Seen at the AFI LatinX Film Festival

Poster for La Llorona, image from Movie Plus

Land of Ashes

Sofia Quiros’ heartbreaking movie click how to write an interview essay essay about peace in the world example of a term paper outline get link source link go to link pre-ejaculation viagra an essay on environment conservation book review website enter game design dissertation topics essay about marketing research follow link market research overview writing a academic essay cialis bei pulmonaler hypertonie resume work enter i need help writing an analysis essay cialis precio vademecum pharmacyonline omifin difference between suhagra viagra essay topics for apply texas cialis nebenwirkungen herzinfarkt essay on going back home Land of Ashes (Cenizas Negras) is a unique coming-of-age story in which Selva (Smachleen Gutierrez), a preteen girl who happily lives with her grandparents gets a rude awakening when her grandmother Elena (Hortensia Smith) goes missing after a communal party. Up until then life for Selva might not be considered ideal — they live in abject poverty, but happy, and the movie establishes playful bickering between Selva and Elena as well as Elena and grandfather Tata (Humberto Samuels) that is truly affecting. Elena’s disappearance plunges Selva into her own internal world where a mysterious girl communicates with her. At the same time, Selva now must forget her own childhood and be the caregiver for Tata who seems to have stopped living and only mourns the loss of Elena. Sofia Quiro’s movie is intoxicating, a glimpse into a life untouched by modern appliances or technology. We only get that the story is taking place in today’s day through music, which plays often. Ultimately, the tragedy lurking just off-screen is the fact that one day Selva’s world will be a thing of the past, and her only chances at survival is an accelerated induction into forced adulthood through practical and supernatural means. Smachleen Gutierrez’s performance is revelatory in its layers of wisdom that she reflects with her eyes; her character suggests pain and terror for the future, but the courage to confront whatever may lay ahead. [B+]

Once Upon a Time in Venezuela

If ever there was a tragedy that needed to be told it would have to be Venezuela’s fall into complete despair and abandonment. Anabel Rodriguez Rios tells of her country’s fall through her documentary feature Once Upon a Time in Venezuela, filmed through a period of six years. In it, she focuses on the micro-universe of El Congo Mirador, a fishing paradise located on the southern tip of Lake Maracaibo, once a community that thrived and offered spectacular lightning shows that have through sedimentation and governmental neglect been rendered abandoned and overtaken by the jungle. Rios’ story largely focuses on the town itself, its inhabitants, as they go through life living in their shacks that they’ve erected on stilts at the mouth of the Zulia River. During this time we encounter Natalie, a young idealistic teacher, and what seems to be the Queen Bee of Congo Mirador’s society, Tamara. Both women are opponents by politics — Tamara is the ultimate Chavista supporter, while Natalie is not. Tamara would prefer that Natalie teach elsewhere; Natalie discusses her victimization under the current administration but her hopes that this place will continue to exist. While the women never explicitly come to a contentious encounter, both storylines remain firmly at the mercy of Venezuelan politics. Tamara lives and acts under the belief that by buying votes she can secure her party’s stay in power and guarantee her own security in the land she has come to identify with. What she isn’t aware of, and will find out in the worst of ways, is that she is just as much a victim of politics like everyone else. Rodriguez Rios’ movie unfolds like the inevitable and implacable fall of a country that once had it all, and it is a shame that while people lament the passing of time, those who have the power to make a difference simply have chosen to look the other way. [B]

Blanco en Blanco

Alfredo Castro and Esther Vega in Blanco en Blanco.

Welcome to the ultimate No Man’s Land, located at the bottom of the world, in which if you are a landowner with money the place is yours to conquer at your own will and no one to stop you. Thèo Court’s White on White (Blanco en Blanco) is the chilling story of such a man, Mr. Porter (never seen) who has hired Pedro, a photographer to take a picture of his bride to be Sara (Esther Vega), a girl not even 15. Entranced by the girl Pedro (Alfredo Castro) makes some rather disturbing requests to enhance the girl’s beauty through his lens. While preparations for the wedding continue, Pedro progressively becomes involved as an observer to the atrocities that settlers committed against the Selk’nam people, an indigenous tribe that Porter has decided to eliminate for her own reasons involving having pure control of the land and its riches.

It would be a lie to say that White on White has anything that resembles a resolution because it essentially is a headlong dive into pure lawlessness. Court has framed his movie to look like there is essentially no escape from this God-forsaken place that only harbors greedy killers and victimized indigenous people. By adding the victimization of two women — an older one, the housekeeper Aurora (Lola Rubio) already seems to have gone past any hope for herself — but also the aforementioned Esther who doesn’t even speak except for one scene where she utters precisely one line. Court’s movie is at times gorgeous in its muted, wintry palette, and repellent by the humans that inhabit it — particularly Castro who seems suited to play these morally rotten characters. White on White might come across a bit too nihilistic for viewers but it remains firmly entrenched in actual events that mark yet another forgotten chapter of the evil that men do to others, especially when they arrive from foreign lands. [B+]


Before you groan, consider giving this short little horror nasty a look when Netflix or Shudder takes ownership of it. [If it means anything there is a Netflix movie in the works, so that tells you this isn’t a clunker.] Hugo Cardozo’s Morgue is a regurgitation of everything you’ve seen involving the main character who has to spend the night alone where things go bump in the night. This time, it’s David (Pablo Martinez), a security guard who works at a morgue. An argument with a girlfriend sends David hitting a cyclist on the way to work, but because he panics, he doesn’t report the incident. Once at work, things will not just go bump in the night but he will literally begin seeing the craziest visions come from Hell and will wonder if he in fact has gone batshit or what.

