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Chicago Latino Film Festival

The 15th annual Chicago Latino Film Festival, presented by Chicago Latino Cinema and Columbia College, continues Friday through Wednesday, April 16 through 21. Film and video screenings will be at Water Tower, 845 N. Michigan; Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton; Latino Experimental Theatre, 1814 S. Paulina; Northeastern Illinois Univ., 5500 N. Saint Louis; and Univ. of Illinois-Chicago, 803 S. Morgan. Tickets for most programs are $8; for students, senior citizens, and disabled persons, $7; and for Chicago Latino Cinema members, $6. Festival passes, good for ten screenings not including special events, are $60; for Chicago Latino Cinema members, $50. For more information call 312-431-1330. Commentary by Jonathan Rosenbaum (JR), Fred Camper (FC), Ted Shen (TS), Dave Kehr (DK), Lawrence Bommer (LB), Jack Helbig (JH), and Adam Langer (AL).

FRIDAY, APRIL 16

The Demons' Meeting

Three little boys decide to conjure up the dark forces in this 1998 Brazilian comedy directed by A.S. Cecilio Neto. (Water Tower, 6:00)

Short videos program one

Two videos by the Chiapas Media Project, whose crew will talk about their work providing video and computer training for indigenous communities in Chiapas, Mexico. (Northeastern Illinois Univ., 6:00)

Short videos program three

Two 1997 documentaries by U.S. director Alex Anton: Adios Patria: The Cuban Exodus examines the mass migrations from Cuba in recent years; Forever Present: Brothers to the Rescue tells the story of two small planes that were shot down by Cuban MIGs in 1996. (Facets Multimedia Center, 6:00)

The Comet

Aside from isolated moments of violence and some tame sexual content, Jose Buil and Marisa Sistach's 1998 Mexican feature could be one of those historical adventures that used to turn up on The Wonderful World of Disney in the 60s and 70s. In 1910, during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, a young Mexican woman is transporting a sack of gold coins to rebels in San Antonio; she finds an eager ally in the son of a traveling carnival operator, who longs to make movies. Subtlety is not Sistach's strong point: the villain is immediately identifiable by the curve of his mustache; when a character coughs once in the opening reel, you know he'll be dead by the final one (especially when a comet disappears from the sky as he's coughing in bed); and when the young man reaches up his friend's skirt to free a twittering bird, he's sure to be repeating the motion for another purpose entirely. Sistach tries to blend the charming cinephilia of Cinema Paradiso with the youthful adventurousness of The Journey of Natty Gann, yet she rarely achieves the level of suspense or pathos required to make this more than a shallow and intermittently diverting entertainment. (AL) (Water Tower, 6:30)

Pros: Brazilian Soccer Revisited

One doesn't often see star athletes portrayed long after they've passed their prime, so there's a certain novelty to Ugo Giorgetti's 1998 Brazilian film. Six former professional soccer players meet at a bar to commiserate about their present misfortunes and recount their glory days, shown in flashback. Their stories are often poignant: one poverty-stricken athlete tries to convince a reporter he's still a high roller; another, now a boys' soccer coach, takes a local ruffian under his wing; and a black player's stardom is not enough to prevent racist treatment from the police. Diverting comic material includes an amusing parody of moronic TV sports-talk shows and the story of a corrupt referee who's supposed to fix a game for a really, really lousy team. But the film's episodic structure, alternating between present and past, winds up giving both short shrift. Just when the conversations start to acquire a rhythm, they're interrupted by underdeveloped dramatic sequences, which also seem brief and unfinished. Pros: Brazilian Soccer Revisited is watchable enough but not nearly as engaging as it could have been with a more straightforward approach. (AL) (Water Tower, 6:30)

Temptation

A small-town priest falls for a beautiful ex-con and joins her in heroin addiction. This 1998 film from Portugal seems driven more by its torrid scenes--priest with naked woman! priest shoots up!--than by its characters, whose motivations remain obscure. Some moments are dramatically effective (the fallen priest protecting a group of Gypsies, for instance), but director Joaquim Leitao provides more cynical exploitation than genuine insight. It worked--Temptation was the biggest box-office hit in Portuguese history. (FC) (Water Tower, 6:30)

Love & Co.

