Cuba's Havana Film Festival held its 34th edition in December. While it's been opening out with increasingly global programming since the fall of the USSR, it still retains its socialist-tinged remit of Latin American films for the masses.
The main competition (which the FIPRESCI jury focused on) was comprised of 21 Latin American features. Of these, three were Cuban, with the economic pressure to scrape a living through desperate means a running theme. Daniel Diaz Torres's comedy La Pelicula de Ana, for instance, sees a soap actress grab her chance for a highly-paid role by duping an Austrian documentary crew wanting to shoot Havana's seamy underbelly into believing she's a hooker, while in Jorge Perrugoria's Se Vende a man tries to sell his only possession: the family tomb.
Three of the strongest films in the main competition have already had strong showings on the international circuit and secured releases in many countries. Carlos Reygadas' visually lush, sensory stream of memories and fantasies Post Tenebras Lux, which was partly shot at his own home in the Mexican wilderness, depicts class tensions through the lens of a conflicted middle-class couple. Chilean director Pablo Larrain's No stars Gael Garcia Bernal as an ad-man called on to apply his professional skills to political campaigning during the dictatorship years, while White Elephant (Elefante Blanco) from Argentina's Pablo Trapero is a tense and emotionally searing drama about priests working with youths in a Buenos Aires slum.
But the biggest revelation, and winner of the FIPRESCI prize, was Greatest Hits (Los mejores temas) from Mexico's Nicolas Pereda, a daringly experimental, witty fiction-documentary blend. It reveals the artifice of representation itself even as it crosses the line from acting into genuine emotion in examining the return to the home of his resentful son of a flaky, absentee father (played by two men, one of whom is the actual father of the actor playing the son). Bewildering? Yes. Invigoratingly fresh and challenging? Definitely.
Latin American shorts accompanied each screening, and a number of these are also worthy of mention. Arrestingly shot, atmospheric Yeguas Y Cotorras, by Argentinian director Natalia Garagiola, depicts the precursor to the wedding of a privileged porteña, as the help toil away in the background. Brazil's Juliana Rojos offers a chillingly executed horror about a doppelgänger in El Doble, while a day at the beach suddenly turns into something altogether more unsettling in Mexican director Arcadi Palerm's Bajo El Sol.
In addition to Opera Prima first feature, documentary and animation sections, the festival offered homages to Antonioni, Svankmajer, Chris Marker and Kenji Misumi; strands focused on the national cinematic output of Germany, Spain, Canada, Italy and Poland; and Latin America in Perspective sections Made in Cuba, Experimental, Fantasy and Horror, and Trinidad and Tobago in Focus. For a nation in which very slow and heavily restricted internet access makes downloading films next to impossible, the festival remains a much-valued point of access to quality cinema for locals, and a fine snapshot of recent tendencies in Latin American cinema for guests. (Carmen Gray)
International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana: