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Chicago Latino Film Festival

The 15th annual Chicago Latino Film Festival, presented by Chicago Latino Cinema and Columbia College, runs Friday, April 9, through Wednesday, April 21. Film and video screenings will be at Water Tower, 845 N. Michigan; Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton; Art Institute Rubloff Auditorium, Columbus Drive at Monroe; Field Museum of Natural History, Roosevelt at Lake Shore Drive; Latino Experimental Theatre, 1822 S. Paulina; Northeastern University, 5500 N. Saint Louis; and the University of Illinois at Chicago, 803 S. Morgan. Tickets for most programs are $8; for students, senior citizens, and disabled persons, $7; and for Chicago Latino Cinema members, $6. Festival passes, good for ten screenings not including special events, are $60; for Chicago Latino Cinema members, $50. For more information call 312-431-1330. Commentary by Jonathan Rosenbaum (JR), Fred Camper (FC), Ted Shen (TS), Dave Kehr (DK), Don Druker (DD), Lawrence Bommer (LB), Jack Helbig (JH), and Adam Langer (AL).

FRIDAY, APRIL 9

Short films one

Short 35-millimeter films from Spain, Brazil, and the U.S. (Water Tower, 6:30)

Cria cuervos

An ambitious but unstructured psychological thriller (although that's too strong a word for this deliberately discreet film) from Spain's Carlos Saura. Geraldine Chaplin and Ana Torrent (the little girl from Spirit of the Beehive) act out a morbid roundelay of memory and desire, involving a schoolgirl who may or may not have murdered her parents. There is an obvious intelligence at work here, but the ideas remain elusive (1975). Also known as Cria! (DK) (Water Tower, 7:00)

Under a Spell

The 13-year-old son of a longshoreman has an affair with his schoolteacher, who's rumored to cast spells; a decade later, after she's been forced out of town, she renews her passion for the boy, now grown and married. Carlos Carrera directed this 1998 Mexican feature. (Facets Multimedia Center, 7:00)

Do–a Barbara

The title character of this handsome 1998 pampas western from Argentina is a sorceress and ranch owner used to getting what she wants--until she falls for virtuous lawyer Santos (Jorge Perugorria), who returns to his family's estate to reclaim the land she's stolen. One murder leads to another--interrupted by a couple of impressive cattle stampedes--as this demented, cut-rate Shakespearean tragedy plays out. And if all the greed, jealousy, and thwarted desire sounds like a Harlequin romance, it may be because director Betty Kaplan's adaptation of the novel by Venezuelan Romulo Gallegos honors the conventions of the genre right down to the last ripped bodice: Kaplan clothes Barbara (the sultry Esther Goris) and her daughter in sexy getups and has them cavort like vixens in heat. Too bad she isn't King Vidor, who demonstrated with Duel in the Sun how to lift tawdry stories like this one into the realm of operatic delirium. (TS) Tickets are $20. (Art Institute Rubloff Auditorium, 8:00)

The Lighthouse

Eduardo Mignona puts two sisters through Job's trials--a grisly car crash that kills their parents and brother and leaves one of the sisters lame, a miscarriage, failed romantic relationships, an abortion, the death of a close friend, a debilitating illness--yet this 1998 coming-of-age road picture from Argentina is surprisingly understated. Mignona prefers not to linger on the horrifying or grim incidents, almost always cutting away from moments of potentially overwhelming bathos to show their cumulative effect. He often leaves how characters die, why they leave, and why they return sketchy, as if to say that tragic circumstances are inevitable and what matters is how people survive them--an approach that allows the sisters to be engaging and highly sympathetic. But the characters who slide in and out of their lives, particularly the men, are often hazily defined, and the routine elimination of climactic moments occasionally leads to a sense of stagnation. Though somewhat mechanically structured, this movie still manages to be affecting and memorable. (AL) (Water Tower, 8:30)

Black God, White Devil

Widely regarded as the first major film by Glauber Rocha, one of the key figures of the cinema nuovo, this exciting 1964 Brazilian feature draws on myth and folklore in exploring the sertao in 1940. Both this and the other Rocha film showing at the festival, Land in Anguish, are strongly recommended. (JR) (Facets Multimedia Center, 9:00)