For the most part, Martinez carries the entire movie on his shoulders and he delivers a solid performance equal parts unlikeable and vulnerable to forces he cannot understand. At times Cardozo makes you wonder if you are watching a mortality play of the type that Tales from the Crypt used to showcase where a character, in trying to outwit a wrong, basically dug his own grave. Cardozo prefers to then zig-zag through twists and turns and often they work, although there are times when holes are clearly visible either through the production values or simple staging. Be advised, Morgue has a vicious jump-scare that is well-earned, but its denouement will raise questions more than it answers them. All in all, this is a solid, muscular little horror movie with the dubious honor of having dethroned and out-performed It: Chapter Two in Paraguay. [B]

La Llorona

I was a bit apprehensive when I heard of a remake of the now-famous story of La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) because it seems that every year a new Llorona movie makes it to theaters, often with results so dismal one wonders why even bother tackling the monstrous character when her legend and mystery can’t be respected. However, this is Jayro Bustamante, the man who brought Ixcanul and Temblores to the silver screen. I was sure that Bustamante could bring his special touch of dread and uncomfortable narrative to the surface.

The bridge between the narratives of both Ixcanul and Temblores dovetails perfectly in La Llorona. Bustamante’s first movie focuses solely on an isolated Ixil community at the foot of the Ixcanul volcano, while Temblores took a sharp left and plunged itself and its story into the perspective of society and identity corroded by centuries of Spanish dominance, itself tainted by its strict adherence to religion which has by now been assimilated by the Ixil populace. La Llorona skillfully bridges these two cultures under the umbrella of metaphysical horror that uses genocide as a means of telling the story of the iconic, tragic character.

As in Temblores, we start with an affluent family and focus on its matriarch Carmen (Margarita Kenéfic) deep in prayer, accompanied by a group of women holding hands. Already we sense that something is amiss as the camera zooms away from the matriarch’s tortured, trance-like face. It turns out, her husband, General Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) is on trial for crimes against humanity during the Civil War. During his tenure, he massacred a large chunk of the Ixil population and was complicit in the rape and murder of countless women for no other reason than to assure Spanish dominance over the land.

His crimes get a chilling recounting under the testimony of a survivor, an Ixil woman whose face we never quite see as it’s under a black veil, but whose story, which represents everyone else’s, is horrifying. Justice gets delivered, but it’s not enough, and the story pulls into second gear when the Monteverde family, which includes accusing daughter Natalia (Sabrina de la Hoz), retreats to the comfort of their home-fortress, while a mob of angry civilians surrounds the house, their claws at the ready for carnage. The staff of servants, all of Ixil origin, leave in a hurry and won’t be coaxed back. They know something is coming, and want to be as far away as they can.

That something does arrive, but its face remains invisible to the audience. La Llorona eventually does show her face, but it’s not in a jump-scare — the movie is far too intelligent for that, thank goodness — but in an event of unimaginable horror equal to that of the horror at the heart of Sophie’s Choice. By then, the entire household and its characters are on a sinking ship still trying frantically to escape, knowing full well that karmic debts are unforgiving and implacable.

Bustamante’s version will bury its claws into you and linger on — that is how deep its roots go. His version resonates, deeply, and I’ll tell you why. Anyone who has either lived through the tyranny of dictatorship, a system that gave birth, and fostered the culture of the “disappeared” will have a visceral reaction to La Llorona. Good horror — even transcendent horror if you will — has a narrative that can exist on its own without venturing into the paranormal for scares. La Llorona manages to bring new blood into a well-worn tale of a grieving mother by using genocide and the silent cry for revenge against its perpetrators. [A –]

La Llorona is available to stream on Shudder and I can’t recommend it enough.

The Mole Agent

Poster for The Mole Agent, image from Salt Lake City Film Society

Here is a documentary unlike any other. Maite Alberdi’s The Mole Agent has the look and the feel of a cozy — something straight out of Murder She Wrote minus the actual murder — with the difference that our hero is Sergio Chamy, a charming older man who gets an assignment to “infiltrate” an old peoples’ home and attempt to find out if a specific tenant is being abused. [Her daughter has come to a private investigator because of these concerns.] What Sergio finds out is less dramatic on that level, but gut-wrenching on another, and he slowly but certainly morphs from being a detective to being an angel of solace for individuals who have been forgotten by their loved ones, due to outliving them, or simply, being old and “of no use to anyone.” Alberdi’s docu-fiction is truly a revelation: funny during its early scenes when we see applicants to the position that goes to Sergio trying to operate an iPhone, but progressively more and more touching until it becomes nearly impossible to see without pausing for an emotional break. Her Mole Agent serves not only as a glimpse of what goes on inside old peoples homes but also as a reminder to please love our elderlies and treat them with the utmost respect, because no matter how senile they may be, how frail, they were an important part of our lives, and should never wind up alone, with only foggy, confused memories to keep them company. [A ]

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