Set in the 19th century, this 1998 Brazilian comedy concerns a man who discovers that his wife is stepping out with his business partner. Based on Eca de Queiroz's novel Alves & Cia; Helvecio Ratton directed. (Water Tower, 8:30)

Brain Drain

What begins as an atmospheric and remarkably evenhanded portrayal of teenage hoodlum life in Argentina quickly degenerates into a derivative soap opera. Two petty thieves--diminutive, smooth-talking Fideo, who has a knack for auto theft, and shy, romantic Panta, who dreams in tacky 80s rock videos--plan their escape to the U.S. but are hounded by a corrupt and vindictive policeman. Director Fernando Musa shows great sensitivity and reserve in depicting the complex relationship between the teens, but the drama is undermined by the relentlessly absurd fantasy sequences (several of which involve the Statue of Liberty), overly self-conscious dialogue, improbable cops-and-robbers high jinks, and a preposterous, maudlin climax (1998). (AL) (Water Tower, 8:45)

The Bearers of Civilization

Uli Stelzner directed this 1997 Guatemalan documentary about the German colonialists who settled the country. To be shown by video projection. (Facets Multimedia Center, 9:00)

Colombia Horizontal

Diego Garcia Moreno's satirical 1998 documentary examines the culture of reclining in Colombia, including interviews with a hammock weaver, an industrial mattress designer, a prostitute, etc. To be shown by video projection. (Facets Multimedia Center, 9:00)

Off Side

Members of a championship soccer team are suspected of taking bribes, and their headstrong coach decides to ferret out the culprit in this 1998 Colombian drama. The coach persuades the girlfriend of the team's black star to spy on the players (though we never learn why she's allowed to remain in the all-male sanctum of the locker room), and she zeroes in on a balding veteran near retirement. Hernan Mendez, weary and disillusioned as the chief suspect, and Ana Soler, his taunting inquisitor, engage in a give-and-take more charged than any soccer match, and though director Ricardo Coral-Dorado can't quite sustain the whodunit suspense, he does tease a lot of tension from the verbal sparring among the spy and the players, exposing the teammates' resentments and animosities. (TS) (Water Tower, 9:00)

To the Limit

Borrowing heavily from the Joe Eszterhas school of storytelling, director Eduardo Campoy offers up the exploits of a wily serial killer in this 1997 high-gloss Spanish thriller: a brilliant pathologist tantalizes a judge and a late-night radio sex-show host with his crimes. The murderer is not only a maniac (he drops a stack of weights on the head of one of his victims) but a moralist; he quotes Montaigne and uses his crimes to expose the hypocrisy of the media and the judicial system. The relationship between the killer and the judge--an embattled career woman who herself becomes a suspect in the gruesome murders--generates a certain amount of tension. But aside from pretentious moralizing, there's little to distinguish this film from scores of derivative thrillers on late-night cable. Adding to the sleaze factor is the film's glossy look, which gives even the murders the appearance of a Madonna music video. Oddly placed rock songs--most bizarre is "Just Like a Woman" for one scene of the judge's investigation--only heighten that effect. Still, the music does give the deadly serious proceedings a much needed satirical edge. (AL) (Water Tower, 9:00)

Ever Changing Waters

The line that begins Marcos Loayza's enchantingly lyrical and romantic film--"Nothing extraordinary happened, but I'd never have thought water would leave such traces in my being"--accurately describes the profound sensation that lingers after the closing credits. The story may seem far from complex: Manuel, an unassuming but fiercely intelligent Buenos Aires teenager, travels with his father to the countryside to visit his grandfather and falls in love with a local girl. But the characters are so expertly developed, the performances so engaging, and the emotions so palpable that even the familiar teen-romance and father-son-confrontation conventions seem fresh. Everything in this beautifully photographed Argentinean film--from Manuel's gorgeous rowboat excursions with his grandfather to his delicately rendered inner turmoil at discovering his father's apparent complicity in an oil company's mishandling of toxic waste--conveys a simple grace and a heartfelt concern for humanity and the environment that recalls the last few films of Akira Kurosawa. (AL) (Water Tower, 10:00)

