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Our guide to the Chicago Latino Film Festival

More than seven dozen features, many showcasing South America's ongoing cinematic renaissance

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Usama Alshaibi of the Chicago Underground Film Festival and Carlos Jiménez Flores of the Chicago Latino Film Festival discuss depictions of race and ethnicity in popular media.

One of the city's largest film festivals continues this week, and the four reviews we've managed to cough up aren't even the tip of the iceberg—more like the tip of the tip of the iceberg. In addition to a second week of daily programming at River East 21, there are ancillary screenings at John Hancock High School and Saint Augustine College, and Gene Siskel Film Center presents a retrospective series of Latino films that were nominated for Oscars (including Central Station, The Crime of Father Amaro (El crimen del Padre Amaro), The Sea Inside, and The Secret in Their Eyes). J.R. Jones

All For One screens Sat 4/5 and Sun 4/6.
  • All For One screens Sat 4/5 and Sun 4/6.

All for One This broad comedy from Colombia has the swift pacing and loopy logic of a 30s screwball picture, and its sunny tone feels refreshingly old-fashioned too. Having decided to settle down, a rich and hopelessly naive womanizer (Santiago Alarcón) starts vetting potential brides, clueless to the fact that his devoted assistant (Jessica Cediel) is his true soul mate. The two leads maintain a sexy, breezy rapport in the Astaire-and-Rogers tradition; their energetic screen personas make up for the bare-bones mise-en-scene, as do the breakneck wordplay and narrative complications. Harold Trompetero directed a script he cowrote with Jeiver Pinto. Ben Sachs 88 min. Sat 4/5, 9 PM, and Sun 4/6, 8:15 PM.

[Recommended] The Amazing Catfish This glorious 2013 debut feature by Mexican writer-director Claudia Sainte-Luce takes one of the most shopworn melodramatic premises—a dying mother and her children trying to make the best of their time together—and makes it feel spontaneous and new. The story unfolds from the perspective of an aimless young woman who is adopted, so to speak, by the family of an eccentric single mother in the last stages of AIDS, and the ensemble has all the intimacy and volatility of a real family. Some of the most exciting moments come when Sainte-Luce simply plops her camera in the middle of the characters' domestic bustle and lets their dynamic shape the drama's ebb and flow; we come to regard them as a single, pulsating organism, and the film's wry, inquisitive tone evolves into one of quiet astonishment. Ben Sachs 87 min. Tue 4/8, 6:45 PM, and Wed 4/9, 8:45 PM.

For Love in the Caserio screens Fri 4/4 and Sun 4/6.
  • For Love in the Caserio screens Fri 4/4 and Sun 4/6.

For Love in the Caserio Adapted from a play by Antonio Morales, this 2013 drama transplants Romeo and Juliet to a Puerto Rican ghetto, with the handsome young lovers (Anoushka Medina and Xavier Antonio Morales) divided by feuding drug crews. Director Luis Enrique Rodriguez shot the movie in the shabby Llorens neighborhood near Ocean Park, recruiting some players from the area, and the montage sequences offer some vibrant local color. The whole thing goes down pretty easily, though the occasional nods to Shakespeare ("You're so cheesy!" the girl exclaims in the balcony scene, as the boy riffs on Romeo's "Juliet is the sun" soliloquy) are effectively neutralized by all the melodramatic cliches (the girl and her mother slap each other in the face and then stare at each other openmouthed). J.R. Jones 107 min. Fri 4/4, 6:30 PM, and Sun 4/6, 3:30 PM.

Here's the Deal screens Mon 4/14 and Wed 4/16
  • Here's the Deal screens Mon 4/14 and Wed 4/16

Here's the Deal In this Spanish black comedy (2013), two middle-aged family men (Miguel de Lira and Paco Tous), struggling to get by amid an economic recession, find a brick of cocaine that's washed up on their favorite fishing beach and decide to chop it up and sell it. Typical of most thrillers about aspiring crooks, the movie turns on a series of darkly comic mishaps that illustrate how unfit they are for a life of crime; the dramatic scenes center on their family lives. Film and television have analogized organized crime and family dynamics for ages; director Alejandro Marzoa doesn't reinvent the wheel here, but the charismatic leads and their comedic banter keep this watchable. Drew Hunt 86 min. Mon 4/14, 6:30 PM, and Wed 4/16, 8:30 PM.

Levantamuertos screens Thu 4/10 and Sat 4/12
  • Levantamuertos screens Thu 4/10 and Sat 4/12

Levantamuertos Iván (Daniel Galo), the hero of this black comedy, works for the local coroner, retrieving corpses from crime and accident scenes; death is their business, and in the modern Mexico of the drug cartels, business is good. As if to remind us that we're all just meat, writer-director Miguel Nuñez, making his feature debut, gives Iván a pet pig who becomes his best pal (the porker even swills beer with him when it isn't killing rats in the kitchen). This isn't the most uplifting thing I've ever seen, but thematically it hangs together: the soul is represented by a white bird or even a globe of light, while the body is regarded as so much garbage, especially the three federal agents that Iván finds bound and executed in a ditch. J.R. Jones 84 min. Thu 4/10, 8:30 PM, and Sat 4/12, 8:15 PM.

