Well, it was another good year.
Lawrence University’s annual event—the Latin American and Spanish Film Festival (LULASFF), which ran from Wednesday, April 20 to Saturday, April 23—once again delivered a strong showcase of the best films emerging from Mexico, Central America and Spain at the perfect time.
Due to such factors as the rise of the Internet, greater possibilities for low budget filmmaking, and—let us all be honest here—the weakening originality in mainstream American, Western European and Japanese cinema, over the last few years third world nations’ cinema has experienced an explosion of exciting films coming out of countries typically not well-represented on the world cinema stages. Just these last few years, the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film presented first-time nominees from Colombia, Jordan, Chile and Mauritania, to name a few, not to mention countries like Argentina being recognized for the first time in decades.
Argentina itself was the focus and country of origin for the opening film, “Wild Tales.” Really six short films in one, this Oscar-nominated comedy follows an eccentric collection of characters as the normal veneers of civilization fall away. Often hilarious—some of the subtitles in the weakest short alone are better than the last few Judd Apatow projects—the only weakness of the film is a lack of unity among the tales.
Other films at the festival emphasized their increasing international attention, to the extent that A-list actors such as Tim Roth—forever immortal as Mr. Orange in “Reservoir Dogs”—appear in “600 Miles,” a thriller from Mexico that can match anything you might see in a Hollywood project like “Sicario.” A side note for the curious: Roth keeps his Mexican connection strong; look for him this or next year in Michel Franco’s medical drama “Chronic,” which was not screened at the festival but is more than worth one’s time, should one be so inclined to chase it down.
While some of the other films, such as “Magical Girl” and “Marshland,” are worthy of recognition, all of the films pale in comparison to the most original film at the festival by far: “The Embrace of the Serpent,” a black-and-white drama from Colombia set in the Amazon that used indigenous actors and was directed by Ciro Guerra, who is sure to become a star on the world cinema circuit. Guerra is the first Oscar-nominated director from Colombia, and he has deservedly earned comparisons to Werner Herzog and Stanley Kubrick for this project.
Lawrence was also lucky enough to be joined by one of the five leads of the film, American actor Brionne Davis, who gave a Q&A after the film. Significantly different in appearance and demeanor to his character in the film, Davis won over his dazed audience with humor and excellent insight to the process that created this unique, visionary film, which is really what the festival should be for: an insight into something unique. Many of the films in this festival would slip past a non-cinemagoer—even this writer, who likes to consider himself pretty well-educated in the current state of cinema, had only heard of two of the titles that were screened—and this festival gives people the chance to see not only excellent cinema, but an insight into a world they can only get glimpses of. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert once described cinema as an empathy machine, and this festival offers enough empathy to break your heart. Seek out these films. They are worth your time.