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It’s come to my attention that my Spanish translation of this blog’s title has been wrong since my first post for the 2010 festival. Now that I have corrected it presumably people will actually start reading! Moving on to part two of my coverage of the 2011 AFI Latin American Film Festival. See part one here.

All Your Dead Ones (Todos Sus Muertos), Colombia, dir: Carlos Moreno

You always run the risk with a foreign film of something getting lost in translation. Sometimes literally: slang, a turn of phrase, or joke that fits perfectly in the original language might not have an appropriate translation. A lyrical line in one language can lose its beauty in another. But films also are designed with an audience in mind and they rely on that audience having certain knowledge. A joke about a stereotype won’t work if the audience doesn’t already know the stereotype. A cultural reference relies on the audience knowing the culture.

I think some of All Your Dead Ones gets lost in translation.

A farmer awakes one morning to discover a pile of bodies in his field. He dutifully hops on his bicycle to go to town and report the murders. It’s election day in the state and the politicians, policemen, and officials he meets have little interest in a massacre except to figure out how rid themselves of the problem. Eventually the mayor and some policemen make their way to the farm where they hatch a series of absurd plots to take care of the nuisance.

Many of the farm scenes turn into long, drawn-out episodes filled with uneasy silence. My sense is that they are meant to be tense, presumably because the officials’ intent to cover up the bodies could pose some danger to the farmer and his family. I did not feel this tension. To me they were nothing but long, boring scenes and I think this is where the translation problem comes in. A Colombian audience would have an understanding of the local social and political situations. The filmmakers wouldn’t have to do anything special as the audience would provide its own tension to an awkward showdown between police and lowly farmer.

On the other hand, I found the police more bumbling than threatening. I know of Colombia’s recent history of paramilitary and rebel atrocities, but there’s nothing in an encounter between a farmer and the police that would seem fraught with danger to me.

At least this is how I read it. Maybe it is meant to be kind of boring instead of tense. D.

Hermano, Venezuela, dir: Marcel Rasquin

It’s not often you get a movie that falls into the cliches of not one but two genres. In Hermano, Venezuela’s submission for last year’s Foreign Language Oscar, we get treated to a story of Daniel, a boy growing up in the Caracas slums trying to stay out of trouble while leading his soccer team to the city championships.

There is an interesting foundation to the story in Daniel’s family. The film opens with what he calls his “birth”: when he is discovered in a trash heap by a mother and her young son, Julio. The film skips ahead to when the boys are teens and the family’s interactions are sweet and interesting. The brothers are close and make a great team on the soccer field, but their status as legitimate and adoptive sons always remains just under the surface. Julio is also involved with the neighborhood’s crime syndicate, which Daniel tries to avoid but cannot always.

Hermano is one of those films where every character is allowed to have one emotion at a time and always feels that emotion very strongly. First I am sad but now I am very angry at you and now I love you. It undercuts the appeal of the family’s unique bond. It also checks all the boxes for a poor child trying but not always succeeding to avoid trouble movie and a sports movie, including the usual implausibilities of the latter.

Still, it’s hard to be too annoyed with the film as it is amiable enough. The story kept my attention even if it didn’t always grab me emotionally. Some scenes are thrilling and the limited look into contemporary life in Caracas is welcome. C-.

The Last Commandant (El Último Comandante), Costa Rica/ Brazil, dir: Isabel Martínez

Sometimes you see a movie that isn’t at all what you expected. This was my experience with The Last Commandant. The plot revolves around a former Sandanista commander in the Nicaraguan civil war who surfaces in Costa Rica decades after the war’s end. Judging from what I read about the film, I expected something related to the war’s aftermath and the social and cultural rifts that linger.

It turns out it’s a character study of an asshole. Our commander is just an asshole who didn’t care about the war, didn’t care about his wife, doesn’t care about his former soldiers he encounters, and doesn’t care who he has to screw over to get what he wants. And what he wants is the money to open a cha-cha-cha studio, a dream he’s rather pathetically pursued for years.

Interestingly, the film starts as a story about his former wife as she searches for him before entirely shifting to the commander himself. So this film wants to defy all sorts of expectations!

It’s a somewhat interesting movie that kept my attention even if it didn’t thrill or move me. It’s Damian Alcazar’s lead performance that makes it good enough to mildly enjoy. Movies about assholes can wear on the viewer and Alacazar brings enough of a pathetic air and even some humor to push the film over the line. C.

Clubbing (De Caravana), Argentina, dir: Rosendo Ruíz

Juan attends a concert in Cordoba to take some photos of a music icon. While there he meets Sara and she goes home with him but she steals his camera. He tracks her down to find that she works with a drug dealer who only promises to return his camera once he does some work for him, thrusting Juan into lower-class and criminal worlds he was unaware of in his previously high-class life. Sounds like a gritty crime drama with shifty morals and character-testing predicaments, right?

Maybe at this point I should mention that besides Sara and drug dealer Maxtor, the third member of the crime ring is a sassy but very sweet transvestite named Penelope who wants to open a spa. And that Juan doesn’t really mind his criminal errands. In fact, he rather enjoys his excursions into the criminal underworld. Juan and Maxtor become friends while Juan pursues Sara. It turns out the whole thing is very low stakes. The only real conflict is friction with Sara’s ex-boyfriend who is a competitor both in business and love.

So what’s the point then? It becomes something interesting by the utter bizareness of it all. The characters have interesting and random conversations, especially driven by Maxtor and Penelope. They’re often about nothing important but are still amusingly strange. Rodrigo Savina as Maxtor stands out with his earnest but manic investment in these discussions.

All told, a movie that modestly succeeds by riding its bizarre characters even as the plot fizzles. Not too shabby. C+.

July 2020