The Lighthouse screens Sun 4/13 and Mon 4/14
  • The Lighthouse screens Sun 4/13 and Mon 4/14

The Lighthouse An old lighthouse keeper, long accustomed to a life of solitude, shelters a former cop and his wife who are fleeing the country. This arty Colombian drama (2012) unfolds slowly, quietly, and with plenty of handsome natural imagery—which is to say it's similar to countless other art movies of recent years. Yet in contrast to many of those, the storytelling feels relaxed rather than plodding, and the elemental characterizations seem fabular rather than needlessly oblique. The life lessons, however obvious, have the ring of genuine wisdom. Pacho (ne Luis Fernando) Bottia (The Accordionist's Wedding) directed. Ben Sachs 84 min. Sun 4/13, 8:30 PM, and Mon 4/14, 6 PM.

The Long Distance screens Fri 4/4 and Sat 4/5.
  • The Long Distance screens Fri 4/4 and Sat 4/5.

The Longest Distance A 12-year-old boy in Caracas, traumatized by the unexpected death of his mother, runs away from home to connect with his free-spirited grandmother in the mountains of southeast Venezuela; unbeknownst to him, she's planning to commit suicide before her terminal cancer becomes too painful to bear. This family-friendly drama seems designed to introduce older children to death and grieving; writer-director Claudia Pinto Emperador presents these themes plainly and sensitively, and demonstrates a keen understanding of the young hero's psychological development (she's also effective in depicting adults the way preteens might like to see them—as honest, confident, and patient). Grown-ups might find this somewhat overstated, though, particularly in the melodramatic contrivances that motor the plot. Ben Sachs 112 min. Fri 4/4, 6 PM, and Sat 4/5, 9:30 PM.

Son of Cain screens Sun 4/13 and Tue 4/15
  • Son of Cain screens Sun 4/13 and Tue 4/15

Son of Cain This Spanish genre item (2013) recalls such postwar Hollywood thrillers as Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound and Otto Preminger's Whirlpool, grounding its pulpy story in serious discussions of psychoanalysis. A noted child psychiatrist is engaged by a wealthy couple to treat their 14-year-old son, an intellectual prodigy who's begun exhibiting psychopathic tendencies. Director Jesus Monallaó fares better with the psychological material; the analytic sessions, in which the doctor tries to determine whether the kid is a typical adolescent acting out or a genuine monster in the making, are nicely paced, and the two leads play well off each other. Yet Monallaó lacks the panache to pull off the suspense set pieces, which end up seeming both implausible and insufficiently flamboyant. Ben Sachs 87 min. Sun 4/13, 6:15 PM, and Tue 4/15, 9:15 PM. 

Tango Glories (Fermin) screens Thu 4/3 and Sat 4/5.
  • Tango Glories (Fermin) screens Thu 4/3 and Sat 4/5.

[Recommended] Tango Glories (Fermin) A lonely psychiatrist comes out of his shell as he pieces together the history of his institution's most mysterious patient, an 85-year-old man who speaks only in lyrics to old tango songs. This sweet-tempered Argentinean drama (2013) strains credulity at every turn, but that seems wholly intentional—the movie is as much about the pleasure of getting lost in a story as about the story itself. Oliver Kolker's script employs an extravagant structure, weaving together the old man's past and present, and revels in character eccentricities. The literary conceits develop gracefully, thanks in part to the uniformly buoyant performances; as in the films of fellow Argentinean Eliseo Subiela (Man Facing Southeast), everyone onscreen seems enlivened by the knowledge that he's a character in a story. Kolker and Hernan Findling directed. Ben Sachs 108 min. Tickets for the opening-night program on Thursday are $80, $65 for ILCC members, and include a postscreening reception; regular admission applies on Saturday. Thu 4/3, 6 PM, and Sat 4/5, 9:30 PM.

The Tree That Grows on the Wall screens Sun 4/6 and Mon 4/7.
  • The Tree That Grows on the Wall screens Sun 4/6 and Mon 4/7.

The Tree That Grows on the Wall This Argentinean documentary (2012) was directed by Tomas Lipgot, but its most illuminating moments come from footage shot by its subject: Jack Fuchs, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor born in Poland but now living in Buenos Aires. Before he became a writer and lecturer, Fuchs rarely discussed his experiences, but a trip to his native town of Lodz opened his eyes to not only his own past but the fluidity of Holocaust survivors' memories and the effect this has on the historical record. Using a cheap camcorder, Fuchs documents his hometown, amazed at how much it's changed. "It feels like everything and nothing is part of me," he remarks. "It's as if I'm speaking in the third person." His sequences are stirring and poetic, though Lipgot's more conventional work hinders their resonance. Drew Hunt 75 min. Sun 4/6, 3 PM, and Mon 4/7, 8:30 PM.

To Fool a Thief
  • To Fool a Thief

To Fool a Thief This Argentinean take on the continental thriller doesn't just wear its influences on its sleeve, it practically wears them on its forehead: one character parades around in a North by Northwest T-shirt, and when the protagonists are planning their big heist, they agree on Rififi as their operational template. The cat-burglar hero (Daniel Hendler, who looks terrific in a white dinner jacket) meets his match when the museum staffer he cons (Valeria Bertuccelli) turns out to be conning him; along with his comic-relief tech guy (Martin Piroyansky), they get roped into a scheme to steal a priceless bottle of wine. Director Ariel Winograd plays most of this for laughs but never allows them to subvert the silky intrigue he clearly cherishes from his 50s and 60s models; no one could call this 2013 feature original, but it's highly entertaining. 105 min. J.R. Jones 105 min. Sat 4/5, 6:15 PM, and Tue 4/8, 8:15 PM.

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