Sunday, May 23, 2010


The 2010 Cannes Film Festival awards were presented on Sunday by an international jury that included Puerto Rican actor Benicio Del Toro and was led by director Tim Burton. Javier Bardem took home the Best Actor award (a tie with "La Nostre Vita's" Elio Germano) for his gritty performance as a dying father Alejandro Gonález Iñárritu's "Biutiful." It was one of two awards presented to Latin American productions. The other was the Camera D'Or (Best First Film), which was awarded to "Año Bisiesto" ("Leap Year"), Mexican filmmaker Michael Rowe's sexually explicit chamber piece.

Latin America also fared very well in the awards for the Un Certain Regard sidebar, which were handed out on Saturday. The Jury Prize (Runner-Up) went to Daniel and Diego Vega, the young Peruvian directors of "Octubre" ("October"). According to the Associated Press, the film "garnered enthusiastic applause" at its premiere at Cannes. It is "the story of Clemente, a middle-aged loan shark and confirmed bachelor who suddenly finds himself saddled with an infant — apparently his — left on his doorstep by a prostitute he had frequented." (AP)

A special prize was also handed out to the three actresses - Adela Sánchez, Eva Bianco, and Victoria Rapos - at the center of the much-admired, Argentine film "Los Labios" ("The Lips") by Ivan Fund and Santiago Loza.

Here is the complete list of winners in all the categories:

—Palme d'Or (Golden Palm): "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand)

—Grand Prize: "Of Gods and Men" by Xavier Beauvois (France)

—Jury Prize: "A Screaming Man" by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (Chad)

—Best Director: Mathieu Amalric for "On Tour" (France)

—Best Actor: Javier Bardem, "Biutiful" (Mexico) and Elio Germano, "La Nostra Vita" (Italy)

—Best Actress: Juliette Binoche, "Certified Copy" (Iran)

—Best Screenplay: Lee Chang-Dong, "Poetry" (Korea)

—Camera d'Or (first-time director): "Ano Bisiesto" by Michael Rowe (Mexico)

—Best short film: "Chienne d'Histoire," by Serge Avedikian (France)

Prize of Un Certain Regard: Ha Ha Ha, directed by Hong Sangsoo
Jury Prize: Octubre, directed by Daniel Vega & Diego Vega
Special Prize: The three actresses—Adela Sanzhez, Eva Bianco, and Victoria Rapos—from Ivan Fund & Santiago Loza’s Los Labios (The Lips)

Art Cinema Award: Pieds nus sur les limaces, directed by Fabienne Berthaud (France)
Prix SACD/SACD Prize: Illégal, directed Olivier Masset-Depasse (Belgium – Luxembourg – France).
Label Europa Cinemas: Le Quattro Volte, directed by Michelangelo Frammartino (Italy)
PRIX SFR: “Cautare”, directed Ionut Piturescu (Romania) and “Mary Last Seen,” directed by Sean Durkin (USA)
Palm Dog Award: Vuk, the goatherd’s dog in Le Quattro Volte, directed by by Michelangelo Frammartino

Grand Prix Semaine de la Critique: Armadillo, directed by Janus Metz
SACD Prize: Bi, dung so! (Bi, Don’t Be Afraid!), directed by Phan Dang Di
ACID/CCAS Support: Bi, dung so!, directed by Phan Dang Di
OFAJ (Very) Young Critic Award: Sound of Noise, directed by Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjaerne Nilsson
Canal+ Award for Best Short Film: “Berik,” directed by Daniel Joseph Borgman
Kodak Discovery Award for Best Short Film: “Deeper Than Yesterday,” directed by Ariel Kleiman

Cannes Competition: Tournée” (On Tour) directed by Mathieu Amalric
Un Certain Regard: Pal Adrienn, directed by Agnes Kocsis
Director’s Fortnight/Critics’ Week: Todos vos sodes capitans, directed by Olivier Laxe

Kaboom, directed by Gregg Araki

Thursday, May 20, 2010


The 2010 edition of the Cannes Film Festival is past the midway mark, so it's time to evaluate how the Latin American contingent has fared so far. Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Biutiful," the only Latin American film in the main competition, has already screened and received a mixed critical reception. Eric Kohn, Indiewire's newly-appointed chief critic, called it a "misguided melodrama", explaining that the director doesn't know the difference between "understanding the tools of melodrama and successfully putting them together." Read his review here. Hollywood blogger Anne Thompson printed this positive critique, saying that she "dived right into this chaotic milieu, caring for the guy" - referring to Javier Bardem's lowlife character. She reported that foreign critics were generally more positive about the film than their American counterparts, and that the film may have a hard time finding an audience stateside (it still doesn't have a U.S. distributor). The Hollywood Reporter, however, gushed about the film, calling it a "a gorgeous, melancholy tone poem about love, fatherhood and guilt." You can read the review here. The one constant in all the reviews I read was that Bardem gives a stellar performance. Could he be headed to the Kodak theater in Hollywood again next year?

