Thursday, July 7, 2011

AFA fetes new Mexican cinema; first up -- Nicolás Pereda and SUMMER OF GOLIATH

Like Mexican movies? Want to see more of 'em? New York City's Anthology Film Archives, Cinema Tropical and the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York are launching a new "film initiative" that will be popping in and out of view over the summer. Dedicated to celebrating, as the AFA press release puts it,  "the vigorous revitalization of recent Mexican cinema and featuring some of its most exciting and celebrated emerging directors," the initiative showcases works by these directors and includes three parts, which features two theatrical premieres. The first of these begins tomorrow -- Friday, July 8 -- with one week's worth of screenings of the films (including the New York theatrical premiere of SUMMER OF GOLIATH) of a Mexican filmmaker TrustMovies had never heard of: Nicolás Pereda.

Helpful for me and anyone else with limited knowledge of Pereda, who is shown at right, AFA and its co-hosts are offering several of his films so that, coming away from the week dedicated to his work (The Films of Nicolás Pereda, July 8-14), we'll have a pretty good sense of who the guy is, film-wise.

According to the press materials, Pereda -- at only 27 years -- is one of the rising stars of contemporary Mexican cinema, with a body of work comprising five extraordinary feature-length films and one short. Widely screened – and acclaimed – on the film festival circuit, his films "combine aspects of some of the most notable trends in contemporary world cinema, including elements of deadpan minimalism, slacker cinema, the documentary/fiction hybrid, and long-take formalism."

Having seen at this point only Pereda’s Summer of Goliath (photos, above and below), winner of the Best Film prize in the Orizzonti section at the Venice Film Festival 2010), I can attest to those "trends" being present -- particularly the documentary/narrative mash-up -- though as to how well they work together, I am not entirely convinced.  

SOG, as I'll now call it for the sake of space and undue repetition, begins quite like a documentary, as someone -- the filmmaker? -- questions young kids who are relatives and friends of the boy Goliath, and the boy himself (above), about a murder he is supposed to have committed but of which we immediately have our doubts. Then we cut to a long shot -- in fuzzy focus -- of a woman walking and dragging a large, heavy bag along with her. She stops and adjusts the bag. Is there a body in it, we wonder? Nah. Nothing so obvious. Or at least, so we eventually decide. 

This fuzzy focus appears now and then as the film continues, and I am not sure what it means. Questionable happenings or truthfulness? Perhaps things we would not want to see, or the characters would not have us learn about them? That woman carrying the sack, it turns out, suffers greatly because her man has left her for another woman. Their son and his friend, recently expelled from the military, spend their time trying to out-macho each other and threatening a local senior. The son also carries an unrequited torch for a village girl, who'll have nothing to do with him -- probably just as well, we decide. There's lots of anger here; is this is macho society on it last legs?

The woman's best friend, the much older lady (at right), tries to keep body and soul together selling old catalogs which no one wants. She also dispenses advice to her love-bereft pal. All this takes place in the countryside, and quite beautiful it is: rich and verdant and perhaps not used to its full capacity. You could say the same about all the people here. For all its beauty, sadness and waste hang over the movie like a shroud. Or am I perceiving this third-world view through the eyes of first-world entitlement? Mexicans would probably understand and make much more of the film than am I. 

In any case, SOG is never uninteresting, with its often crisp images only accentuating the "fudgy" sense of responsibility its characters possess. The film ambles along, showing but rarely telling (a style I usually prefer, though sometimes, as in this case, understandable connections are that much harder to make). At the end, a character dispenses with a loved one's belongings but then cannot bear to part with some of them. Letting go is hard, and love surely does not come easy. And in this summer, when the problem of Goliath may be the thing on most of the villagers' minds (as is the just-finished trial of Casey Anthony in our country), how much more important is the daily grind of simply getting by. And connecting.

“The Films of Nicolás Pereda” is organized by FiGa Films. For the complete schedule, dates and times, click here, and then click further, as instructed by the AFA web designer.

After a seven-week break, the second part of this Mexican initiative continues with the New York theatrical premiere run of Eugenio Polgovsky’s THE INHERITORS, September 9-15. The most highly praised and awarded Mexican documentary in recent years, the film is said to immerse us in the daily lives of children who, with their families, survive only by their unrelenting labor. Hailed as "remarkable... a sometimes harrowing but also poetic and thoughtful film" by Screen Daily, The Inheritors is an austere portrait of children who have inherited tools and techniques from their ancestors, but have alsoinherited their day-to-day hardships and toil. (Distributed by Icarus Films.)

Seeing the summer off, the final portion, from September 16 through the 22 -- GenMex: Recent Films from Mexico, curated by Carlos A. Gutiérrez -- presents works made by some of the outstanding filmmakers of this generation, including Drama/Mex (from which a still is shown above), the debut feature film of Gerardo Naranjo (director of the Cannes’ favorite Miss Bala); Raging Sun Raging Sky (below) by Julián Hernández, described by the New York Press'  Armond White as “Mexico’s finest, yet critically neglected, auteur”; and some lesser-known yet exciting films that have had very limited exposure in the U.S. such as Jonás Cuarón’s Año Uña and Yulene Olaizola’s excellent and shocking Intimidades de Shakespeare y Víctor Hugo, winner of the Best Film award at the Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival (BAFICI).

I'll hope to have more to say about some of these Mexican films as the final two weeks of the program approaches.  For now, to view the complete schedule, dates and times, click here, and then click further, as instructed by the AFA web designer.

The photos above are from the films themselves, except that of 
Senor Pereda, which comes courtesy of Getty Images.

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