They Come at Night

A suicidal refugee from El Salvador (Elpidia Carrillo) bonds with her Los Angeles therapist (Barbara Williams) in this simple, sincere 1998 feature from the U.S. The troubled woman has been tortured by government goons for her union activities; her husband has been killed and her children kidnapped, traumas the film presents in black-and-white flashbacks. But Lindy Laub's low-key direction becomes plodding, and the film's ending is too abrupt. (TS) (Water Tower, 10:15)

Cria cuervos

An ambitious but unstructured psychological thriller (although that's too strong a word for this deliberately discreet film) from Spain's Carlos Saura. Geraldine Chaplin and Ana Torrent (the little girl from Spirit of the Beehive) act out a morbid roundelay of memory and desire, involving a schoolgirl who may or may not have murdered her parents. There is an obvious intelligence at work here, but the ideas remain elusive (1975). Also known as Cria! (DK) (Water Tower, 10:45)

The Dove of Marsella

A former call girl, now elderly and living in a nursing home, sets out to win a popular TV game show. Carlos Garcia Agraz directed this 1998 Mexican feature. (Water Tower, 10:45)

SATURDAY, APRIL 17

Short films program three

Short 16-millimeter films from Puerto Rico, Equador, and the U.S. (Facets Multimedia Center, 4:30)

My Name Is Sara

A 40-year-old woman with a teenage daughter and a steady boyfriend begins to worry about her attractiveness to men and has a torrid affair with a 20-year-old student. Dolores Payas directed this 1998 Spanish film in Catalan. (Water Tower, 5:00)

Black Tears

Watching this 1997 documentary about Cuban salsa pioneers Vieja Trova Santiaguera, one wishes that director Sonia Herman Dolz had tried harder to capture the men behind the public masks. Dolz presents many scenes of the elderly musicians as they rehearse and perform, and a few obligatory backstage interviews in which the five bandsmen muse over their lives, but the film contains few truly candid shots. Evidently the musicians are never crabby, never snap on the road, never say or do anything scandalous or even human. They do, however, make a pilgrimage to a statue of Karl Marx, where the band's leader rhapsodizes about the Cuban government's generous support--Don't Look Back this ain't. Still, every time the band dips into its repertoire of intensely moving songs, the film soars. (JH) (Water Tower, 5:15)

Cousin Angelica

A 1974 film by memory-and-desire specialist Carlos Saura (Cria cuervos). Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez plays a middle-aged man who returns to the village of his youth, where his dim memories of the Spanish civil war mix with his recollection of his first love, his cousin Angelica. (DK) (Water Tower, 5:30)

The Gate of Dreams

Hugo Gamarra Etcheverry's semifictional 1998 film about Paraguayan writer Augusto Roa Bastos. On the same program, a short video from Argentina; to be shown by video projection. (Facets Multimedia Center, 6:30)

Mambi

A Spanish-Cuban coproduction, this 1998 period epic concerns a day laborer from the Canary Islands conscripted into the Spanish army in the late 19th century. Directed by Teodoro and Santiago Rios. (Water Tower, 6:30)

Short videos program one

See listing for Friday, April 16. (Latino Experimental Theatre, 7:00)

Skin

An interracial couple run up against prejudice in Oscar Lucien's 1998 Venezuelan feature. (Facets Multimedia Center, 7:00)

Call of the Oboe

A Brazilian musician retires to a village in Paraguay, where the owner of an abandoned movie theater convinces him to accompany old silent movies on his oboe. Claudio MacDowell directed this 1998 film. (Water Tower, 7:30)

Open Your Eyes

A 1997 Spanish feature by Alejandro Amenabar about an attractive young ladies man who winds up in a psychiatric ward. Tickets are $20. (Water Tower, 7:30)

Gringuito

The title hero of Sergio Castilla's 1998 Chilean feature is a little boy from New York who has trouble adjusting after his family immigrates to Santiago. (Water Tower, 7:45)

Pros: Brazilian Soccer Revisited

See listing for Friday, April 16. (Water Tower, 8:30)

Short videos program six

Three short videos from Cuba. (Water Tower, 8:30)

Ay, Carmela!

