Latin America at #TIFF15. Movies reviewed: Colonia, Desde Allá, The Clan

Posted in 1970s, 1980s, Argentina, Chile, Cultural Mining, Drama, Germany, Thriller, Venezuela by CulturalMining.com on September 26, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

TIFF featured a number of notable South American films this year, so this week, I’m going to look at three of them. Two – an escape drama and a true crime drama — are set in the south, Argentina and Chile, under their rightwing, military dictators in the 70s. And one in the north, a drama set in modern-day Venezuela.

58KWyB_colonia_02_o3_8704338_1441928352Colonia

Dir: Florian Gallenberger

It’s 1973 in Santiago Chile. Daniel (Daniel Brühl) is a German photographer who was drawn there by the excitement around the newly-elected socialist premier Salvador Allende. He is deeply in love with his girlfriend Lena (Emma Watson: Hermione in the Harry Potter series), a flight attendant for Lufthansa, who touches down regularly in Santiago. But when the government collapses with a CIA-backed military coup, the streets become dangerous.  Thousands of people – including Daniel and Lena — are herded into the Santiago Football Stadium. Some are shot on the spot, others taken away in vans.

Lena is safe, but Daniel is horribly tortured, nearly to death, by Pinochet’s forces. Afterwards, he is comforted by a strange man with long gray hair who says Daniel will be safe under his protection.

Lena takes a week off work and tracks him down to an isolated farm in central Chile known as colonia-1-first-look-will-emma-watson-be-able-to-escape-colonia-dignidadColonia Dignidad, run by a German, fundamentalist Christian cult. Her plan? To pretend to join the sect, unite with Daniel, and quickly escape Chile forever.

But she soon finds herself trapped there. It’s a strange farm surrounded by electrified barbed wire filled with people who have never seen the world outside. Men, women and children are all kept completely separated. Little boys with Hitler-youth haircuts are forced to sing angelic choir songs before the nefarious Paul Schäfer (Michael Nyqvist) – known as “Pius” —  who controls everything. The women are supervised by a stern female commandant named Gisele. By day, they pick potatoes like slaves; by night they are locked into their communal barracks. Any woman caught speaking of or even thinking about love or sex is punished at a “men’s council”, a ceremony where men are free to kick and punch accused girls or women. Lena searches for Daniel but he is nowhere to be seen. When she finally spots him, he appears to be feeble-minded from all the torture he endured. Can Lena ever contact him? Will he even recognize her? And can the two of them escape from the hell-hole known as Colonia?

Colonia Dignidad and Paul Schäfer were real. This film is actually a German movie, in English, not a South American one. If you’re looking for a political drama about Chile under Pinochet, you won’t find it here. This is more of an exciting escape drama, a prison break movie, with the politics kept low-key. Chile is the setting, with Pinochet a super villain, but it’s mainly about the notorious German settlement there. Bruhl and Watson are good as the heroes, but best of all is the realistic, slimy cult leader. I watched the whole movie without realizing he was played by Nykvist, the same actor who was the hero of the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series!

JZWRXv_Desde_Alla_03_o3_8730120_1440509884Desde allá (From Afar)

Dir: Lorenzo Vigas

Armando (Alfredo Castro) is an odd, middle-aged man with a good income who lives alone in downtown Caracas. He has an creepy-looking job: his business is constructing and repairing dentures, inserting false teeth into intricate moulds. Occasionally, he visits his sister to talk about the horrible things their father did to them when they were growing up. What exactly happened is never said.

In his free time Armando has an unusual hobby. He approaches young, working class men on r0V6pW_Desde_Alla_04_o3_8730197_1440464747the street and offers them money in exchange for sexual favours. But the favours consist merely of Armando asking the guy to face away from him while partially undressed. That’s it.

But things start to change when he picks up an angry young man named Elder (Luis Silva). Elder is a violent, selfish thug whose father is in prison for murder. He’s the kind of guy who would lead his gang to attack his own girlfriend’s brother LgWRlv_Desde_Alla_05_o3_8730266_1440509909with steel pipes in a pool hall for no apparent reason. Despite this – and the vicious sneer permanently etched on Elder’s face – Armando approaches him on the street and hires him. But in his apartment Elder turns on him, beats him up and steals his wallet and some of his things.

