant to direct. In some fundamental sense, she cannot respond to art the same way she cannot respond to death.

Unlike most of Moretti’s oeuvre, in Mia Madre the 62-year-old Italian director plays a somewhat marginal stage role. Buy wears the outfit Moretti had worn in Aprile, a director struggling to make sense of a film he himself did not fully believe in, and at times seems to mimic Moretti’s own acting repertoire. And it is chiefly around the relationship between Buy and Lazzarini which the movie gravitates, with Moretti, Turturro and the promising Mancini acting as corollaries of the two women’s drama.

If Moretti takes up a minor stage role, however, his touch behind the camera and the script is what makes Mia Madre stand out as a remarkable work. It would have been all too easy to turn the story of a dying woman into a melodramatic and voyeuristic description of her last days, but Moretti does none of that. We know more about Lazzarini’s deteriorating health through her doctor’s reports than through the scenes where Buy and Moretti visit her, for what stands out in these encounters is not so much the old woman’s illness, but the fragility and incapacity of her daughter and son to come to grips with her passing away. We know she will die, eventually, but the camera never voyeuristically indulges in her forthcoming death with the sole purpose of documenting it, and treats it with a profound sense of delicacy and respect.

It is this polite and humane gaze which allows Moretti to establish a great empathy between the viewer and the story, and turns Mia Madre into a film whose energy lingers above the audience longer after the ending credits.

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“This film is about my late mother, about that woman who came to Belgium in 1938, fleeing the pogroms and violence of Poland. This woman who has only ever seen the inside of her apartment in Brussels. It’s a film about a changing world my mother doesn’t see”. There are some movies whose poetry and complexity can only be fully appreciated if one knows the history behind them. No Home Movie is one of them.

Chantal Akerman’s mother Natalia had a huge influence on the director’s life and work. She encouraged her daughter not to marry young and supported her passion for film-making ever since a 15-year-old Akerman fell in love with Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou and decided to devote her life to cinema.

No Home Movie is the portrait of this relationship, of the love between a mother and her daughter, which Akerman paints with a compassionate and delicate gaze. The 115 minutes show the life of her elderly mother in her Brussels apartment. It’s a minimalist painting, a still life where the flat turns into a character in its own right. Akerman documents her mother’s gestures and sees herself through her eyes. Very little is said: the conversations flow unscripted as Natalia recalls her daughter’s youth and Chantal asks about her mother’s time during World War II, her escape from Poland and search for a new home.

The camera stands still for most of the film, as if camouflaged in between the furniture, to catch glimpses of the women’s lives and their conversations. There are moments in which chats and actions take place outside the frame, and one feels somewhat constrained, as Akerman turns the viewer and the camera into a single thing and the spectator becomes a silent observer of the drama’s unfolding.

Natalia Akerman’s agoraphobia and her post-Auschwitz anxiety are themes that run through much of Akerman’s oeuvre. At times we hear the director asking her mother to leave the house and go out for a walk. But Natalia almost never does.

Yet the movie opens with the camera looking out towards an arid area, with some trees bending down for the ferocious wind that shakes them. It is not an isolated case. Akerman scatters these outside shots throughout the film: a man sitting on a bench with his back towards the camera, the sight of a desert passing through the window, water splashing against the director’s feet. If Natalia won’t leave her house then it is up to her daughter to show her the beauty and the ordinary life of the outside world. The vast immensity of a desert and the brutal cries of the wind are juxtaposed to the still, almost soundless life of the apartment.

Chantal Akerman committed suicide on October 5 2015, a year and a half after her mother passed away at 86. As Natalia’s health deteriorates the film slowly turns into a daughter’s desperate call for her mother not to leave her, and for her history to survive. No Home Movie is a daughter’s love declaration to her mother, to her memory, and to the invaluable help cinema can offer to the preservation of one’s history and past.

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After winning a special mention at Locarno’s 2014 Film Festival with Ventos de Agosto, Brazilian director Gabriel Mascaro arrives at Cartagena’s 56th Film Festival with Boi Neon (Neon Bull), a little cinematic gem whose 101 minutes have been, thus far, the most applauded of this year’s official competition.

A group of cowboys drives across the rugged North-East of Brazil carrying a pack of bulls to the Vaquejadas, the traditional rodeos where two cowboys on horseback must pit the bull between the horses before pulling its tail and knocking it down. The nomadic troupe travels from one rodeo to another, featuring amongst its members preadolescent Cacá (a girl who knows just as many swearwords as her older colleagues), her young mother Galega (wife to a husband who’s been gone for years), Zé (an overweight cowboy with an addiction for porn), and finally Iremar, the drama’s protagonist, a buffed and tough-looking cowboy with an unusual passion for fashion design.

Mascaro paints his rural Brazil as a wasteland filled with abandoned industrial buildings and open-air landfills, populated with characters who dream to be someone they are not, and will probably never be. Cacá dreams of owning a horse (but must get her hands dirty with bull manure on a daily basis), Galega wants to become a dancer (but can only perform some explicit burlesque before dozens of jubilant cowboys), and Iremar spends his free time collecting broken mannequins and designing his clothes on top of Zed’s porn pictures.