Carmen Maura (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) and Andres Pajares star as the headlining couple in the Elegant Variety Show, a vaudeville troupe entertaining Spanish Republican soldiers in 1938, shortly before their defeat by the fascists in the Spanish civil war. Traveling with a young deaf-mute assistant (Gabino Diego), they're arrested in a town recently occupied by the fascists and are eventually compelled to perform a morale-boosting show for the fascist troops--as well as for Polish prisoners who are about to be shot--that an Italian lieutenant (Maurizio di Razza) will direct. Carlos Saura, directing an adaptation of Jose Sanchis Sinisterra's play Carmela by novelist and veteran screenwriter Rafael Azcona, was the most prominent filmmaker based in Spain during the latter part of Franco's reign, so the multiple tensions and conflicts expressed in this finely tuned 1990 drama are deeply felt as well as cogently expressed. Maura is quite wonderful as the title heroine, and the period flavor is handled with a great deal of potency; the title tune, a popular song in the Republican zone during the Spanish civil war, is especially stirring. (JR) (Facets Multimedia Center, 9:00)

Silvia Prieto

At the center of Martin Rejtman's wry Argentinean comedy is an existential crisis as severe as anything that racked Kafka or Camus. One day Silvia Prieto--an intensely earnest if not particularly reflective woman--awakens to find her marriage in shambles, her job pointless, her life empty. For the rest of the film we watch her try to pull her life together, a difficult feat given that everyone she meets seems just as unhappy as she is, and eventually she becomes entangled in an incestuous web of intrigue, at one point sleeping with the ex-husband of the woman living with Prieto's ex-husband. All of which would seem like pure soap opera if Rejtman didn't recount it in such a wonderfully dry, laconic tone. (JH) (Water Tower, 10:00)

Melting Pot

This 1998 film about politics in the U.S. probes the use of race baiting and smear tactics in a municipal election, depicting the down-and-dirty contest between a Stanford-educated African-American attorney (a very earnest CCH Pounder) and a Latino housepainter and high school dropout (the likable comic Paul Rodriguez). It's the "insider against the crusader" in a tumultuous campaign for Los Angeles County councilman, with both candidates vying for the white swing vote and the support of the corrupt incumbent (Cliff Robertson). Supplying lots of details, writers Mark Kemble and Tom Musca (who also directs) grasp the temptations that lead decent political aspirants to name-calling, scare tactics, and playing one constituency against another. Unfortunately the plot turns increasingly preposterous and sensational, as the seemingly desperate filmmakers throw in a gang shooting, miscarriage, and sexual outing--even a scene where Rodriguez's pickup truck accidentally hurtles into his opponent's campaign rally. The film's greatest--and finally its only--asset is the unforced acting, not just from Pounder and Rodriguez but from Una Damon as a lesbian campaign manager and Efren Ramirez as the Latino candidate's badass son. If conviction could make a melodrama work, these actors might almost pull it off. (LB) (Water Tower, 10:15)

Caresses

For this portrait of urban life in Barcelona, Ventura Pons has borrowed the structure of Arthur Schnitzler's dark Viennese comedy La Ronde: character A speaks with character B, who speaks to character C, and so on, until what goes around comes around and everyone in the play is linked. But Pons's Spanish film contains none of Schnitzler's wit or insight. Instead he presents a relentlessly bleak landscape of empty lives, thwarted desires, and acts of gratuitous cruelty--a world where deranged homeless men are only slightly worse off than the well-fed, nicely clothed denizens of Barcelona's finer apartments. Each scene has the same flat, depressive feel, every tiresome conversation is delivered in the same monotone, and every story has the same Beckettian theme: life is meaningless and hard, but we must go on. Only in small doses could such uncompromising pessimism be bracing. (JH) (Water Tower, 10:30)

The Dove of Marsella

See listing for Friday, April 16. (Water Tower, 10:30)

SUNDAY, APRIL 18

Hurry, Hurry

Carlos Saura directed this 1980 Spanish feature, a prizewinner at the Berlin film festival, about a group of young thieves. (Water Tower, 4:00)

