Zama (2018)

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Directed by Lucrecia Martel
Country: Argentina / other

Zama, a rugged yet rich period drama written and directed by Lucrecia Martel (The Holy Girl; The Headless Woman), offers you a smart, classy, sometimes philosophical storytelling that develops languorously. Its looks are eccentric and exotic, and there’s also a grim humor that makes it particularly attractive. Just out of curiosity, the long list of producers have included the names of Pedro Almodóvar, Gael Garcia Bernal and Danny Glover.

The film’s script, based on the novel of the same name by Argentine writer Antonio Di Benedetto, narrates the 18th-century misadventures of Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a magistrate of the Spanish Crown stationed in a remote Paraguayan town, who patiently waits for his long-promised transfer to the city of Lerma in Argentina.

The first minutes of the film attempt to elucidate for the personality of the title character, a voluptuous voyeur who doesn’t miss the chance to embark on forbidden liaisons. With no recent news about his wife and kids, who kept waiting for him in Lerma, Zama, a man of the law and pacifier of Indians, despairs with boredom.

While flirting with the seductive Luciana Piñares de Luenga (Lola Dueñas), a married yet independent woman despised by women and misunderstood by men, Zama ensures to adhere to an exemplary conduct so that the Governor acquiesces in writing a letter to the King asking for his transfer. Morose and bureaucratic, the process becomes obstructed and his expectations frustrated when a confrontational magistrate assistant, Ventura Prieto (Juan Minujín), becomes a direct rival in more than one front.

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The good times were clearly over for Zama, who falls in disgrace, becoming psychologically tormented due to the interminable waiting. Furthermore, just to complicate his miserable life, he crosses paths with Vicuña Porto (Matheus Nachtergaele), a terrifying bandit with an awful reputation, who everybody thought was dead.

Mrs. Luenga made sure to announce that there is no place for elegance in that town. As compensation, there’s plenty of elegance in Ms. Martel’s ways, which enchants with a blend of sophistication and abstraction in an unimaginable crossing between Claire Denis, Manoel de Oliveira, and John Boorman. If the musical score is perhaps too soft for the incidents, then the visuals are outstandingly feverish, magnified by the contribution of Portuguese cinematographer Rui Poças (Tabu; The Ornithologist).

Filled with situations that mirror the social and racial preconception of the time, this hypnotic tale of punishment and atrocious colonialism is an engrossing experience, likely to be turned into a cult film.

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They Returned (2015)

They Returned (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ivan Noel
Country: Argentina

Movie Review: From Argentina, country that usually spits out a lot of interesting dramas, comedies, and thrillers, comes “They Returned”, a part crime, part horror film that is nothing else than a spectral revenge tale set in a small Argentine town. The sixth feature by Ivan Noel starts with considerable mystery and was decently mounted, showcasing solid performances by Jorge Booth and Romina Pinto, joined by the newcomers Julio Mendez, Camila Cruz, Rosana Rossotti, and Edmee Aran. However, the film's finale demonstrates to be the main setback of a story that involves the murder of three kids in ‘The Shame’, an abandoned hospital that is the refuge of a secluded former Nazi known as ‘the lunatic’, the last of a known German family, the Himmels. The kids eventually return home, naked and sexually mutilated, drawing the attention of the country’s authorities that send an experienced inspector to clarify and solve the puzzle. The Jew inspector Cohen (Booth) reunites with the passive mayor, the arrogant local judge (Aran), a concerned psychologist (Pinto), and the school’s headmistress (Rossotti). All of them have their own secrets, but the suspicions fall on Sergio (Mendez), an ‘illuminated’ schoolteacher who keeps talking about an evil chain, with origin in the past, that he considers responsible for the occurrences. It’s him who brings the theory that the kids are already dead, the reason why they act so apathetic and unresponsive. Some of the kids’ parents might have something to reveal too. It’s the case of Paola (Cruz) who lives haunted by a sad past and resentful with her vague boyfriend. The filmmaker Ivan Noel has a strong sense of aesthetics, slyly bringing in spooky atmospheres created through the score that he composed. It was a pity that the finale let down the little quiet chaos he was able to immerse this little town in. Working more at the psychological level, “They Returned” was never creepy enough to make us forget its progressive quibbles and plot failures.