Despite this (or perhaps because of this?) Armando approaches him again, not asking for his things back, but instead offering him even more money. And later — when a rival gang fights back and Elder needs a safe haven – Armando welcomes him back into his apartment. Far from being a sexual predator, Armando shies away from anynZ6P6Y_Desde_Alla_01_o3_8730049_1440509869 and all physical contact with Elder. Instead he behaves like a father-figure, teaching him moral lessons, feeding and clothing him. And the situation changes: now Elder starts feeling attached – perhaps even sexually – to Armando, who coldly turns him away. What is going on? And where will it lead?

Desde Allá is a strange and disturbing film, even more so at the end. Its shocking conclusion will make you rethink the entire movie. The acting of both the main characters is fantastic – and the film won the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.

pgLNE6_clan_05_o3_8766051_1439583560The Clan

Dir: Pablo Trapero

It’s Buenos Aeries in the late 1970s. Alejandro Pucci (Peter Lanzani) is a handsome young rugby player on the Argentinian Pumas. His father (Guillermo Francella) is a successful businessman with ties to the military regime .Alex has it all. He’s a popular student, a national sports hero and owns a surfing store in downtown Buenos Aries. And he is in love with his girlfriend. But when the military government falls they are forced to lie low. His dad is a member of the Argentinian CIA, and partly responsible for the notorious Disappeared, the countless people missing or murdered by the military junta.8qKpGm_clan_04_o3_8765985_1439583555

But the Puccis depend on these kidnappings to keep up their lifestyle and have turned it into a very profitable business. Most of the family is either involved in or aware of the kidnappings, since the victims are kept inside their home. But can any of them resist their dad’s orders?

This Argentinian drama is based on a true crime story out of Argentina that shocked the nation when it was uncovered. It’s also the most popular Argentinian movie ever.  It’s a scary, dark and gruesome story. The movie reveals the downfall of the family in the very first scenes, but for me – never having heard of this case before – I would have preferred if those scenes were left till later. Still, there is such a dramatic scene at the end of the movie that it retains its ability to shock.

Colonia, Desde allá and The Clan all played at TIFF15; keep your eye out for these films. Opening today is Toronto’s Palestine Film Festival — go to tpff.ca for details; also opening is the delightful Grandma, a comedy-drama starring Lily Tomlin as a feminist grandmother on a quest.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Queer parents, straight kids. Movies Reviewed: 52 Tuesdays, My Straight Son, Open Up To Me PLUS Inside Out LGBT Film Festival

Posted in Australia, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Finland, Inside Out, LGBT, Movies, Trans, Venezuela by CulturalMining.com on May 23, 2014

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Inside Out, Toronto’s LGBT film festival — known for its innovative programming and great movies – starts today. One traditional sub-genre is the Coming Out movie: a young man or woman finds freedom and love but also faces bullying and depression, when he comes out publicly as gay, bi or lesbian. Usually there are cruel homophobic parents who don’t understand what they’re going through. This always makes for a good movie, but it’s been done a lot. So here’s a reversal: how about movies where the LGBT character is the parent, not the kid? This week I’m looking at three such movies (with an emphasis on trans characters) – from Australia, Venezuela and Finland — all serious dramas, but with good comic relief mixed in.

52 Tuesdays Poster52 Tuesdays

Dir: Sophie Hyde

Billie is a well-adjusted teenager with a great relationship with her parents. She lives with her mom, but regularly sees her motorcycle-riding dad. But one day, she comes home to a big surprise. Her mom has cut her hair, bound her breasts, and is changing her name to James. Starting today, her mom is becoming her dad! James will be undergoing testosterone treatments in a gender transformation. It’s a big change that will take a year. And during that year, James will need his detail_52tuesdaysspace – Billie has to live with her dad (her other dad). Billie is gobsmacked, but doesn’t want to lose contact with her parent. So they agree: she’ll visit after school, each Tuesday, until 10 pm. Over the course of the year, Billie records these weekly visits with her video camera. She also begins to explore gender identity, sexuality… and sex.

