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Our guide to the Chicago Latino Film Festival, week two

South American sci-fi dominates this week's roundup of the 31st editon.

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More than 120 features screen at the 31st edition of the Chicago Latino Film Festival, which continues this week at multiple venues around the city and suburbs and concludes on Thursday, April 23, with Chus Gutierrez's musical comedy Ciudad Delirio at River East 21. Following are selected films screening in the festival's second week; here are reviews of films screened during week one. J.R. Jones

Aurora After reading in the newspaper about a baby found dead at a local garbage dump, a childless schoolteacher decides she's going to adopt the infant posthumously so she can give it a decent burial. This high-minded but entirely symbolic gesture puts the quiet, obdurate woman at odds with various bureaucrats, and there are numerous scenes of her and them talking past each other as they try to uncover her motivation for going to all this trouble. Writer-director Rodrigo Sepúlveda suggests a personal explanation for her quest late in the game, but too late and too half-heartedly to rescue this morose Chilean drama (2014) from its own sanctimony. In Spanish with subtitles. J.R. Jones 80 min. Sat 4/18, 4:45 PM, and Mon 4/20, 6:30 PM.

Blue Desert screens Tue 4/21, 9 PM.
  • Blue Desert screens Tue 4/21, 9 PM.

Blue Desert Set in the distant future, this Brazilian fantasy is a peculiar mix of sci-fi and new-age spiritual inquiry. A young ne'er-do-well seeking transcendence has trouble focusing his thoughts in the gadget-filled city he calls home; he often dreams of wandering an empty desert landscape and sometimes crosses paths with an old man determined to paint the desert blue. For better and for worse, this reminded me of Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem: it's great to look at and occasionally thought-provoking, but it doesn't really go anywhere and director-cowriter Eder Santos lacks Gilliam's ingratiating sense of humor. In Portuguese with subtitles. Ben Sachs 93 min. Tue 4/21, 9 PM.

The Hand That Feeds screens Mon 4/20 and Wed 4/22, 6 PM.
  • The Hand That Feeds screens Mon 4/20 and Wed 4/22, 6 PM.

The Hand That Feeds Documentary makers Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick follow the staffers of a Manhattan pizza franchise as they try to unionize, fighting opposition from management every step of the way. This is engaging nonfiction storytelling, deftly edited for maximum suspense and heartening in its depiction of collective endeavor. Lears and Blotnick display obvious sympathy for the workers (many of them undocumented immigrants) and the labor rights lawyers who aid them, though the directors take care not let any individual dominate and often widen their perspective to consider economic injustice throughout the service industry (2014). In English and subtitled Spanish. Ben Sachs 84 min. Mon 4/20 and Wed 4/22, 6 PM.

The Incident screens Sat 4/18, 7 PM, and Mon 4/20, 6:30 PM.
  • The Incident screens Sat 4/18, 7 PM, and Mon 4/20, 6:30 PM.

The Incident Like Philip K. Dick's Time Out of Joint and certain episodes of The Twilight Zone, this Mexican SF parable (2014) has two concurrent story lines. One involves a pair of criminal brothers and a crooked cop trapped inside a never-ending stairwell, the other follows a dysfunctional family stuck on an everlasting highway, and the stories gradually converge in a Lovecraftian turn of cosmic trickery. The structure is clever, and some ambitious visual touches—including a single-take handheld shot of the endless stairway and an oft-repeated image of a hamster spinning idly on a wheel—impart a sense of existential dread. But as with most failed sci-fi, this lacks an emotional entryway; Isaac Ezban, directing his own script, treats his characters like gadgetry, cogs in a soulless, mechanized narrative. In Spanish with subtitles. Drew Hunt 100 min. Ezban attends the screening. Sat 4/18, 7 PM, and Mon 4/20, 6:30 PM.

Lock Charmer screens Mon 4/20 and Wed 4/22, 9:15 PM.
  • Lock Charmer screens Mon 4/20 and Wed 4/22, 9:15 PM.

Lock Charmer In this low-key variation on Stephen King's The Dead Zone, a shy locksmith in Buenos Aires acquires the ability to intuit his clients' innermost secrets and discovers that most people get through life by lying to themselves. This leads him to reevaluate his own behavior, but he's too timid to change his life even after he realizes he should. Writer-director Natalia Smirnoff emphasizes character and atmosphere over plot; apart from a few small interpersonal conflicts, this 2014 drama focuses exclusively on the hero's internal development. It feels like a short story more than a novel, but given the sympathetic and detailed characterization, that's not necessarily a bad thing. In Spanish with subtitles. Ben Sachs 74 min. Mon 4/20 and Wed 4/22, 9:15 PM.

Open Wound screens Fri 4/17, 7 PM..
  • Open Wound screens Fri 4/17, 7 PM..

Open Wound This Argentinian-Ecuadoran coproduction takes place during the 1941 border war between Ecuador and Peru, though it plays like any number of Hollywood World War II movies from the 50s. A fresh-faced city boy catches war fever and joins the Ecuadoran army, but while he's training in an isolated jungle area, the camp is besieged by enemy forces and the soldiers are weakened by food shortages and disease. The protagonist spends the rest of the war in the makeshift hospital of a POW camp, where he develops a crush on a pretty female nurse. I found this most compelling during the boot camp scenes, since they didn't feel like stuff I'd seen dozens of times before. Alfredo León León directed. In Spanish with subtitles. Ben Sachs 85 min. Fri 4/17, 7 PM.  v

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