Divine

Part allegory, part cautionary tale, this rich, extremely dark 1998 satire chronicles, in nine enigmatic parables, the changes sweeping a millennial cult in a remote corner of Mexico after the decline and death of its charismatic leader, Mama Dorita. At first the group falls under the sway of Dorita's life partner, an eccentric old man who looks to Hollywood biblical epics for guidance, but his influence wanes as an opportunistic, streetwise urchin takes control. Along the way director Arturo Ripstein provides glimpses into the daily life of this utopian society gone awry, where women dress and act like Mary Magdalene and men appear as either Roman soldiers or robed Israelites. But most remarkable is his grace in balancing a fascinating story packed with interesting characters against much deeper questions: who we believe, what we believe, and why. (JH) The Spanish title is El evangelio de las maravillas. (Water Tower, 9:00)

The Patriot

Policarpo Quaresma, the unlikely hero of this 1998 Brazilian film, is an ardent, eccentric turn-of-the-century nationalist who rails against the country's bureaucrats and upper crust, experiments with plant-ing crops in the jungle, and fights for his republican beliefs to the bitter end. He embodies the quixotic, frontier spirit enduring in a cynical, changing world--sort of a Brazilian Colonel Blimp--and his exploits are meant to expose not only the hypocrisy and corruption of the postcolonial elite but also of contemporary Brazil. Yet director Paulo Thiago, adapting a popular novel, treats his satirical targets with kid gloves; he settles for a lighthearted, straightforward chronicle without a trace of irony. The acting is broad, though the ballads that propel the narrative are sung with feeling. (TS) (Water Tower, 9:00)

The Rats

In 1956 a small farming village follows the edicts of a boy who lives in a cave with his father, predicts the weather, and knows when to sacrifice animals to benefit crops. Antonio Gimenez-Rico directed this 1997 Spanish feature. (Water Tower, 9:30)

SATURDAY, APRIL 10

Short films two

Short 16-millimeter films from Mexico, Panama, and the U.S. (Facets Multimedia Center, 4:00)

Short films one

See listing for Friday, April 9. (Water Tower, 5:00)

Ay, Carmela!

Carmen Maura (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) and Andres Pajares star as the headlining couple in the Elegant Variety Show, a vaudeville troupe entertaining Spanish Republican soldiers in 1938, shortly before their defeat by the fascists in the Spanish civil war. Traveling with a young deaf-mute assistant (Gabino Diego), they're arrested in a town recently occupied by the fascists and are eventually compelled to perform a morale-boosting show for the fascist troops--as well as for Polish prisoners who are about to be shot--that an Italian lieutenant (Maurizio di Razza) will direct. Carlos Saura, directing an adaptation of Jose Sanchis Sinisterra's play Carmela by novelist and veteran screenwriter Rafael Azcona, was the most prominent filmmaker based in Spain during the latter part of Franco's reign, so the multiple tensions and conflicts expressed in this finely tuned 1990 drama are deeply felt as well as cogently expressed. Maura is quite wonderful as the title heroine, and the period flavor is handled with a great deal of potency; the title tune, a popular song in the Republican zone during the Spanish Civil War, is especially stirring. (JR) (Water Tower, 5:00)

The Man Who Imagined

Set in post-Pinochet Chile, Claudio Sapiain's wry 1998 comedy follows the host of a reality-based TV show as he wanders around Santiago searching for compelling stories for his series. The irony is that Sapiain's hero doesn't have a particularly strong grasp of reality--his imagination is constantly running away with him, and he never really knows from one moment to the next if contemporary Chile is as surreal as he thinks it is. Nor do we, since the story is told entirely from his point of view--which is Sapiain's point. Unfortunately the ideas behind this film--about the interplay between the media and authoritarian rule and about the influence of TV on the perception of reality--are much more compelling than the long, digressive, sometimes aimless story Sapiain weaves and the characters he introduces along the way. (JH) (Water Tower, 6:30)

Americanos: Latino Life in the United States

A feature-length documentary from the U.S. by Andy Young and Susan Todd. (Water Tower, 7:00)