Jauja (2014)

Jauja (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Lisandro Alonso
Country: Argentina / others

Movie Review: Different from anything else, “Jauja” is a picturesque, philosophical neo-western film from Argentinean Lisandro Alonso who counted with Viggo Mortensen in the main role and co-production. In a Patagonian desert, the Danish traveller, captain Gunnar Dinesen (Mortensen), tries to keep his beautiful young daughter Ingeborg (Viilbjork Malling Agger) away from the eyes of the obscene Lieutenant Pittaluga. However, his efforts are in vain since she runs away with the seductive soldier Coto, and later is taken by the mysterious Colonel Zuluago who everybody believed disappeared in uncertain territory. Dinesen resolves to hop on his horse to follow his beloved daughter’s trail in a journey where he finds death, experiences mystical situations, and discovers tortuous ways toward the soul. Once the narrative is a pipe dream, “Jauja” mostly relies in its bucolic visual aesthetics to impress. It’s simultaneously eccentric, excessively contemplative and vague in its insinuations (some ‘coconut heads’ are mentioned but we never put our eyes on them), requiring a lot of patience from the viewers. The deliberate slow pace and an infinity of humdrum distant long shots don’t make things easier, and not even ghostly dogs can awake us from this nightmarish trip to nowhere. Jodorowsky would have made it beautifully bizarre, while Tavernier (some resemblance in terms of mood) certainly would have made it narratively focused. Hereupon, “Jauja” is a very difficult film, that didn’t show any special motive to be distinguishable, beyond the beautiful cinematography from the Finnish Timo Salminen, habitual collaborator of filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki.

Wild Tales (2014)

Wild Tales (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Damian Szifron
Country: Argentina / Spain

Movie Review: As the title implies, the Argentine “Wild Tales” is a collection of six wild short stories that work fine in its own terms, and smartly end up composing a bigger picture that bestows so much to ponder and appreciate. Away from feature-length film for nine years, Damian Szifron proves once again his skills as writer and filmmaker, creating a social-political satire that feels simultaneously outraging and hilarious. The shortest of the stories takes place onboard of a plane, and its presented even before the opening credits, giving the exact notion of what we should expect next: impetuous stories of vengeance in face of injustice, social discrimination, greed, corruption, and betrayal. In truth, crazy coincidences and insane behaviors continues in the next takes: a waitress serves the presumptuous man responsible for the death of her father; a man driving an Audi insults a driver of a modest car in a deserted dusty road; an engineer becomes jobless and struggles with divorce after a sequence of incidents with origin in his towed car; a wealthy father tries to use an innocent employee and negotiate with his greedy lawyer, in order to avoid the arrest of his irresponsible son; finally, a bride finds out during her wedding party that she was cheated by the groom, getting totally out of control and perpetrating a terrible vengeance. Everything is wildly depicted and in a pace that never slows down, but the really good thing in “Wild Tales” is that every tale is plausible and consequently every situation feels real, so no room for fantasies here, in spite of the saturated sarcasm. Pedro Almodóvar and his brother Agustin co-produced, while Ricardo Darin, Erica Rivas and Leonardo Sbaraglia stood out from the cast.

Viola (2012)

Viola (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Matias Piñeiro
Country: Argentina / USA

Movie Review: Filmmaker Matias Piñeiro, considered one of the new voices of Argentinean cinema, brings us a philosophical drama about relationships that was a bit hard to digest. A group of young actresses from Buenos Aires discuss love and life, while rehearsing for William Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night”. In a parallel story (not without a point of intersection), a young woman pedals through the city, delivering her boyfriend’s original music in the form of CD. Despite its 63 minutes, I found very difficult to penetrate in the spirit of "Viola", and be attentive to the torrent of words thrown out by its characters. It was constructed with mild tones, cyclic speech lines, and quiet conversations, blending quite well real-life and theater without making me entirely connect with its insinuating plot. In this ode to art, Piñeiro often seeks intimacy using multiple close-ups and gracious camera movements, and in several occasions the film even gave some indications, whether through images or speeches, that it could change into something more palpable or efficient, but “Viola” keeps riding freely in its own web of encounters and dialogues that felt more hollow than conclusive. If you like challenging movies with intellectual pretensions, maybe you’ll be extremely happy with this one. I like them myself, but this one in particular was unable to keep me thinking about it. Let’s wait for the next move of the emerging director/screenwriter Matias Piñeiro who showed potential to do more and better.

