Contemporary Latin American Cinema
September 3 - December 13
This series looks at fourteen Latin American films made from the early 1980s, when many countries in the region were transitioning to democracy after long periods of dictatorship, through the present day. We will examine how experimentation with conventional narrative, documentary technique, and film form have allowed Latin American filmmakers to comment on their respective countries’ recent histories, ongoing social problems, and prospects for the future. What role does cinema have to play in confronting legacies of military regimes; difficult questions around poverty, migration and narcotrafficking; debates over emerging racial and sexual identities; and aspirations for a just and prosperous future in a region historically bereft
— Daniel R. Quiles, Associate Professor of Art History, Theory & Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Tuesday screenings include lectures by Daniel R. Quiles, Associate Professor of Art History, Theory & Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The series is presented in cooperation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism. Additional screenings of the films on Friday or Saturday do not include Prof. Quiles’s lecture.
— Martin Rubin, Associate Director of Programming, Gene Siskel Film Center
Admission to all "No Borders" programs is $5 for Film Center members; usual admission prices apply for non-members. Click here to learn how to become a member.
1983, Gregory Nava, USA, 141 min.With David Villalpando, Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez
"EL NORTE is a great film, for two different kinds of reasons. One is its stunning visual and musical power...The second reason is that this is the first film to approach the subject of 'undocumented workers' solely through their eyes." — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
No Borders begins with a “Latin American film” made in the United States. EL NORTE's unflinching representation of a brother and sister’s migration from the Guatemalan countryside to Los Angeles remains tragically relevant in our present moment. While eschewing funding from Hollywood studios, Chicano director Gregory Nava’s second feature adapted conventions such as continuity and genre that invoke the long, fraught dialogue between Hollywood and Latin American cinema. In this sense, EL NORTE deviates from the militant or quasi-documentary approaches to Latinx experience represented by films such as I AM JOAQUÍN (1969) and ¡ALAMBRISTA! (1977) and follows up on the more accessible path set forward by ZOOT SUIT (1981) and others. In Spanish, Quiché, and English with English subtitles. 35mm. (Daniel R. Quiles)
The Official Story
La historia oficial
1984, Luis Puenzo, Argentina, 112 min. With Norma Aleandro, Héctor Alterio.
"Cogently written and beautifully acted, THE OFFICIAL STORY takes us to the place where politics meets the human heart." — Walter Goodman, The New York Times
An Argentine woman's growing political awareness leads her to question the provenance of her adopted daughter. Like EL NORTE, THE OFFICIAL STORY uses melodrama to frame an urgent political topic: the torture and disappearances of “subversives” and the adoption of their children into military families under the Argentine dictatorship (1976-83). While its evocative use of interiors and the gradual “awakening” of its female lead draws on the nation’s history of studio cinema as well as Leopoldo Torre Nilsson’s underappreciated “Gothic trilogy” (1957-61), Puenzo’s real antecedents are militant films of the late 1960s and 1970s like THE HOUR OF THE FURNACES (1968). THE OFFICIAL STORY revised Third Cinema’s agenda--for national and international audiences--in the moment of Argentina’s transition to democracy. Winner of the Cannes Best Actress Award and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In Spanish and English with English subtitles. Archival 35mm print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive. (Daniel R. Quiles)
Please note: This trailer does not have English subtitles. Our screenings of the film will be subtitled in English.
O Som ao Redor
2013, Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil, 131 min. With W.J. Solha, Irandhir Santos.
"Revelatory...The scope of his movie is narrow, but its ambitions are enormous, and it accomplishes nothing less than the illumination of the peculiar state of Brazilian (and not only Brazilian) society." — A.O. Scott, The New York Times
Films that critique corruption, inequality and their myriad effects comprise a number of the films chosen for this series, as we will repeatedly discuss art cinema’s role in national self-reflection and international culture. This episodic story is set on one rapidly changing block in the city of Recife, where an old aristocrat in a flashy mansion attempts to maintain his hold on a fiefdom increasingly dense with paranoid high-rise-dwelling yuppies and under the protection of a questionable security firm. Mendonça posits the high-end housing complex as a surrogate for Brazil itself, in an urban spin on the films of Mário Peixoto and Glauber Rocha, who found their microcosms for the nation in its vast countryside. As in Rocha’s TERRA EM TRANSE (1967), the country’s past--its legacy of colonization and slavery--is linked to its tense, uncertain present and future. In Portuguese, English, and Mandarin with English subtitles. DCP digital widescreen. (Daniel R. Quiles).
