April 18, 2014

The secret, Brazilian underbelly of the Latino Film Fest

Courtesy of H20 Films

The River East is not normally a destination I find myself heading toward. Typically, the prices do not outweigh the amenities of home, and the movie does not have the same effect it did in days past. The difference of a film festival, however, is that it speaks authenticity; it speaks a more personal moviegoing experience.  As I walked toward the unfamiliar location, the stream of Spanish-speaking pedestrians led me on my way. I found myself entering a theater full of Hispanic families, of friends encountering friends, of cousins meeting cousins; it was a night for Latino films.

Lines stretched 50 people long for each showing, and I felt myself ready to be embraced by a heritage I so hopelessly wish to identify as my own. Spanish does not roll off my tongue and Portuguese moves through my ears rather than my nose. I have no ability but to listen, to absorb and consume the world as it moves around me, chartering it with my thoughts so I can call the map my own.  So as I moved through this comforting sea of Latinos to the theater that housed my selection, Past Minutes, I found myself coming upon dry land.

The lines of jubilant families, rapidly speaking their excitement for a movie night that included their heritage, all migrated toward the larger names of the festival. Toward the films that invoke the general good feeling of a film, toward films which are the moving mountains of their culture, the high points by which they continue to carry the torch of so many generations. I had no place there, no place making myself feel good with fantasies of being a part of a world I was not a part of.

Instead, it was toward the underbelly of the film festival I directed my footsteps. The theater was in the back, with no line, and empty. The patrons who matriculated did not seem excited, rather embarrassed, as if they had mistakenly chosen their film. Hailing from Brazil, Past Minutes did not have the same comfort the Spanish movies had. To most there, this movie too was foreign.

The film opens with the melodic thoughts of a madman, mixing cinematographic beauty and absurdity that only a few seem to enjoy. It moves in three parts, interrogating the character of each protagonist in a playful yet deep style few directors know how to create. Each moment of the story has its own contained space within the narrative; microworlds of dreams are crafted from an artistic mind ever chasing after the freedom to become truly creative. The film is an exploration of that which our media is meant to bring us to, to the making of a space in which the director, the actors, and the viewers are all spectators of something that has its own life, its own vision to be realized.  Past Minutes melds itself with your own thoughts in a way that makes you feel like only you can know the true meaning of the story.

Most times when a director has his characters speak of the values that guide all our lives, you feel the cringe of an angsty writer sitting in his poorly lit room as his dialogue runs all over itself, as his actors fail to deliver lines which were never meant to be spoken. But the genius of Caio Sóh’s film is that that experience is open; it is personal. For the pretension never arose; there was no grand purposeful moment, no intense articulation of philosophical concepts. There were just aspects of life played into an absurd carnival of a dark imagination and childish enjoyment. For some it was too much to watch. It was not catered, not created for them, and thus they had no means by which to move but out the door. Sóh wants you to create the story with him.

As the other customers walked out on the film, mumbling in confusion or annoyance at what they had seen, I felt closer to the film I was watching. I felt as if I was participating in its passage. Although it may not have been the Latino Film Festival I thought I was entering, I was rewarded with the treasures of something left unpicked. For sometimes it is the truly random experience that is the most rewarding, when expectations are left by the door of a long line, and glee skips its way toward an open room, in which any seat could be yours to take, and life moves and entertains you, sending the haters out the door.