At school, she falls in with a passionate couple – Josh and Jasmine (Sam Althuizen and Imogen Archer) – when she spies them making out. They’re in a school production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (where Viola dresses as a man). And, courtesy of Billie’s 52 Tuesdays pic with mustacheuncle, the three of them get their own private time in his empty apartment: Tuesdays from 10 to midnight, when both of Billie’s dads think she’s with the other. And Billie also records these meetings – including their sexual explorations – on her video camera.

So 52 Tuesdays is just as it sounds: 52 short scenes, from Billie’s point of view, tracing the changes – and setbacks – of James’s transformation and her own coming of age. It has a few too many divergent plotlines – school censorship, medical problems, accidents, family rivalries, hidden relationships — extraneous to the main story. But that doesn’t detract from the movie’s elegant structure. Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Billie is a joy to watch – she’s the next Carey Mulligan – and Del Herbert-Jane gives a fascinating and realistic portrayal of James’ transformation.

detail_mystraightsonMy Straight Son (Azul y no Tan Rosa)

Dir: Miguel Ferrari

Diego (Guillermo García) is a professional photographer in Caracas in his thirties. Life is great. He has a successful career, and a boyfriend, Fabrizio, who is a doctor. Fabrizio pops the question one night at dinner in a fancy restaurant. Do you want to live together? Diego’s surprised but inwardly happy. He says he’ll tell him his decision the next day. He plans to say yes, but two big things happen. Diego’s teenaged son Armando (Ignacio Montes) — who he hasn’t seen for five years since he moved to Europe with his mother — arrives at his Azul y tan rosa galeria-19doorstep. Armando feels neglected by his dad and baffled by his lifestyle. He retreats to online relationships. He’s good-looking but insecure. He uses a celebrity photo his dad took to create a new, online personality and along-distance relationship with Laura, a small town tango enthusiast.

The second thing that happens is Fabrizio is brutally attacked outside a gay bar by three young men who beat him Azul y tan rosa galeria-18senseless. And now he lies in a coma in his hospital bed. Diego identified the gay-bashers, but gets no help from the police – so he buys a gun.

Diego loves his son but doesn’t know what to do. He turns for help from his working class family, and his bar friends – a comic entourage with soap opera names like Dolores Del Rio and Perla Marina. Can Armando connect with his dad? And will he reveal his real face to his online girlfriend? Will Fabrizio come out of his coma? And will the attacking teens ever be brought to justice?

My Straight Son is a very enjoyable melodrama that mixes telenovela plots with pop culture tropes, all with a gay twist.

Kerron sinulle kaiken posterOpen Up To Me

Dir: Simo Halinen

Maarit (Leea Klemola) lives in Helsinki, where she works as a cleaning woman in an office building. She used to work as a guidance counselor in a small town, but left her spouse and teenaged daughter following sex-reassignment surgery. While cleaning an office one day, a psychologist tells Maarit to lock up when she’s done — she’s going to Spain for a few weeks. Two weeks! Hmm… So she tries on her make up and perfume and lounges about the office. Into the psychologist’s office walks Sami (Peter Franzén), a gym teacher and soccer coach. Sami has an appointment to talk about sex problems with his wife, also a school teacher. He detail_openuptomemistakes Maarit for a therapist. After a moment’s pause she slips easily into the role – and they both notice a spark between them. They arrange to meet again.

Soon, Maarit comes clean: she’s a cleaner not as a counseler. She reveals that they met, 20 years ago. Maarit, as a man, was on a professional soccer team (as was Sami) and he bested Sami at the national championships. Sami is taken aback, but Kerron sinulle kaiken Leea Klemola ja Peter Franzén (Kuvaaja Alisa Javits, © Edith Filmintrigued. Is this a budding relationship?

Maarit goes back to her home town where vicious rumours are spreading about her, and her daughter is being picked on in school. Can she rebuild trust with her daughter and restore her reputation? Back in Helsinki, she faces daily abuse and cruelties, ranging from shouted slurs, job discrimination – even propositions from men who assume she’s a prostitute. Through it all, Maarit learns to be a woman who can stand up for herself. Part love story, part family drama, Open Up to Me is an excellent movie, with Leea Klemola and Peter Frantzén — the two leads —  giving strong but subtle performances.

All of these films – and more – are playing now through June 1st at Inside Out, Toronto’s LGBT Film Festival. For more info, go to insideout.ca.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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