Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Buoyant in Berlin

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Buoyant in Berlin

Article excerpt

By now the aesthetic and economic revival of filmmaking in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America is in full swing, and everybody knows it: Mexico, Brazil, and Chile continue to increase their yearly output. Moreover, countries heretofore unheard from in the international marketplace of new feature-length fiction films include Guatemala (Luis Argueta's El silencio de Neto [The Silence of Neto], shown at Robert Redford's Sundance Festival in February); Paraguay (Luis R. Vera's Miss Amerigua, a Swedish coproduction unveiled in the United States in Washington, D.C., and Santa Monica, California, at the VIII Americas Film Festival last fall); and Uruguay (Pablo Dotta's challenging but ultimately rewarding El dirigible [The Dirigible], that country's first fiction feature in three decades and another entry in the Americas Festival). Although largely untouched by the recent economic woes that have shaken healthier industries, the cinemas of Spain and Portugal continue to distinguish themselves on the international festival circuit.

Other snapshots from a rejuvenated industry: In March Como agua para chocolate [Like Water for Chocolate] director Alfonso Arau was finishing his new film, A Walk in the Clouds, starring newly minted American heartthrob Keanu Reeves. Meanwhile, Spanish director Fernando Trueba, whose Belle epoque won the 1994 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, was in Miami filming his adaptation of mystery writer Donald E. Westlake's thriller Two Much!, with Antonio Banderas, for producer Andres Vicente Gomez and Spanish production giant Sogetel. (On a related topic, Spain's sales and distribution company Sogepaq is poised to pour production and presales funding into Latin America's young filmmaker pool, which is terrific news for those aspiring to the business.) And the sensational Cuban film Fresa y chocolate [Strawberry and Chocolate] -- codirected by Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio -- was one of the five finalists for the coveted Best Foreign Language Academy Award; on the strength of that, Gutierrez Alea is also finishing up a much-anticipated new film.

Clearly, a new day has dawned for filmmakers from the region, and it was against this backdrop that new Spanish- and Portuguese-language movies were unveiled to the international business and critical communities at the 45th Berlin International Film Festival. There were two high-profile films from the Americas in major sections of the festival: in competition, El callejon de los milagros [Midaq Alley], Jorge Fons's first film since Rojo amanecer [Red Dawn] in 1989, shared a Special Mention Silver Bear award with features from Italy and Israel. Adapted from a novel by Nagib Mahfouz -- the author of the novel on which Arturo Ripstein based his magnificent Principio y fin [The Beginning and the End] -- El callejon de los milagros shifts the focus of its eponymous source novel from 1940s Cairo to contemporary Mexico City to tell its multilayered stories of the small lives that inhabit the large metropolis. John Hopewel, correspendent for Moving Pictures' daily Berlinale report, claims that "What [Robert] Altman did to Raymond Carver in Short Cuts, Fons does to Mahfouz," and it is difficult to quibble with the literary accuracy of the analogy. Ironically, Fons last received a prize from a Berlin jury in 1977 for Los albaniles [The Bricklayers] -- and it was another Silver Bear, this time for direction. …

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