Paulina

Vicky Funari's 1997 film mixes interviews with dramatic reenactments to tell the story of Paulina Cruz Suarez, a Mexican woman who as a child was traded by her parents to a town "boss" in exchange for land rights. (Facets Multimedia Center, 7:00)

Short videos two

Videos from Spain, Costa Rica, Colombia, and the U.S. (Latino Experimental Theatre, 7:00)

The Rose Seller

Victor Gaviria's 1998 Colombian drama uses cinema verite techniques to profile a teenage girl living on the street in Medellin. Tickets are $10. (Water Tower, 7:15)

Luminarias

Strongly reminiscent of Waiting to Exhale, Jose Luis Valenzuela's 1998 film follows four lively, likable Latinas in their late 30s as they struggle to cope with men, marriage, and identity in contemporary LA. Valenzuela raises interesting questions about ethnic identity in America, such as when is a return to one's roots empowering and when is it just another flight from intimacy? But he also allows the melodrama to overwhelm the storytelling, so that even moments that should have been compelling--as when one character finds herself falling in love, against her will, with a white lawyer who represents everything she's rebelled against--feel bogus. It certainly doesn't help that this U.S. film has the look and feel of a slick TV series or that many of the performances are flat, phony, and lacking in nuance. (JH) (Water Tower, 7:15)

The River of Gold

This 1998 melodrama by Paulo Rocha, one of the most celebrated of contemporary Portuguese filmmakers, concerns a woman who's consumed by jealousy after her husband saves her niece from drowning. (Facets Multimedia Center, 9:00)

The Patriot

See listing for Friday, April 9. (Water Tower, 9:30)

The Coup at Daybreak

The city of Caracas is turned upside down when a coup threatens the democratic government. Carlos Azpurua directed this 1998 Venezuelan feature. (Water Tower, 9:45)

The Lucky Star

A love triangle is the focus of this 1997 film, the last completed feature of Spanish director Ricardo Franco. (Water Tower, 10:00)

Under a Spell

See listing for Friday, April 9. (Water Tower, 10:00)

SUNDAY, APRIL 11

Short films two

See listing for Saturday, April 10. (Facets Multimedia Center, 4:00)

Ay, Carmela!

See listing for Saturday, April 10. (Water Tower, 4:30)

Don't Tell Anyone

Francisco J. Lombardi directed this 1998 Peruvian feature about a young man in search of his sexual identity. Based on a novel by Jaime Bayly. (Water Tower, 4:30)

Black God, White Devil

See listing for Friday, April 9. (Water Tower, 5:00)

Short videos two

See listing for Saturday, April 10. (Facets Multimedia Center, 6:00)

The Coup at Daybreak

See listing for Saturday, April 10. (Water Tower, 6:30)

The Rats

See listing for Friday, April 9. (Water Tower, 6:30)

The Right Side of the Wrong Life

A failed lawyer becomes reclusive and suicidal until a TV star and a lottery drawing change his view of life. Octavio Bezerra directed this 1996 Brazilian comedy. (Water Tower, 6:30)

Secret of the Andes

An American archaeologist encounters personal and professional crises while searching for the missing half of a pre-Colombian relic. A 1998 Argentinian feature directed by Alejandro Azzano. (Facets Multimedia Center, 6:30)

Luminarias

See listing for Saturday, April 10. (Water Tower, 7:15)

Short videos six

Three short videos from Cuba. (Facets Multimedia Center, 7:30)

The Hunt

Carlos Saura, whose Garden of Delights and Cousin Angelica established him as one of Spain's most caustic and imaginative directors, fashioned this 1966 allegory about Spanish bourgeois society. (DD) (Facets Multimedia Center, 8:30)

The Lighthouse

See listing for Friday, April 9. (Water Tower, 8:45)