Children of Men
2006, Alfonso Cuarón, USA/UK, 109 min. With Clive Owen, Julianne Moore.
"Made with palpable energy, intensity and excitement, it compellingly creates a world gone mad that is uncomfortably close to the one we live in. It is a BLADE RUNNER for the 21st century, a worthy successor to that epic of dystopian decay." — Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
The year is 2027; a human child has not been born in eighteen years; the world is in chaos; and, in Britain, rebels are fighting the government's harsh anti-immigrant policies. The series’ only Hollywood studio film, CHILDREN OF MEN affords the opportunity to review the global successes and compromises that New Mexican Cinema has helped to generate in the wake of the collapse of state funding in the 1990s. It also presents us with an overlooked category: the “Latin American gaze” at the rest of the world. Ten years on, Cuarón’s apocalyptic vision of a repressive, isolated England is beginning to look prophetic. Comparing similar long takes in other Cuarón pictures like Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN and GRAVITY, we will discuss whether the auteur is alive or dead in contemporary Latin American film. In English. 35mm. (Daniel R. Quiles)
The Secret in Their Eyes
El secreto de sus ojos
2009, Juan José Campanella, Argentina, 129 min. With Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil.
"What are the odds that the year's most compelling mystery would end up hanging its hat on the year's richest love story?...Darín and Villamil are wonderful together, playing actual, three-dimensional grown-ups. It's a shock to the system, let me tell you." — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
While writing a novel based on a 25-year-old unsolved murder case, a retired criminal court investigator (Darín) reopens both the case and his unresolved relationship with a former colleague (Villamil), now a judge. THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES demonstrates how Argentine cinema has evolved in its treatment of the dictatorship era. From THE OFFICIAL STORY’s creeping suspense and melodrama, Campanella turns to the detective genre and even finds room for humor and spectacular cinematography. (Both films won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.) Post-screening discussion will center on the film’s denouement and its implications for cinema as a bearer of collective memory. In Spanish with English subtitles. 35mm widescreeen. (Daniel R. Quiles)
Battle in Heaven
Batalla en el cielo
2005, Carlos Reygadas, Mexico, 98 min. With Marcos Hernandez, Anapola Mushkadiz.
“BATTLE IN HEAVEN, as ambitious as its title, is a living mystery, already notorious for hardcore-osity but so serious about its formal intelligence and so deep-dish in its evocations of inexpressible desolation, personal and social, that it occupies your skull like a siege of Huns.” — Michael Atkinson, Village Voice
This powerful story connects the fates of a lumpish chauffeur and his wife, who ineptly kidnap a baby, with that of a rich girl who runs a brothel for kicks. Carlos Reygadas embodies Latin American cinema at its most experimental and cosmopolitan, drawing upon liberally international sources like Dreyer and Tarkovsky to address Mexico’s contemporary economic stratification and violence. Yet we will also consider the director’s local precedents, like Fernando de Fuentes’ OUT ON THE BIG RANCH (1936) and Emilio Fernández’s MARÍA CANDELARIA (1944), which similarly depict profound divides between racial and social classes. Whereas these earlier films either end happily with each in his appropriate place, or use melodramatic sacrifice to usher in a modernized Mexico, Reygadas offers no such comfort, with the film’s devastating conclusion caught between transcendence and madness. In Spanish with English subtitles. DigiBeta. (Daniel R. Quiles)
The Pearl Button
El botón de nácar
2015, Patricio Guzmán, Chile, 82 min.