French filmmaker Oliver Assayas came to the Croisette with "Carlos," his 322-minute opus about "Carlos the Jackal." Edgar Ramírez ("Che") plays the starring role. The film has received unanimous praise from critics, especially former Variety critic (now working for Indiewire) Todd McCarthy. He calls it "an astonishing film" and compares Ramírez to "Brando in his prime." Read his entire review here. Another overwhelmingly positive review came courtesy of Variety's Justin Chang who called it (click here for his review) "a spectacular achievement." I know I'm stretching it here since Assayas is not a Latin American filmmaker but the subject matter warrants a write-up, me thinks.

Another notable film is "Los labios" ("The Lips"), Santiago Loza and Ivan Fund's documentary-like drama about three women on a government-sponsored poverty mission to the outbacks of Argentina. The film screened in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. The Hollywood Reporter writes that the filmmakers "show enormous respect for these selfless idealists and for the people unto whom they minister." But they warn, "It's an exceedingly small film that will find little space outside festivals." Click here for the complete review.

Brazil seems to have a hit in their hands with "5 x Favela: Now By Ourselves," a collection of 5 short films set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The project was the brainchild of Carlos Diegues and Renata De Almeida Magalhaes, who gathered over 80 young filmmakers and gave them the opportunity to tell stories about the places they know so well. Serving as teachers and advisers were big-name filmmakers Fernando Meirelles and Walter Selles. The Hollywood Reporter says it "renews faith in the kind of moviemaking that lives and breathes, and reflects the human spirit in all its colors." The film will be distributed next August by Sony and was screened out of competition at Cannes. For some interesting background on the project (it is actually a new incarnation of a groundbreaking 1962 collection of shorts by the same name), check out this article in the Wall Street Times.

"Carancho," Pablo Trapero's follow-up to the mesmerizing "Leonera" ("The Lion's Den") is being called "tough-as-nails." The film follows the exploits of an unscrupulous lawyer (Ricardo Darín) who takes advantage of Argentina's corrupt (at least in the eyes of Trapero) health-care system. Twitch calls it "the film of the festival," and adds "Trapero serves notice here that he is one of the very best film makers in the world today. Period." Read Twitch's review here. Screendaily considers it "an expertly crafted thriller steeped in the social injustices of Buenos Aires, it combines crisp storytelling with appealingly flawed characters and moments of startling violence." Read the complete review here. Every review I read seems to highlight the film's visceral violence. I'm really looking forward to seeing this one, despite my previous criticisms of Darin in this blog.

Finally, a couple of curios:

"Leap Year" is a Mexican film by Australian transplant Michael Rowe. A chamber piece featuring three people stuck in a room for the entire film, it reportedly drove out audiences from screenings due to the explicit nature of the sex scenes. Hollywoord Reporter believes that "In the U.S. it would have to undergo major cuts to escape an X rating." Full review here.

"La casa muda" ("The Silent House") is Gustavo Hernández's haunted house horror pic. This Uruguayan film is actually made up of a SINGLE 78-minute take. The HR loved it, calling it a "meticulously crafted first feature." Read the review here.

"Nostalgia for the Light," is Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán's surreal documentary which juxtaposes the tragedy of those who perished under Pinochet's rule with ASTRONOMY! Variety calls it "often breathtaking" (click here for the full review), while the Hollywood Reporter claims the unusual concept "produces electrifying and unexpected results." (click here for the review).

As I come across more reviews I'll continue to add them to this post. And I'll be sure to report back when the awards are announced.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"ENTRE NOS:" A Real-Life Family Drama

In Hollywood, multi-hyphenate filmmakers like writer-director-producer-editor James Cameron are sometimes characterized as narcissists, their numerous credits seen as an insatiable need for control. In the indie film world, however, when filmmakers take on multiple roles it’s often due to sheer necessity.