Given the premises, it is easy to see how Boi Neon could have easily turned into a melodramatic portrait of rural Brazil, ridden with pity and sorrow. But it does not, because notwithstanding his young directing career, Mascaro’s skills behind the camera and as a storyteller are extraordinary.

Iremar’s tale is bound to elicit a certain sense of sadness, but Mascaro chooses to deconstruct it in a way that is, at once, mellow and ironic. He does not ask us to we feel sorry for Iremar’s condition, for Iremar is not trapped within a body he does not accept, nor does he feel particularly uncomfortable performing a role society has assigned him. There’s a memorable scene in which Iremar snatches one of Zé’s porn magazines and begins to draw over a lady’s naked body. The camera shows Iremar sketching what appears to be some sober underwear on top of the woman’s genitalia, and the viewer is led to believe he’s trying to prudishly cover them. But a few seconds later, when the lens is back on the page, Iremar’s drawing has turned into an overly promiscuous outfit that leaves very little room for imagination. Iremar’s two sides, as well as those of the other crew members, simply coexist. And this is probably the film’s ultimate message and what makes it stand out as a remarkable work: to accept one’s diversity is to ultimately appreciate the syncretism that is inherent in human nature.

There are plenty of films about people trapped within hostile surroundings from which they try (and fail) to escape; there are plenty which add to these constraints a gender dimension, but only a few which manage to do the above with the mixture of irony and tenderness with which Mascaro paints his Boi Neon. His name is a beautiful and much-welcomed discovery for Latin America and world cinema at large.

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The jubilant “¡que viva Chile!” producer Patricio Escala shouted as he and director Gabriele Osorio received the Oscar for best animated short film was probably one of this year’s ceremony’s most memorable moments. The two had more than one reason to celebrate: Historia de un Oso (Bear Story) was Chile’s first ever Oscar. Yet Escala and Osorio’s was not the only Latin American country to leave a trace on last Sunday’s ceremony. Colombia made her first appearance before the Academy with Ciro Guerra’s El Abrazo de la Serpiente as best foreign language film nominee, and Mexico won big with the duo Iñárritu-Lubezki, the first now celebrating his second consecutive best director award, the latter his third as best cinematographer.

In some important ways the Oscars seem to have consolidated the spot Latin America cinema has gained over the past few years. The region’s cinema is blossoming, and the world is enjoying and rewarding its growth. A look at the most recent Academy’s decisions is telling: if Emmanuel Lubezki has become one of the Academy’s most successful habitués (and now holds a record as the only cinematographer to have won three times in a row), Mexico has also fathered the best directors of the past three editions: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, 2014) and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, 2015 and The Revenant, 2016). But Latin America’s successes extend outside the United States too. In 2015 alone the region left an indelible mark across Europe’s most prestigious festivals. Venezuela’s Lorenzo Vigas’s Desde Allá won the Golden Lion at Venice’s 72nd International Film Festival, where Argentinian Pablo Trapero received the Silver Lion for best director for El Clan. At Cannes’s 68th Film Festival, Colombia’s César Acevedo’s was awarded the Caméra d’Or for his La Tierra y la Sombra, and Mexico’s Michel Franco’s Chronic won best screenplay.

While Latin America exports its gems abroad, Colombia is home to a festival which has historically helped developing the region’s cinematic potential. Held yearly in the Caribbean walled-city of Cartagena de Indias, the International Film Festival of Cartagena (FICCI) is Latin America’s oldest. Founded in 1960, it seeks to promote Ibero-American cinema, hosting the works of directors from Latin America, Portugal and Spain for a five-day movie feast set in Colombia’s coast. An entirely public event (entrance to all movies is free of charge), this year it will be home to some 120,000 viewers and will be screening 154 films, all of them more or less directly touching upon the region’s relationship with its often violent past.

For cinema, in the words of FICCI’s Artistic Director Diana Bustamante, turns into a mechanism that can help deconstruct a people’s history and heal collective traumas. Arguably never in the history of Latin America, and of Colombia in particular (close as it now is to sign a peace treaty and put an end to over 50 years of internal conflict with the leftist FARC guerrilla) has this calling been so urgent. The ten Ibero-American movies that will be screened in this year’s official competition look closely into the region’s past and the suffering caused by the multiple conflicts which have plagued it. From the armed conflict which Colombian Felipe Guerrero talks about in Oscuro Animal to the conflicts of gender and performativity which Gabriel Mascaro and Julio Hernández Cordón deal with in Boi Neon and Te Prometo Anarquía respectively, FICCI 56 aims to show the extent to which cinema can turn a history of violence into an opportunity to reimagine and shape an altogether different future.

From the 2nd until the 7th of March Cartagena’s Film Festival will offer a snapshot of the most recent transformations of Ibero-American cinema. FICCI, for the European as well as Latin American public, will be a unique opportunity to make sense of the renaissance which has brought the region back at the center of world cinema.

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