Underdogs (2013)

Underdogs (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Juan José Campanella
Country: Argentina / Spain

Movie Review: Acclaimed Argentinean helmer, Juan Jose Campanella, who brought us wonderful films like the comedy “Son of the Bride” or the praised thriller “The Secret in Their Eyes”, returns with “Underdogs”, a big-budget 3D animated movie that marks a new experiment in his career. The film is structured as a story inside the story, as a father tells his past adventures to his son, after seeing his fascination for some loose figures unscrewed from an old foosball table. Amadeo is an ace in the foosball table game, being the first and unique to beat the boaster Grosso, a bad loser kid who challenges everyone. Several years later, Grosso returns to avenge his defeat, control the small village and its people, and kidnap Laura - Amadeo’s beloved girlfriend. Amadeo will get the precious help of the foosball figures, which even competing against one another to determine who is the best scorer, will join forces to make justice. The film ends up with a decisive soccer match between the dwellers and the invaders, to decide the future of the village. Impeccably illustrated with irresistible colors, “Underdogs” was very well executed but not completely satisfying in its blend of sports and romance. A few funny moments, visual creativity, and an adventurous energy, were the most positive aspects of the film, but the lack of strength in determined segments of the story, together with a finale that slightly disappoints, threw this animated feature into standard territories. It’s competent and most probably will be a success near the younger ones, but I can’t avoid asking Campanella to return to his best comedies and thrillers.

Hawaii (2013)

Hawaii (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Marco Berger
Country: Argentina

Movie Review: With works such as “Plan B”, “Absent” or “Sexual Tension: Volatile”, film director Marco Berger is promptly associated to Argentinean queer cinema. His new feature film, “Hawaii”, stars Manuel Vignau, retrieved from 2009 “Plan B”, and Mateo Chiarino, as two childhood friends who meet again in their hometown, now as adults. Martin (Chiarino) came back to his village in the countryside to look up for his cousin, who disappeared without a trace four years ago. Almost by chance, he asks for a summer job to Eugenio (Vignau), a childhood acquainted who is taking care of his former house that now belongs to his uncle. Since the first minutes together, it was clear that Eugenio is physically attracted to Martin whose behavior is more ambiguous but often enters in tense games with his host friend. As the pair starts to be curious about each other’s past, some recalls from their forgotten childhood come to mind, and the doubt if they are really in love is carried out till the final moments. With a pace that was not particularly involving, “Hawaii” relies in the mood created around the relationship. There were some issues in letting the emotions come out, and most of the time the timid, reserved and cold tones weren’t enough to hold our attention. The expressive score by Pedro Irusta, who also produces, almost evokes the dramatic silent films from the past, combining with the languid progression of an optimistic gay love story, which didn’t reach so satisfactory levels as “Weekend” or “Keep the Lights On”.

Wakolda (2013)

Wakolda (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Lucía Puenzo
Country: Argentina / others