“A stunning achievement...Guzmán is hands down the most important director in Chilean cinematic history.” — Kevin B. Lee, Indiewire
In 1978, Guzmán’s BATTLE OF CHILE served as perhaps the crowning moment to a decade of Third Cinema, chronicling the heights and heartbreaking destruction of Salvador Allende’s socialist experiment in Chile. In recent years, Guzmán has reinvented himself as one of the world’s finest film essayists in the tradition of Chris Marker, producer of BATTLE OF CHILE so long ago. He has not, however, changed topics — he continues to reflect on the Pinochet coup and its lasting implications for Chile, even as his purview has literally expanded to cosmic time and space. THE PEARL BUTTON takes water as its master image to explore the history of a country inseparable from its 2600-mile coastline: as the home of the now nearly extinct “water tribes” of the Patagonian archipelago, as the vehicle for the arrival of European colonialists, and as the dumping ground for victims of Pinochet regime. In Spanish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (Daniel R. Quiles)
2015, Lorenzo Vigas, Venezuela, 93 min. With Alfred Castro, Luis Silva.
"A tightly coiled, beautifully acted relationship study that occasionally swerves in the direction of a gangland thriller." — Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times
A middle-aged gay man (Castro of NO and THE CLUB) with father issues and a penchant for watching becomes entangled with a Caracas street thug (Silva). Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, FROM AFAR engages Venezuela’s catastrophic present through the prism of machista homophobia and repressed desire. We will pick up our discussion of the eroticized other in relationship to national cinema, using BATTLE IN HEAVEN as a departure point. Vigas’ use of suspense will be contextualized in terms of the international art-house thriller (the New French Extremity in particular), as well as contemporary Latin American masters of the genre like Lucrecia Martel and her “Salta Trilogy” (2002-2008). We will also consider contemporary challenges for queer culture in the Caribbean more generally, and consider regional precedents for Vigas such as Tomás Guitérrez Alea’s STRAWBERRY AND CHOCOLATE (1993) and Marcelo Piñeyro’s BURNT MONEY (2000). In Spanish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (Daniel R. Quiles)
2002, José Padilha and Felipe Lacerda, Brazil, 122 min.
"Tense, engrossing, and superbly structured, BUS 174 is not just unforgettable drama but a skillfully developed argument." — J. Hoberman, Village Voice
BUS 174 is much more than a documentary about one deranged man hijacking a public bus. It unfolds this one mass media event into a broader discussion of Brazil’s neglect of its poorest citizens. Born in a Rio de Janeiro favela, Sandro Rosa do Nascimento witnessed his own mother’s murder and later became homeless; his hostage negotiations were cut short and he was likely strangled to death by BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais), the militarized police unit that has since become notorious for slum clearances around international events like the World Cup and this year’s Olympics. This screening will occasion discussion around Latin American cinema’s diverse attempts to represent, theorize, and condemn poverty, from neorealist classics like Luis Buñuel’s LOS OLVIDADOS (1950) and Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ RIO, ZONA NORTE (1957) through the quasi-documentary approaches of Fernando Birri’s TIRE DIÉ (1960) and Héctor Babenco’s PIXOTE: LAW OF THE WEAKEST (1983). In Portuguese with English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of Zazen Producoes, and the Sundance Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. (Daniel R. Quiles)
Embrace of the Serpent
El abrazo de la serpiente
2016, Ciro Guerra, Colombia, 125 min. With Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolivar.
"This stunning historical drama...with its haunting river journeys and hair-raising episodes of Western colonists running amok, plays like an environmentalist’s remake of APOCALYPSE NOW." — J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader
Representations of the many indigenous peoples who lived in Latin America long before the Conquest date to the beginnings of the region’s film history. Some early examples, like José María Velasco Maidana’s WARA WARA (1930), reproduced contemporaneous racist worldviews of criollo society, while Sergei Eisenstein, in ¡QUE VIVA MÉXICO! (1931, unfinished), treated the indigenous as a potentially revolutionary class. The “new cinemas” of the 1960s and Third Cinema of the 1970s continued in Eisenstein’s footsteps by focusing on the daily life and systematic oppression of Indian populations. Filmed in black and white in the Colombian Amazon, EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT represents how far this tradition has come: its protagonist is a proud shaman who convincingly shames the Western scientists who come to hunt down a rare species of rubber and medicinal plants. Part myth, part commentary on the ongoing exploitation of natural resources in the Amazon, this film is a powerful corrective to world film’s canonical stories of journey into the jungle, such as FITZCARRALDO and APOCALYPSE NOW. In Spanish and Amazonian tribal languages with English subtitles. DCP digital widescreen. (Daniel R. Quiles)