Caresses

For this 1997 portrait of urban life in Barcelona, Ventura Pons has borrowed the structure of Arthur Schnitzler's dark Viennese comedy La Ronde: character A speaks with character B, who speaks to character C, and so on, until what goes around comes around and everyone in the play is linked. But Pons's Spanish film contains none of Schnitzler's wit or insight. Instead he presents a relentlessly bleak landscape of empty lives, thwarted desires, and acts of gratuitous cruelty--a world where deranged homeless men are only slightly worse off than the well-fed, nicely clothed denizens of Barcelona's finer apartments. Each scene has the same flat, depressive feel, every tiresome conversation is delivered in the same monotone, and every story has the same Beckettian theme: life is meaningless and hard, but we must go on. Only in small doses could such uncompromising pessimism be bracing. (JH) (Water Tower, 9:00)

Divine

See listing for Friday, April 9. (Water Tower, 9:00)

Big K

This unflashy, bittersweet 1998 comedy from the U.S. takes a dour look at the sad side of fame. The victim/villain is Enrique Suarez (handsome Nestor Carbonell), a hotshot young actor who plays a Latin lover on the TV series 2 Guys, 2 Gals and a Cuban. Self-inflated Enrique is as authentic as his phony Spanish accent, so it's no surprise that his character gets written out of the program (presumably the title will change too). What's surprising is that he tells no one, not even his wife, that he's been canned. Instead he hopes to prolong his celebrity status by making a guest appearance at the opening of a huge Kmart in Houston. Suffering a series of hilarious indignities, Enrique is ignored, humiliated, mugged by the shoppers, and upstaged by a more popular stud (Michael Lester). Only when he gets back to LA does Enrique finally appreciate his wife, who mattered all along. Directed by Philip Charles Mackenzie with a light, almost documentary touch, Big K is an unpretentious, honest little character study. Look for a clever cameo by Martin Mull. (LB) (Water Tower, 9:15)

MONDAY, APRIL 12

The Man Who Imagined

See listing for Saturday, April 10. (Water Tower, 6:00)

Short videos eight

Videos from Chile, Canada, and the U.S. (Northeastern University, 6:00)

Bad Times

An anthology of stories about four unrelated characters in Buenos Aires: a laborer who undergoes a religious epiphany, a campaign worker ensnared in a romance, a fellow from the country who moves to the big city, and a teenager experiencing his first crush. Nicolas Saad, Rodrigo Moreno, Salvador Roselli, and Mariano de Rosa directed this 1998 Argentinian feature. (Water Tower, 6:30)

The River of Gold

See listing for Saturday, April 10. (Water Tower, 6:30)

The Rats

See listing for Friday, April 9. (Water Tower, 6:45)

Paulina

See listing for Saturday, April 10. (Facets Multimedia Center, 7:00)

The Lighthouse

See listing for Friday, April 9. (Water Tower, 8:00)

The Patriot

See listing for Friday, April 9. (Water Tower, 8:30)

Divine

See listing for Friday, April 9. (Water Tower, 9:00)

Recipes to Stay Together

A 1997 romantic comedy from Mexico about a woman who's fallen out of love with her husband and whose sister is struggling to keep her own romance afloat as she makes a film about relationships. Rafael Montero directed. Tickets are $10. (Facets Multimedia Center, 9:00)

The Rose Seller

See listing for Saturday, April 10. Tickets are $10. (Water Tower, 9:00)

TUESDAY, APRIL 13

The Bearers of Civilization

Uli Stelzner directed this 1997 Guatemalan documentary about the German colonialists who settled the country. To be shown by video projection. (University of Illinois at Chicago, 2:00)

Secret of the Andes

See listing for Sunday, April 11. (Water Tower, 6:00)

Short videos three

Two 1997 documentaries by U.S. director Alex Anton: Adios Patria: The Cuban Exodus examines the mass migrations from Cuba in recent years; Forever Present: Brothers to the Rescue tells the story of two small planes that were shot down by Cuban MIGs in 1996. (Northeastern University, 6:00)

Hurry, Hurry

Carlos Saura directed this 1980 Spanish feature, a prizewinner at the Berlin film festival, about a group of young thieves. (Water Tower, 6:30)

