I guess it’s no surprise that the most economically unequal region in the world produces plenty of films about class. The Widows of Thursdays was sort of about that, but the two I’m discussing today are even more explicit.


Southern District (Zona sur), Bolivia, dir: Juan Carlos Valdivia

A portrait of a white upper-class family that lives in a villa in a rich part of La Paz. The matriarch is divorced and her children are a lesbian college student, a teenage son that spends his time partying and having sex, and a five-year-old son. Two Indian servants round out the household.

Vadivia puts the camera in the middle of a room and gives it at least one full rotation as the scene unfolds. The technique is immersive and interesting. It’s also quite effective since the film concentrates on the characters’ interactions and allows the viewer to pick up subtle cues rather than developing much of a plot. There are some visual flourishes that I thought went over the top, but otherwise it’s a fascinating film.

Southern District was Bolivia’s submission for last year’s Foreign Language Oscar race but was not nominated.

Chance, Panama, dir: Abner Benaim

Another movie dealing with a rich white family’s interactions with its native servants, but it’s about as different as possible. When the family is about to head out on a pricey weekend vacation even though they haven’t paid their staff for weeks, the maids decide to fight back. They take the family hostage and demand a ransom. But it turns out the father has blown through the family’s wealth, so the maids have to get creative.

I think the film has designs on being a commentary on class, but I’m not sure it works terribly well in that regard. I guess it has some lessons to impart, but they’re hardly novel. Instead, it works very well as a broad comedy. I think if it was remade for American audiences it would star Tim Allen and there would be at least one flatulence joke. It’s quite funny, though the jokes are pretty obvious. It’s very much an enjoyable crowd-pleaser and it had me happy leaving the theater.

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