Dispatch: Chicago Latino Film Festival Offers Exceptional Films from Latin America through May 1

Since 1985, Chicago's International Latino Cultural Center has presented the annual Chicago Latino Film Festival, featuring a diverse and entertaining selection of feature-length and short films from across Latin America. This year's event, presented both in-person and virtually, began on April 21 and continues through the weekend. With time to catch a move or several, here are three that come highly recommended.

Buñuel, a Surrealist Filmmaker

This film about the iconic filmmaker Luis Buñuel is not a traditional documentary with a series of talking heads discussing the pros and cons of the subject and his work. It’s more a loving tribute to his ingenious and often bizarre works of surrealism. If you don’t know much about Buñuel, you’ll learn why he’s often called a genius (or a madman); or if you are a fan of his work (as I am), you’ll appreciate the lengthy clips of some of his greatest films. 

Director Javier Espada—who shares Buñuel’s home town of Calanda in Aragon—includes details of the filmmaker’s life, including his academic years at the Residencia des Estudiantes in Madrid, where he became friends with Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dali, with whom he made his earliest films, the shocking Un Chien Andalou (1929), famous for its grisly eye-slicing scene, and L’Age d’Or (1930), deemed blasphemous by the Catholic Church. Espada traces Buñuel’s peripatetic film career—leaving Spain during the Spanish Civil War, making films in France, briefly in Hollywood, and Mexico. 

His leftist politics and his anti-clerical views are common themes in his films, especially Nazarin (1959), Simon of the Desert (1965) and his masterpiece, Viridiana (1961), in which he recreates Da Vinci’s Last Supper with a “beggars’ banquet” punctuated by a Last Supper group photo and a hilarious skirt-raising scene. Many of Buñuel’s films caused scandals, which, to a surrealist, equals success.

In his memoir, My Last Sigh, Buñuel says there’s a recurring theme in his films of people with a dilemma—“the impossibility of satisfying a simple desire.” This is certainly the theme in two of my favorite Buñuel films—The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, when a group of friends go out for dinner but are never able to find a meal, and The Exterminating Angel (1962), where an elite group goes to a sumptuous post-theater dinner, but find they are never able to leave the house; chaos, claustrophobia and deshabille ensue--for days and days. Both films are poisonous political/social satires. My one criticism of Espada’s film is that it gives almost no screen time to The Exterminating Angel

Bunuel, A Surrealist Filmmaker screens at 6pm Thursday, April 28, at Instituto Cervantes, 31 W. Ohio St.; it’s available to stream April 27 through May 1.

Dos Estaciones

Señora Maria owns the local artisanal tequila distillery, Dos Estaciones. She’s carrying on her father’s legacy in the tequila business and trying to keep it alive, despite a plague that has struck the essential agave crop, climate change and foreign competition. The town values Señora Maria (Teresa Sánchez) because of the jobs her business creates and because she’s fair and generous in her dealings. When Maria meets Rafaela (Rafaela Fuentes), a young woman with administrative experience in a tequila factory, Maria hopes that Rafa might help her save the business, which she refuses to sell to the foreign corporation that has made offers. (The plotline is reminiscent of The Rose Maker about the artisanal rose breeder in rural France who refuses to sell her family business to the giant competitor.)

Juan Pablo Gonzalez directs Dos Estaciones as a docudrama; the film introduces us to the tequila-making process, from the opening scenes of field workers harvesting the agave pines to the factory tour that Maria gives Rafa, and scenes of the bottling and packaging process. 

Señora Maria is a solid, stolid woman in her 50s, rarely breaking into a smile, although she deeply cares for her business and her workers. The only scenes where she seems to find happiness are dancing in her kitchen with Rafa or doing wheelies in her truck in a dusty field. Maria is at her desk every day and spends time in the factory. Through her interactions with her workers, with Rafa and with Tatin (Tatin Vera), her hair stylist, the film also subtly explores gender identity in this conservative Catholic community. 

Gonzalez sets the film in his native Atotonilco in Jalisco state, with many vistas of the mountains and fields. He frequently frames interior scenes through windows and entryways, giving us the feeling of being observers of the drama. There are long stretches with little or no dialogue, where the activity on screen carries the story, such as the cleanup after the rainstorm and flood that are disastrous for the factory.

The film and Sánchez won the Sundance World Cinema Dramatic Competition Special Jury Award for Best Actress. 

Dos Estaciones screens at 6pm Friday, April 29, at Landmark Century Centre. It’s available to stream April 27 through May 1.

Bye Bye Chicago

Bye Bye Chicago is a moving story that feels intensely authentic. It’s about a friendship between a graduate student from Colombia and an older Mexican immigrant man. Miguel (Roberto Diaz Blanquel) emigrated from Mexico as a young man, leaving behind his career as a singer/musician, but not his musical memories. 

Now he thinks of himself as an old man; he’s lonely, with no family and little money. When his neighbor Dalia (Luisa Franco) befriends him, she brightens his life with visits and helps him get reacquainted with old friends and with the city. Dalia, it seems, never knew her father and finds value and joy in talking with Miguel and his friends—Pablito (Eytán Lasca-Szalit), a poet, and Arnulfo (Lauro Lopez), who started a successful bakery now run by his daughter. The three elders agree that most immigrants want to go home when they die. Miguel wants to be buried in his old country. The scene in which he says goodbye to Chicago is poetic and beautiful. 

Bye Bye Chicago is written by Roma Diaz and directed by Diaz and Enrique Gaona Jr. Diaz is a Chicago-based Mexican playwright and founder of the Tecolote Theater Company; Gaona is a DePaul University junior majoring in film and television. This is the team’s film debut and it was filmed all over Chicago—in Pilsen, Little Village, Humboldt Park and on drives along some scenic parkways. In an end card, the producers dedicate their film to “all the immigrants who one day left their country and spent their lives dreaming of returning home."

Bye Bye Chicago will be screened in person at 3:45pm on Sunday, May 1, at the Landmark Century Centre and will be available for streaming April 27-May 1.

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Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.