Movie Review: Better known for her 2007 auspicious debut “XXY”, Lucia Puenzo, embarks this time in an almost anticlimactic thriller set in a remote place in Patagonia, Argentina, where Dr. Josef Mengele, a Nazi fugitive, seeks guinea pigs within a family in order to develop his genetic theories and experiences. The story was based on her own book with the same name, and starts with a fortuitous encounter between Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl) and 12-year-old Lilith (Florencia Bado) who arouse his curiosity due to a poor body development and growth for her age. Right away, Mengele introduces himself to her parents and becomes the couple’s first guest in their renovated family inn. This tale of obsession and cruelty advances in a slow pace and reserved ambiance, and despite some tension around, it was never effectively applied to take our breath away. Although production values are competent, I got the sensation that this tale could have been told differently, in much less time, and surrounded in a more appropriate thrilling mood. The name Wakolda refers to Lilith’s favorite doll, which her father wanted to rebuild with a mechanical heart, turning it unique. Mengerle becomes interested and offers himself to invest in a mass production where each doll will be perfect and equal, in a subplot that worked as a too obvious symbolism to please or surprise us. The film received nine awards of Argentinean academy, including best direction, actor, and new actress.

White Elephant (2012)

White Elephant (2012)
Directed by: Pablo Trapero
Country: Argentina / Spain / France

Review: “White Elephant” depicts the paths taken by two priests while on mission in a poor and dangerous slum of Buenos Aires. Accurately photographed by Guillermo Nieto, the film shows the frightful conditions lived by the inhabitants of the village. Most of the population lives outraged without a decent home, protesting against governmental injustices, and involved in violence, drug consumption, and criminal gangs. Ricardo Darin and Jeremie Renier constructed their characters with sincerity, showing the constant struggle among external concerns and internal dilemmas. This is a story about the courage and determination of two men who abandoned a comfortable life to dedicate themselves to the less fortunate, becoming exposed to different kinds of dangers. Its noble principle is here dispersed on other themes such as faith, love, sacrifice, and sin, from a Christian perspective. Though likeable and interesting, some scenes didn’t put all the excitement possible, evincing some difficulties on maintaining an easy flow and denoting some ups and downs in the narrative. This clerical-narcotraffic interaction achieved its purposes, not with distinctiveness but in a satisfactory way, making us realize how wounded these souls become by witnessing so much misery.

Sidewalls (2011)

Sidewalls (2011)
Directed by: Gustavo Taretto
Country: Argentina / Spain / others

Review: “Sidewalls” starts by making an interesting parallel between the deficient architecture of Buenos Aires and states of mind on people. It depicts the long paths taken by two soul mates, before they finally meet. Martin is a phobic web designer, who is predestined to love Mariana, a depressed girl who's facing a four-year relationship rupture. Before they find each other, other amorous experiences will occur. The unhappiness and frustration that came out from those experiences were well conjugated with common issues of nowadays, such as: technology dependence, sedentary behaviors, and isolation. Debutant filmmaker Gustavo Taretto uses an immutable, unhurried ambiance, to depict loneliness and a bunch of psychological disorders. The dialogues weren’t so interesting, yet the film discoursed elaborated monologues, which tried to help us understand better the characters, the architecture, or the impact of technology on our lives. This particular aspect went through an over-explanatory tone that didn’t always work successfully. Despite its strangled spirit and implausible ending, “Sidewalls” still has its enjoyable moments, intercalated with riveting images of concrete, steel and glass.

Chinese Take-Away (2011)

Directed by: Sebástian Boresztein
Country: Argentina

Plot: In Buenos Aires, the obsessive and lonely Roberto will try to help a Chinese who is lost.
Review: This is a surreal story that works intermittently. Ricardo Darin is the true soul of this movie and without his performance I doubt if this story would succeed.  It’s that type of movie that doesn’t add anything special to our lives and will not be remembered often, but is extremely efficient for a relaxed and uncompromised viewing. Most of the jokes were based on the difficulty of communication between Argentineans and Chinese, but as said before, the character of Roberto (Darin) was the real deal. You’ll find that communication for him (spoken or not) can really be a problem!
Relevant awards: Special mention (Havana); best director (Fantasporto, Portugal).

Las Acacias (2011)

Directed by: Pablo Giorgelli
Country: Argentina

Plot: Rubén is a lonely truck driver who has been covering for years the motorway from Asunción del Paraguay to Buenos Aires, carrying wood. However, today's journey will be different.
Quick comment: Definitely not for everyone - minimal story; very slow pace. At first it’s really a test to your patience because almost anything happens for a long time. Slowly, it starts to unfold some warm feelings and we can catch a glimpse of romance that will arrive soon. Could have had a bit more of excitement but it’s still worth for its realism and authenticity.
Relevant Awards: Golden Camera at Cannes Film Festival, France.

