May 1, 2008, 4:51PM
FILM FESTIVAL
Latin Wave immersed in cultural life, regional flavor

By DAVID DORANTES
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle


Nine selections from the Latin American film industry that reflect the color and the daily and cultural life of that part of the world will be screened through Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for the third annual Latin Wave: New Films from Latin America.

Among the festival's filmsare a documentary about an Argentinean scholar, a chronicle of soldiers turned millionaires, a love story, films that feature a group of children trying to explain politics in their country, teenagers who plan a robbery and a man eagerly awaiting the pope's visit.

Two films are from Argentina, two from Mexico and one each from Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil and Venezuela.

Festival director Mónika Wagenberg, who spoke about Latin Wave from her home in Buenos Aires, Argentina, underscored that her search focused on "the best movies made in each country."

"The general criteria I used to select these films were that they offer something new, break old schemes and take risks, whether in the story itself or the way the story is told."

She said even blockbusters can defy formulas and old schemes. For example, Soñar no Cuesta Nada (A Ton of Luck) is a movie that broke records at the box office in Colombia the year of its release, and it is the country's top moneymaker in the past 12 years.

Soñar no Cuesta Nada's director, Rodrigo Triana, said the film is based on a true story.

The story begins in May 2003 when two Colombian army companies find more than $16 million buried in the middle of the jungle. They decide to spend the money, and what unfolds is a story the filmmaker describes as "delirious."

"Things happening in Colombia surpass fiction. When the story appeared in the newspapers, it seemed mind-blowing, so we decided to make it into a film," Triana said. He is one of the four directors coming to Houston to speak to the audience about his film.

Triana maintains the strength of Latin American film is in the stories: "On each corner of our countries there is a film to be made; our stories are our great strength."

The strength of the stories, he said, is important to the revival of Latin American filmmaking.

Venezuelan filmmaker Maria Escandón's Postales de Leningrado (Postcards from Leningrad) is about how several children see the leftist guerrilla movements of their country during the 1960s.

She echoed Triana's assessment of the revival in Latin American movies.

"Filmmaking in Latin American has taken an impressive step. In recent years, there has been a release of a great number of movies that stand on their own," Escandón said.

Wagenberg is convinced that "there is an impressive resurgence of Latin American filmmaking, and its strength has to do with its diversity."

An example of that diversity is "the number of women now making films in Latin America. The selection of films to be screened in Houston includes the works of three female directors (Encarnación, Anahí Berneri; XXY, Lucía Puenzo; and Postales de Leningrado). "To have three female directors is an important achievement."


LATIN WAVE FILM SCHEDULE

All films shown at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Brown Auditorium Theater, Caroline Wiess Law Building, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7515

• Santiago (Brazil, Portuguese with English subtitles): On the surface, João Moreira Salles' documentary is a portrait of Roteiro Santiago, the Argentinean butler who served Salles' family for 30 years. But it is also a journey of personal and professional discovery for the director. 5 p.m. Saturday

• Encarnación (Argentina, Spanish with English subtitles): A former pin-up model and showgirl now in her 50s returns to her hometown to face the disdain of her family. 3 p.m. Saturday

• A Ton of Luck (Colombia, Spanish with English subtitles): When the 147 members of an anti-guerrilla unit on a rescue mission in the jungles of Colombia stumble upon a staggering cache of drug money, the men face a tough moral dilemma: What to do with $46 million of untraceable loot? 9:30 p.m. Sunday

• Postcards from Leningrad (Venezuela, Spanish with English subtitles): Postcards from Leningrad captures a child's-eye view of life in the 1960s with Venezuela's armed revolutionaries. 5 p.m. Friday and 5:45 p.m. Sunday

• The Pope's Toilet (Uruguay, Spanish with English subtitles): When Pope John Paul II announces that he will be visiting the Uruguayan border town of Melo, and 50,000 Brazilians are projected to arrive on a pilgrimage to see the Pope, Beto decides to seize the opportunity to build a high-class outhouse and make his fortune. 7 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday

• XXY (Argentina, Spanish with English subtitles): Inés Efron portrays a pubescent hermaphrodite (born with a condition known as "genital ambiguity") whose body is changing and who is forced to decide whether she/he will become a woman, a man or something else. 9 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Sunday

• The Zone (Mexico, Spanish with English subtitles): Three teenage boys from the slums take advantage of an electrical-storm accident that allows them to sneak into "The Zone," a fortresslike private community for the wealthy. The boys' plan for robbery and a quick getaway soon goes awry. 9 p.m. Saturday and 7:45 p.m. Sunday

• Silent Night (Mexico, Spanish with English subtitles): A parable of infidelity and selfless love set among a contemporary Mennonite community in northern Mexico. 3 p.m. Sunday