It’s a strong weekend for film festivals in Chicago, as Doc10 happens on the city’s north side and the 34th Chicago Latino Film Festival kicks off at AMC River East downtown. The CLFF will run for a couple weeks (from April 5-19 to be specific), meaning you’ve got no excuse to not get out to this annual celebration of film from every corner of the Latinx culture. There are literally dozens of films to choose from, including premieres and short film programs; take a minute to peruse the full schedule online here.
Heading into the first week of the festival, we’re taking a look at some of the more interesting offerings, previewing here a slate of options that cover everything from cross-cultural romcoms to Raging Bull-style biopics. There’s more where this comes from, too. We’d hate to overwhelm you, so watch this space next week for our take on the second week of films.
When David, a struggling stand-up comedian who can’t seem to get his jokes about being adopted to land, discovers the biological mother he never knew has died and left him her popular Mexico City restaurant, he makes his way south to see what the fuss is all about. Immediately, the gringo faces an uphill battle to sort out what to do about his new inheritance, from the stand-off-ish and territorial kitchen staff to the loan sharks on his tail back at home. There isn’t much surprise in David’s story of self discovery, including the eventual romance with head chef Sol, who was like a daughter to her dearly departed boss. Despite its paint-by-numbers plot, American Curious is nevertheless a charming cross-cultural watch, and a perfect entry point for “gringo” Chicago audiences curious about the culture, charm and allure of the Latinx culture plated up by CLFF. -Lisa Trifone
American Curious screens Saturday, April 7 at 4:30pm with director Gabylu Lara and producers Mónica Vargas and Rodrigo Calderón in attendance for a post-film Q&A; and Monday, April 9 at 6:15pm.
Another Story of the World
At the start of Guillermo Casanova’s Another Story of the World, a man named Milo (Roberto Súarez) is imprisoned after he pulls a prank on his local military governor (Néstor Guzzini). In response, Milo’s friend (César Troncoso) gets the governor’s permission to teach a history clas—only to then use said class as a cover for raising awareness of Milo’s plight. Casanova’s work is not without merit: its long takes ably evoke the feeling of helplessness that citizens of dictatorships can experience, and its plot aptly illustrates the way facts can be used as ideological weapons. Yet on the whole, the film can’t decide whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama, and after it meanders through several undeveloped subplots, it eventually reaches an ending that feels implausible, trite, and distinctly unsatisfying. -Andrew Xu
Another Story of the World screens Sunday, April 8 at 6pm and Tuesday, April 10 at 6:15pm.
The Chess Player
A glossy, rich period piece, Luis Oliveros’ The Chess Player (El jugador de ajedrez) begins in pre-war Spain as a nerdy, slightly awkward brainiac becomes an unlikely chess champion. Diego catches the eye of Marianne, a beautiful French reporter, and the two quickly fall in love, get married and have a daughter together. But when she can’t find work in Spain, the family relocates to Paris just in time for the Nazi invasion. And here’s where the drama really kicks in, as Diego is labeled a spy and detained by the invading forces. Marianne assumes he’s long dead, and as the years tick by, she and their daughter move on with their lives. Meanwhile, Diego—very much alive—manages to give the officers a reason to keep him around as a worth chess opponent for the general. Though the film has a lot to say about resistance and survival, its mostly drowned out by the telenovela feel of the proceedings; and yet, there’s something inviting and even lovely about the lush, albeit very serious, production. -Lisa Trifone
The Chess Player screens Saturday, April 7 at 7pm with Juan Antonio Casado and Elena Zabía in attendance for a post-film Q&A, and Tuesday, April 10 at 8:30pm.
Ignacio Castillo Cottin’s El Inca is a biopic of Edwin Valero (Alexander Leterni), a world champion boxer who eventually got hooked on drugs, killed his wife (Scarlett Jaimes), and committed suicide in prison. Cottin’s depiction of Valero’s rise and fall skimps on character development—particularly when it comes to its female characters—and the film’s themes are derivative of genre classics like Raging Bull. But Cottin’s tendency to shoot his characters at a distance effectively conveys the emptiness of Valero’s life; the film’s ending, moreover, features a truly haunting depiction of the distortionary effects of drugs. And even if he’s no Robert de Niro, Leterni acquits himself admirably in the lead role. -Andrew Xu
El Inca screens Friday, April 6 at 8:45pm and Sunday, April 8 at 8:15pm.
Last Days in Havana
Fernando Pérez’s Last Days in Havana tells the story of two men who live in the titular city: a somber, taciturn dishwasher (Patricio Wood) who desperately wants to immigrate to the U.S., and a flamboyant, bedridden gay man (Jorge Martínez) who’s dying of AIDS. Wood and Martinez both give exceptional performances, and the unlikely chemistry between their two characters makes for a compelling watch. Around them, meanwhile, Pérez constructs a quiet, poetic meditation on modern-day Cuba, a country caught between the empty legacy of a failed revolution and an embargo that ensures its continued isolation. The movie’s reliance on long takes, deep staging, and extended shots only reinforces the feelings of aimlessness and futile longing that its narrative so movingly evokes. -Andrew Xu
Last Days in Havana screens on Thursday, April 12 at 8:45pm and Sunday, April 15 at 6:15pm.
Tigers Are Not Afraid
When it comes to protagonists, you can’t get much worse than Estrella (Paola Lara), the 10-year old girl at the center of Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid. Aside from being homeless, she’s on the run from members of her local drug cartel—and all the while, she also has to contend with the ghost of her mom, who was killed by the very same men pursuing Estrella in the present. López gets a lot of mileage out of the not-so-original idea that kids cope with this world by escaping into their own. But her work still holds its own as both an inspiring feminist tale and a searing depiction of Mexico’s drug war. And the film’s child actors prove remarkable without exception. -Andrew Xu
Tigers Are Not Afraid screens on Friday, April 6 at 9:15pm with director Issa Lopez in attendance for a post-film Q&A; and on Sunday, April 8 at 8:30pm.