Woodard: Latin American Coup

Pablo Larrain’s NO, Benjamin Avila’s Clandestine Childhood, and Norway, China, and More

As a full house packed the Lobero to catch the single screening of the witty, vibrant, and moving Chilean film NO on Saturday afternoon, the singular pleasure of taking in this fine piece of filmmaking and historical accounting — about the ouster of Pinochet in a 1988 vote — was enhanced by one of those little moments of in-house SBIFF coup-and-triumph. Here we had a screening of one of the official foreign language Oscar nominees — a first for a Chilean film — bolstered by the star power of Gael Garcia Bernal, and a gleaming part of this festival’s years-long commitment to giving a showcase to Latin American cinema.

Bernal wasn’t able to make it to the screening, as planned, but director Pablo Larrain was on hand to make a few choice words to say about his project. He spoke of the importance of dealing with this important moment in his country’s history, 25 years ago, the contemporary resonance of its message, and the importance of getting involved in the great cause of democracy: “If you don’t do it, someone else will do it for you.”

On a similar theme, over many years, the festival has brought a variety of films dealing with the reign of darkness and terror in Argentina during the ‘70s. Many have been tense and necessarily graphic, but this year’s entry in that field, Benjamin Avila’s wonderful Clandestine Childhood, the grislier aspects are present yet artfully pushed into the margins, sometimes with the use of graphic novel-ish illustrations. At its heart, the film assumes a child’s eye view of a nation in turmoil, being the son of dissident parents forced into hiding and an assumed identity, hence the clandestine factor. Somehow, Avila captures the intensity and righteous rebellion of the situation, while exploring the very human theme of young love amidst the anarchy.

Meanwhile, on the live human discourse front, no less an artist than Daniel Day Lewis made his affable yet semi-mystical presence known at the Montecito Award tribute evening, at the Arlington on Saturday night. Whereas the previous night’s celeb, Ben Affleck, gabbed articulately about his impressively revived life in the movies, Lewis was a cooler character onstage, genuinely pondering the mystery of what makes his work… well, work, and so powerfully. When they screened potent scenes from There Will be Blood and Lincoln, at evening’s end, before Sally Field’s bubbly award introduction, we were all reminded of this actor’s unique and possibly cosmically-fueled eminence as a screen actor.

It often happens that the more feelgood component of the festival program is consigned to English-speaking films, a trend continuing into the current fest. Australian film The Sapphires, directed by Wayne Blair, hits a lot of the warm fuzzy points and juices us up with the power of a good old school soul song, in its reality-based tale of Aboriginal soul sisters in the ‘60s who strike a chord with a tour of Vietnam, under fire and on fire. An Awkward Sexual Encounter, directed by Canadian Sean Garrity, opens with a scene befitting its title and following a sexual awakening of a cold fish plotline yields several laughs along its rambling, too-long path.

On the subject of treks, from China, the film One Mile Above, engagingly tracks the progress of a young bicyclist arduous trek to Lhasa, while the Norwegian Kon-Tiki — another official Oscar Foreign Film nominee — follows the famous 1948 raft expedition from Peru to Polynesia, with fun, slick and Hollywood saucy production values.


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