Lawrence’s first ever Spanish language festival

Lauren Nokes

Lawrence’s first ever Latin American and Spanish film festival came to a triumphant close May 13 after its five-day run. Featuring nine films from seven countries, the festival demonstrated the incredible artistic vibrancy of the Spanish-speaking and Latino world.

Thanks to the Department of Spanish, the Lawrence campus and the Appleton community had free access to a wide variety of high-quality, wonderful films that are relatively unknown in this area.

This first edition of the festival focused on the body and sex. The films addressed themes of desire, obsession, sexuality, family, prostitution, love and heartbreak. They were funny, sexy, clever, passionate, unsettling, sad and tender. They spoke to the universally human as well as transporting viewers into daily life in distant parts of the world.

The festival opened with acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s 2011 film, “The Skin I Live In.” The other films included “The Fish Child” (Argentina, 2009), “Reverón” (Venezuela, 2011), “Leap Year” (Mexico, 2010), “A Year Without Love” (Argentina, 2005), “Undertow” (Peru, 2009), “Love for Sale” (Brazil, 2006), “Mosquita y Mari” (USA, 2012) and “Chico & Rita” (Spain, 2010). On May 11, respected Hispanic Studies scholar Paul Julian Smith gave a lecture on the theme “Almodóvar’s Women.”

My favorite film was “Chico & Rita,” a great choice with which to end the festival. An animated film made in Spain but set in 1940s and 50s Cuba and America, the film told a timeless love story about a jazz pianist and a singer while vividly conjuring up the times and places of the story.

The combination of beautiful and rousing music — the soundtrack featured Dizzy Gillespie and Theolonius Monk, among others — humor, and tumultuous romance made this film a great crowd-pleaser. I haven’t seen a film with as much heart and soul as “Chico & Rita” in a long while. The lovely, bittersweet ending particularly moved me.

I also enjoyed the quiet, more thoughtful film “Love for Sale.” The film told the partly-autobiographical story of a young woman named Hermila who returned to her hometown and raffled her body to raise money to support herself and her son while longing for freedom. The lingering, luminous cinematography infused the everyday with deep feeling and significance as Hermila sought happiness while trying to balance desire, duty to her family, and economic necessity.

I heard that “Undertow” was one of the best films of the festival, although I was not able to see it. The film tells an “unusual ghost story” about a married fisherman and his male lover living in a restrictively traditional Peruvian village. By all accounts, this is a beautiful and moving story, which I look forward to watching this summer.

If, like me, you’re sorry that the festival has ended, here’s some good news for you: the second edition of the now annual Latin American and Spanish Film Festival will arrive sometime next April, this time with a focus on music! ¿Qué chévere, no?