The First Night

Alejandro Gamboa directed this 1998 Mexican feature about teenagers exploring love and sex. (Water Tower, 4:30)

Land in Anguish

One of the later entries in Brazil's short-lived Cinema Novo movement, applying New Wave pyrotechnics to popular and political mythology. Glauber Rocha (Antonio das Mortes) directed this 1967 feature, also known as Terra em transe. (DK) (Water Tower, 4:30)

Short films program three

Sixteen-millimeter films from Puerto Rico, Ecuador, and the U.S. (Facets Multimedia Center, 4:30)

My Lucky Day

Santiago Pumarola directed this 1998 Puerto Rican film about a filing clerk whose day goes from bad to worse. (Water Tower, 5:00)

The Gate of Dreams

See listing for Saturday, April 17. (Facets Multimedia Center, 5:30)

The Demons' Meeting

See listing for Friday, April 16. (Water Tower, 6:00)

A Diary for a Tale

Adapted from a story by Julio Cortazar, this 1998 Argentinean film follows a struggling young writer in the early 50s as he begins frequenting a shady cabaret popular with gangsters and prostitutes and falls for one of the working girls. Stories about artistic young men slumming in the demimonde have been told by writers as different as Christopher Isherwood and Alexandre Dumas, but few have managed the artful balance of distant realism and passionate engagement struck by Jana Bokova in this well-told, beautifully photographed tale. Following Cortazar's lead, Bokova avoids all the stereotypes--the cocky pimp, the tragic whore, the earnest young man who tries to save her--focusing instead on the grim realities of life in Peronist Argentina (especially terrifying is a visit Elias receives from the police, who think he's smuggling drugs) and on the writer's slow, painful, but moving transformation from an inhibited intellectual dabbler to an artist of real merit. (JH) (Water Tower, 6:30)

Here We Are, Waiting for You

Director Marcelo Masagao uses photographs, film clips, and TV images to distill the history of the 20th century in this 1998 experimental documentary, which takes its title from the welcoming gate of a small-town cemetery. On the same program, Florence Jaugey's 1998 Nicaraguan film Cinema Alcazar. (Facets Multimedia Center, 6:30)

They Come at Night

See listing for Friday, April 16. (Water Tower, 6:30)

How to Be Single in Rio

Rosane Svartman's 1998 comedy, about a handful of young Brazilians searching for their perfect mates, isn't exactly profound, but there's something refreshing and kooky about this sweet frappe of a film. The gorgeous cinematography is dominated by bright yellows and oranges, and the scenes of sky, sand, and water make one want to fly down to Rio. The perky young cast makes even the most unlikely plot twists seem plausible, as when lothario Ricardo publishes a book on how to pick up women and finds himself in a televised debate with his ex-girlfriend, now a lesbian-separatist candidate for public office. Svartman reaches for Pedro Almodovar's blend of high camp and social commentary, yet this is really just a 90s Brazilian version of Frankie and Annette--not a bad thing, but check your brain at the door. (JH) (Water Tower, 7:15)

Colombia Horizontal

See listing for Friday, April 16. To be shown by video projection (Facets Multimedia Center, 7:30)

Shared Secrets

Deft camera work and intense performances fail to salvage this odious, pretentious slasher film. Strongly echoing such cultural touchstones as Manhunter, Dressed to Kill, and The Fugitive, director Alberto Lecchi gives us the loathsome serial killer Vicente Duarte, an abusive husband and stepfather who augments his worth by murdering women who don't subscribe to his ideals of purity. Calling himself "the Fisherman," he guts each victim with a fishing knife and leaves a fishing hook in her mouth. Lecchi often films from Vicente's point of view, but there's a fine line between portraying the killer's psyche and indulging in the same sort of objectification that defines him: the camera leers discomfitingly at the female characters, several of whom are improbably turned on by Vicente's violent streak. The cat-and-mouse game between Vicente and a local newspaper columnist is pretty hackneyed, and a subplot in which Vicente recounts his sexual exploits to a dubious clown is all too predictable. For all the talk of Nietzsche (Vicente carries around a copy of Thus Spake Zarathustra), this is just an exploitation film with academic trimmings. (AL) (Water Tower, 8:30)