Such was the case for Colombian actress Paola Mendoza, whose touching and nuanced new feature film "Entre Nos" was a hit at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. When she first conceived of the project, Mendoza simply set out to write a screenplay (along with co-screenwriter Gloria LaMorte) that would do justice to the real-life story of her immigrant mother who became homeless with two children when she first arrived in the U.S. The process took two years.

"We were just focused on writing a good script," Mendoza said in an interview during a recent screening of her film at the San Diego Film Festival. "And once that was done we went on to the next job."

The next job was finding a director, but when that effort proved fruitless they decided to direct the film themselves. Prior to going into production, Mendoza asked her mother, Liliana Legge, for the official rights to her life story. According to Mendoza, her mother said: "I give you permission to tell my story but only if you play me." Mendoza agreed, adding yet another credit to her growing list.

But that's not all. As is often the case in independent projects, her responsibilities also extended to tasks that went uncredited. During shooting, the now writer-director-actress also served as den mother to the two young actors who played her children (Laura Montana Cortéz, 6, and Sebastián Villada López, 10). "We shot the film in 18 days with two kids who are in 90 percent of the film and could only be on set 8 and 9 hours respectively. Every day was an impossible task, literally," Mendoza admitted.

The true nature of the story made the process even more challenging for Mendoza. She felt enormous pressure to represent her mother's experiences in a truthful way, both in her roles as actress and filmmaker. "I couldn't even eat. I was just angry, worried, and stressed," she recalled.

The process, overwhelming as it was, eventually paid off. "Gloria and I were very lucky. When we got to the shooting we shot a better film than we wrote, and when we got to the editing we edited a better movie than we shot. And that's the ideal trajectory."

"Entre Nos" makes public some very personal details about Legge's life. It recounts the time when the family had to sleep in park benches and resorted to collecting used cans on the street for money, as well as the moment when Legge's character was forced to make an extremely tough decision (I'll just leave it at that). Like it or not, the film brought back some painful memories for the real-life family members.

"I remember myself being a lot like [my character in the film] - a quiet strength. I have an overwhelming sense of obligation because of what my mom went through. I always felt that I had to help her, that I was the man of the house," said Rick Mendoza, who now has three children and is a Director of Admissions for a private university. He also made the trip to San Diego, along with his mother.

"It's true that I relied a lot on him. I couldn't make it through without him. He was my strength," confessed Legge, who now lives happily in California on a 5-acre ranch and works as a bookkeeper.

Ultimately, the film focuses on the way the family stuck together despite dire circumstances. Legge's character, for example, turns everything into a game for the kids in order to soften the brunt of reality. Rick Mendoza's character, meanwhile, catches on early and tries not to burden his mother with his fears. The theme that emerges is one of sacrifice and unity, and this gave the real-life family an opportunity to discuss issues long ignored and to grow even closer.

"I remember [my sister] sent me the first rough draft of the script as a Christmas gift. I started reading it thinking I would read for about 20 minutes and go to bed but I stayed up 'til 3 o'clock in the morning. I read the entire thing. Bawled my eyes out. And I think ever since then we've been a lot closer," said Rick Mendoza.

"Their sacrifices were huge for me and that's what has been so beautiful - making this movie, sharing it with the world, and then us having this beautiful relationship. My mother has been able to travel to a couple of film festivals with us. She's gotten so much love. My brother has been able to share in this movie, his kids will eventually see it and it's just a gift for the family that's been very special for us," added Paola Mendoza.

Mendoza is quickly becoming a mainstay in the Latin American independent film scene. In 2007, she starred in the Sundance Grand Prize winner "Padre Nuestro" and also co-directed (with Gabriel Noble) "Autumn Eyes," a feature documentary, which premiered at South by Southwest in 2006. She considers it part of her mission as an artist to contribute to Latin American cinema.

"Latin cinema not only in the U.S. but all across the world is on a huge rise and it's very inspiring to be Latino and be making movies at this time. In particular, Colombia is having a huge explosion that's pushing the boundaries and it's very exciting. We knew we were making this film in Spanish from the very beginning because that's what was true to us, true to our story. And I will continue to tell stories of Latinos, and my hope is not to just make them for the Latino audience but to make them universal and cross over," Mendoza said.

"Entre Nos" opens at the Quad Cinema in NY on May 14th and will be shown on HBO Latino in the fall.

ENTRE NOS INTERVIEW from Mario Diaz on Vimeo.