The Window (2008)

Directed by: Carlos Sorin
Country: Argentina

Plot: Carlos Sorin writes and directs this nostalgic meditation on memory, aging, and death concerning a bedridden 80-year-old father anticipating the arrival of his long-estranged son, a world-renowned concert pianist.
Quick Comment: very well thought and done, based on a beautiful lyrical reflection about getting old. Simple but deep plot with a fantastic photography.
Relevant Awards: FIPRESCI Prize at Valladolid International Film Festival, Spain

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Phase 7 (2011)

Realizado por: Nicolas Goldbart
País: Argentina
Misturando comédia negra, sci-fi e acção, retrata o início de uma pandemia que cedo se torna numa batalha mortal entre vizinhos num edifício colocado em quarentena. Coco é o personagem principal do filme. Preguiçoso e desleixado, vai aliar-se ao seu paranóico vizinho Horácio, que se revelará de extrema importância para a sua sobrevivência no prédio. Não sendo nada de transcendente e recorrendo a um tema já tantas vezes abordado, possui no entanto um humor mórbido que consegue manter o filme e fazer-nos soltar alguns risos, quase que envergonhando o recente "contagion" de Soderbergh. Não nos leva a lugar nenhum, mas tem o mérito de conseguir manter os níveis de adrenalina elevados.

The Invisible Eye (2010)


Realizado por: Diego Lurman
País: Argentina

História passada em Buenos Aires no início dos anos 80, em plena ditadura militar. Maria Teresa é uma jovem de 23 anos que trabalha como preceptora numa das escolas mais rígidas da capital. Atormentada por ainda ser virgem e sentindo um "fraquinho" por um dos alunos, vai expor-se a situações comprometedoras, quando utiliza os lavabos masculinos da escola para o expiar. O seu chefe, por sua vez, sente-se atraído por ela, e ao aperceber-se da situação, irá tentar aproveitar-se. Um filme arrojado e com interesse sobre a repressão em duas vertentes: política e sexual.

The Last Summer of La Boyita (2009)

Realizado por: Julia Solomonoff
País: Argentina
Jorgelina é uma jovem menina, nascida na cidade. Ao decidir passar o Verão com o seu pai num rancho de família no campo, vai reencontrar Mario, um adolescente que lá trabalha com a sua família e que tem como paixão as corridas de cavalos. A amizade de longa data entre os dois jovens é evidente, mas Mario encontra-se a passar por algumas mudanças inesperadas, tanto na sua fisionomia como no seu metabolismo. Ao desabafar com a amiga e ao ser observado pelo pai desta (médico da aldeia), concluímos que Mário é hermafrodita. Filme competente e ao mesmo nível de outro filme argentino de 2007 sobre o mesmo tema, "XXY" de Lucia Puenzo.

Lion's Den (2009)

Realizado por: Pablo Trapero
País: Argentina

Uma estudante universitária, grávida de dois meses, é enviada para uma prisão especial, após ter sido acusada de matar o seu namorado. O filme conta-nos a sua luta para criar o filho num ambiente hostil e a tentativa desesperada de mantê-lo junto a si, após a criança ter-lhe sido retirada pela avó.
Com algumas falhas ao nível do argumento, não deixa no entanto de prender o espectador até ao final.

The Secret In Their Eyes (2009)

Realizado por: Juan Jose Campanella
País: Argentina

Ar fresco, chega-nos neste filme argentino do realizador de "Son of the Bride"(1993).
O magnífico enredo do argumento capta a atenção do espectador durante todo o filme.
Um caso de investigação obsessiva de um homicídio, a corrupção no sistema judicial argentino, a necessidade de fazer justiça com as próprias mãos e um caso amoroso de difícil resolução, são os ingredientes para este merecido vencedor do Oscar para melhor filme estrangeiro.