Short videos program three

See listing for Friday, April 16. (Facets Multimedia, 8:30)

Little Thieves, Big Thieves

The recent banking crisis in Venezuela informs this 1998 political satire directed by Alejandro Saderman. A group of middle-class professionals disgusted with government corruption rob a Caracas bank, only to find that the vault has been looted and the bank president has transferred the bank's bailout funds to offshore accounts. Saderman alternates hapless burglar comedy (The Lavender Hill Mob) with tense hostage drama (Dog Day Afternoon) but fails to find the right balance: after a while the bumbling exploits of his Robin Hoods and the cute send-ups of media feeding frenzy dull the film's social criticism. (TS) (Water Tower, 9:00)

Courage

A 1998 Peruvian biopic about women's rights activist Maria Elena Moyano; Alberto Durant directed. (Water Tower, 9:15)

Life Is to Whistle

Fernando Perez directed this 1998 Cuban film about three strangers whose paths cross on the Day of Santa Barbara. (Water Tower, 9:15)

MONDAY, APRIL 19

How to Be Single in Rio

See listing for Sunday, April 18. (Water Tower, 6:00)

The Day Silence Died

See Critic's Choice. (Water Tower, 6:30)

A Diary for a Tale

See listing for Sunday, April 18. (Water Tower, 6:30)

The Dove of Marsella

See listing for Friday, April 16. (Water Tower, 6:45)

Silvia Prieto

See listing for Saturday, April 17. (Water Tower, 8:30)

Gringuito

See listing for Saturday, April 17. (Water Tower, 8:45)

Pros: Brazilian Soccer Revisited

See listing for Friday, April 16. (Water Tower, 9:00)

Upside Down

The bickering, breakups, reconciliations, and revelations among four young Latinos in Manhattan are the basis of this predictable 1998 romantic comedy from the U.S. Mario Mandujano, directing his first feature, effectively delineates the main characters, who represent a cross section of attractive, assimilated Latinos, and at times he and his actors (Francisco Lorite, Anitu Pardo, Chantal Chamandy, and Alex Furth) manage to overcome the stock situations and cutesy dialogue of a script that strains to be hip, spicy, and sarcastic. Caio Ortiz's jazzy cinematography is excellent (check out the tour de force long take that opens the film), and the zesty sound track nicely captures the bonhomie of the Lower East Side. (TS) (Water Tower, 9:00)

TUESDAY, APRIL 20

Short videos program six

See listing for Saturday, April 17. (Univ. of Illinois-Chicago, 2:00)

The Construction Workers

Ignacio Lopez Tarso plays the caretaker of a building under construction whose murder prompts an investigation by police--and a story that unfolds in flashbacks. Jorge Fons directed this 1976 Mexican mystery. (Water Tower, 6:00)

The First Night

See listing for Sunday, April 18. (Water Tower, 6:30)

Little Thieves, Big Thieves

See listing for Sunday, April 18. (Water Tower, 6:45)

Courage

See listing for Sunday, April 18. (Water Tower, 7:00)

Shared Secrets

See listing for Sunday, April 18. (Water Tower, 8:00)

Land in Anguish

See listing for Sunday, April 18. (Water Tower, 9:00)

My Lucky Day

See listing for Sunday, April 18. (Water Tower, 9:00)

Black Tears

See listing for Saturday, April 17. (Water Tower, 9:30)

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 21

Call of the Oboe

See listing for Saturday, April 17. (Water Tower, 6:00)

The First Night

See listing for Sunday, April 18. (Water Tower, 6:30)

Upside Down

See listing for Monday, April 19. (Water Tower, 6:45)

A Diary for a Tale

See listing for Sunday, April 18. (Water Tower, 7:00)

The Day Silence Died

See Critic's Choice. (Water Tower, 8:30)

Shared Secrets

See listing for Sunday, April 18. (Water Tower, 8:45)

Here We Are, Waiting for You

See listing for Sunday, April 18. (Water Tower, 9:00)

How to Be Single in Rio

See listing for Sunday, April 18. (Water Tower, 9:00)

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