Tuesday, September 8, 2009

FSLC's 12th annual Latinbeat fest opens with NORA'S WILL and MUSIC ON HOLD

Featuring 19 New York premieres among its 21 films, a special tribute to Julio Cortazar, and nine filmmakers on hand to discuss their work, this year's Latinbeat festival -- showcasing what the Film Society of Lincoln Center calls "the best in Latin American cinema" -- looks to provide entertaining and thought-provoking times at the Walter Reade Theater over the next 16 days.

TrustMovies has only seen four of the films so far but can assure you that simply terrific entertainment is provided by the two films (covered below) that share Opening Night honors -- Mariana Chenillo's NORA'S WILL (Cinco días sin Nora) and Hernán A. Golfrid's MUSIC ON HOLD (Música en espera). Two more, to be covered in the days to come, provide darker and more surprising journeys: Claudia Llosa's THE MILK OF SORROW (La teta asustada) and yet another ground-breaking documentary, SHAKESPEARE AND VICTOR HUGO'S INTIMACIES (Intimidades de Shakespeare y Víctor Hugo) by Yulene Olaizola. You can view Latinbeat's the complete schedule here.

Although Nora's Will is a comedy, and though I urge you to see it, expect no crass laughs. You'll have a smile on your face for much of its length, however -- until it takes you into unexpectedly moving territory without ever becoming maudlin. At this point, I don't know whether you will smile, cry or hold your breath in disbelief that a mere movie can accomplish what has just happened -- and so quietly, unassumingly that you may not, for some moments, know what hit you. This is a comedy in the Shakespearean meaning; pathos, if not tragedy, is waiting just around the corner.

The movie deals with a depressed woman, her put-upon ex-husband, extended family and religious community (the clan is Jewish). Among the many gifts the film bestows is the widening of our understanding of -- not just what religion can do to us, but -- what we can do to religion. This supplies much of the film's humor, which is not once pushed beyond the point of believability. Nora's Will is a quiet film but never for an instant dull. Something is always happening, and this keeps us on our toes. Ms Chenillo's approach as writer/director is to give us characters who appear initially negative. As the film progresses and we come to understand them, they bloom.

I hope it will not be taken amiss -- or sexist -- if I say that I cannot imagine this movie having been directed by a man. It is too alert, observant and humane. There are no villains (unless you ascribe that role to one very angry, or maybe hurt, rabbi). This is as full-bodied a group of people as I have seen in a modern comedy, and the film's cast enlivens each rich character with life and depth.
Nora's Will screens Wednesday, September 9, at 9:15;
Saturday, September 12, at 1;
and Sunday, September 13 at 9:15.

Music on Hold is a romantic comedy in the mainstream mode, but I am happy to say that Argentine mainstream appears to have certain features with which American mainstream still struggles: for one thing, the ability to grace a somewhat preposterous plot with enough clever specifics to ground it and carry the audience along, smiling. The title here refers to exactly that: the kind of music one gets via telephone, while waiting on "hold." This premise allows us to meet a composer, down on his luck; a young woman with child (and a good job at a bank) but without a man in her life; and her mother, living in Spain and thus being sold a bill of goods about her offspring's significant other, who makes a surprise visit.

As directed by Señor Golfrid and co-written by Julieta Steinberg and Patricio Vega, the movie bounces merrily along, with much of the comedy coming from the plot manipulations and the two splendid leading players -- Diego Peretti (above, left), an actor whose charisma, comedy chops and crack-head appearance work together very well, and Natalia Oreiro (above, right), whose beauty constantly vies with annoyance for a place at the table. In addition to humor, these two also produce enough romantic chemistry to fuel several films. They are joined by Argentina's grand dame Norma Aleandro (above, center), who plays "mom" to a fare-thee-well. The film was a massive hit in its home country; with proper shepherding, it might also pick up some coin playing the U.S. art-house circuit.
Music on Hold screens Wednesday, September 9, at 6:30;
Saturday September 12, at 7:30;
and Wednesday, September 16, at 8:30.

Photo Credits: The Film Society of Lincoln Center

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