My Little Angel

This pseudonaive musical-cum-religious-allegory from Puerto Rico offers magic realism with a religious twist. Directed by Enrique Pineda Barnet, it's a family film merrily delivering a story that alternately charms and cloys, borrowing unashamedly from It's a Wonderful Life, Annie, The Secret Garden, and A Little Princess. Maria de las Estrellas ("Maria of the Stars") is an apprentice angel who comes down to earth because heaven has lost God. The buoyant but wingless waif escapes from an evil orphanage, gets adopted by a sad rich man (another Daddy Warbucks) and his childless wife, and shares her happiness with two abandoned children and a former gang member. By the end, the little miracle worker has met God--a gardener--and forsaken her dreams of earning her wings in order to become a real girl. Daniela Lujan, singing up a small storm, plays Maria with a gusto that, if not contagious, can certainly be irritating. The others act so broadly you'd think they were playing to a distant balcony rather than a nearby camera. But if you can overlook the pushy sound track and feel-good theatrics and if you already subscribe to the miracles-are-everywhere mentality, the hypoglycemia produced by this 1998 film may not prove fatal. (LB) (Water Tower, 6:45)

Big K

See listing for Sunday, April 11. (Facets Multimedia Center, 7:00)

The Hunt

See listing for Sunday, April 11. (Water Tower, 7:00)

Love & Co.

Set in the 19th century, this 1998 Brazilian comedy concerns a man who discovers that his wife is stepping out with his business partner. Based on Eca de Queiroz's novel Alves & Cia; Helvecio Ratton directed. (Water Tower, 8:00)

Don't Tell Anyone

See listing for Sunday, April 11. (Water Tower, 8:30)

The Comet

Aside from isolated moments of violence and some tame sexual content, Jose Buil and Marisa Sistach's 1998 Mexican feature could be one of those historical adventures that used to turn up on The Wonderful World of Disney in the 60s and 70s. In 1910, during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, a young Mexican woman is transporting a sack of gold coins to rebels in San Antonio; she finds an eager ally in the son of a traveling carnival operator, who longs to make movies. Subtlety is not Sistach's strong point: the villain is immediately identifiable by the curve of his mustache; when a character coughs once in the opening reel, you know he'll be dead by the final one (especially when a comet disappears from the sky as he's coughing in bed); and when the young man reaches up his friend's skirt to free a twittering bird, he's sure to be repeating the motion for another purpose entirely. Sistach tries to blend the charming cinephilia of Cinema Paradiso with the youthful adventurousness of The Journey of Natty Gann, yet she rarely achieves the level of suspense or pathos required to make this more than a shallow and intermittently diverting entertainment. (AL) (Water Tower, 9:00)

Cousin Angelica

A 1974 film by memory-and-desire specialist Carlos Saura (Cria cuervos). Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez plays a middle-aged man who returns to the village of his youth, where his dim memories of the Spanish Civil War mix with his recollection of his first love, his cousin Angelica. (DK) (Facets Multimedia Center, 9:00)

Under a Spell

See listing for Friday, April 9. (Water Tower, 9:00)

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 14

Colombia Horizontal

Diego Garcia Moreno's satirical 1998 documentary examines the culture of reclining in Colombia, including interviews with a hammock weaver, an industrial mattress designer, a prostitute, etc. To be shown by video projection. (Northeastern University, 6:00)

Ever Changing Waters

See Critic's Choice. (Water Tower, 6:00)

Brain Drain

What begins as an atmospheric and remarkably evenhanded portrayal of teenage hoodlum life in Argentina quickly degenerates into a derivative soap opera. Two petty thieves--diminutive, smooth-talking Fideo, who has a knack for auto theft, and shy, romantic Panta, who dreams in tacky 80s rock videos--plan their escape to the U.S. but are hounded by a corrupt and vindictive policeman. Director Fernando Musa shows great sensitivity and reserve in depicting the complex relationship between the teens, but the drama is undermined by the relentlessly absurd fantasy sequences (several of which involve the Statue of Liberty), overly self-conscious dialogue, improbable cops-and-robbers high jinks, and a preposterous, maudlin climax (1998). (AL) (Water Tower, 6:30)

The Comet

See listing for Tuesday, April 13. (Water Tower, 6:30)

The Right Side of the Wrong Life

See listing for Sunday, April 11. (Water Tower, 6:30)

