April 13, 2007

23rd Chicago Latino Film Festival lets the dogs out

The Chicago Latino Film Festival has been bringing an eclectic mix of Spanish- and Portuguese-language film to the city for nearly a quarter of a century. Each year, festival organizers try to top the previous year’s job, always seeking to provide the best for audiences. The curious filmgoer can access the entire festival schedule online at The opening weekend of this year’s festival covers a lot of territory, from Argentina to Spain, making a lot of stops in between.

Along with its annual Opening Night, Spain Night, and Mexico Night events, this year’s program features a five-film tribute to Argentinian director Alberto Lecchi, whose newest offering, Una Estrella y Dos Cafés, graces the Closing Night ceremony. Lecchi’s work spans decades, although his solo-directing career didn’t take off until 1993; his trademark filmmaking style is to distill complex human issues into simple, yet compelling stories.

The Opening Night gala (this year the featured film is Las Páginas del Diario de Mauricio) is always an expensive, well attended (and well worth it) event, but most people will look to the other weekend screenings for a more affordable way to take part in the festivities. Acme & Co., a documentary by Mexican director Gregorio Rocha, should appeal to film students and enthusiasts, as it chronicles the contributions of film exhibitors Felix and Edmundo Padilla during the declining era of open-air theaters. The father-son duo traveled through northern Mexico during the silent-film era, showing films, but also inserting new scenes of their own. Their most acclaimed work is a story based on the life of Pancho Villa—a subject that Rocha is incidentally obsessed with, having previously made a documentary of the iconic revolutionary.

Acme & Co. plays at Piper’s Alley tonight at 6 p.m., and at Landmark Century Theater on Monday at 6 p.m.

Another personal recommendation is La Perrera, a multinational production from Uruguay, Argentina, Canada, and Spain. The title translates into “The Dog Pound,” and from the very start we can see what director Manuel Nito Zas is going for. David, a scrawny, passive student who isn’t accustomed to hard work, is forced by his father to finish constructing his house in the rural Uruguayan town of Rocha before he is allowed to return to his studies in Montevideo.

Although his father has hired various workers (who also happen to be David’s acquaintances), he goes away to take care of his sick wife, leaving David to fend for himself in an environment of bored, horny males who call themselves “the tribe” and only work for favors. David has nothing to offer them except wine and weed, but when his money runs out, they abandon ship.

His attempts to exert control over the proceedings of the construction are tragicomic. He seems almost happy when he is left on his own, even though he doesn’t know the first thing about carpentry or, indeed, manual labor. One day, he gets a letter from his girlfriend in Montevideo, who plans to visit, bringing “some friends” along. Word spreads quickly, and the promise of female company lures the tribe back. Less a true tribe than a pack of dogs, for whom “loyalty” is synonymous with “incentive,” they knock down David’s haphazard brick walls, dismiss his weak protests, and implement their own grandiose design for the house.

The events after the girlfriend’s arrival are best left for viewers to find out for themselves, but there is a certain lack of resolution to the final 20 minutes or so of the film, and the last shot is infuriatingly inconclusive. Despite this, viewers should get the sense that what’s important in the film is the world created by Zas, the behavior of the tribe, and David’s inability to break away from the pack mentality. Most of the film takes place in the winter, a quality heightened by the indifferent grayness of most scenes—rarely is there sun.

Some might consider La Perrera a depressing film, especially because of the ending, but others will find the psychosocial implications of David’s characterization and surroundings fascinating. Either way, it’s a complex film that sets a nice tone for the first week of the Latino Film Festival.

La Perrera will be screened at Piper’s Alley on Monday, April 16 at 6 p.m., and at Landmark Century Theater on Tuesday, April 17 at 7 p.m.