Temptation

A small-town priest falls for a beautiful ex-con and joins her in heroin addiction. This 1998 film from Portugal seems driven more by its torrid scenes--priest with naked woman! priest shoots up!--than by its characters, whose motivations remain obscure. Some moments are dramatically effective (the fallen priest protecting a group of gypsies, for instance), but director Joaquim Leitao provides more cynical exploitation than genuine insight. It worked--Temptation was the biggest box-office hit in Portuguese history. (FC) (Facets Multimedia Center, 7:00)

Melting Pot

This 1998 film about politics in the U.S. probes the use of race baiting and smear tactics in a municipal election, depicting the down-and-dirty contest between a Stanford-educated African-American attorney (a very earnest CCH Pounder) and a Latino housepainter and high school dropout (the likable comic Paul Rodriguez). It's the "insider against the crusader" in a tumultuous campaign for Los Angeles County councilman, with both candidates vying for the white swing vote and the support of the corrupt incumbent (Cliff Robertson). Supplying lots of details, writers Mark Kemble and Tom Musca (who also directs) grasp the temptations that lead decent political aspirants to name-calling, scare tactics, and playing one constituency against another. Unfortunately the plot turns increasingly preposterous and sensational, as the seemingly desperate filmmakers throw in a gang shooting, miscarriage, and sexual outing--even a scene where Rodriguez's pickup truck accidentally hurtles into his opponent's campaign rally. The film's greatest--and finally its only--asset is the unforced acting, not just from Pounder and Rodriguez but from Una Damon as a lesbian campaign manager and Efren Ramirez as the Latino candidate's badass son. If conviction could make a melodrama work, these actors might almost pull it off. (LB) (Water Tower, 8:00)

Recipes to Stay Together

See listing for Monday, April 12. Tickets are $10. (Water Tower, 8:30)

Life Is to Whistle

Three characters mystically cross paths in Fernando Perez's 1998 Cuban feature. (Water Tower, 9:00)

Off Side

Ricardo Coral-Dorado directed this 1998 Colombian feature about a soccer team torn apart by a betting scandal. Tickets are $10. (Facets Multimedia Center, 9:00)

Skin

An interracial couple run up against prejudice in Oscar Lucien's 1998 Venezuelan feature. (Water Tower, 9:00)

THURSDAY, APRIL 15

Short films three

Short 16-millimeter films from Puerto Rico, Ecuador, and the U.S. (University of Illinois at Chicago, 12:30)

Short videos eight

See listing for Monday, April 12. (University of Illinois at Chicago, 5:00)

The Construction Workers

Ignacio Lopez Tarso plays the caretaker of a building under construction whose murder prompts an investigation by police--and a story that unfolds in flashbacks. Jorge Fons directed this 1976 Mexican mystery. (Water Tower, 6:00)

The Bearers of Civilization

See listing for Tuesday, April 13. To be shown by video projection. (Facets Multimedia Center, 6:30)

Recipes to Stay Together

See listing for Monday, April 12. Tickets are $10. (Water Tower, 6:30)

To the Limit

Eduardo Campoy directed this 1997 Spanish feature about a caller to a nighttime radio show who threatens to commit murder. (Water Tower, 6:30)

My Little Angel

See listing for Tuesday, April 13. (Water Tower, 6:45)

Don't Tell Anyone

See listing for Sunday, April 11. (Facets Multimedia Center, 7:00)

My Name Is Sara

A 40-year-old woman with a teenage daughter and a steady boyfriend begins to worry about her attractiveness to men and has a torrid affair with a 20-year-old student. Dolores Payas directed this 1998 Spanish film in Catalan. (Water Tower, 8:00)

Bad Times

See listing for Monday, April 12. (Facets Multimedia Center, 9:00)

The Lucky Star

See listing for Saturday, April 10. (Water Tower, 9:00)

Life Is to Whistle

See listing for Wednesday, April 14. (Water Tower, 9:00)

Mambi

A Spanish-Cuban coproduction, this 1998 period epic concerns a day laborer from the Canary Islands conscripted into the Spanish army in the late 19th century. Directed by Teodoro and Santiago Rios. (Water Tower, 9:00)

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