April 18, 2016

Latino Film Festival Explores Oppression, Tragedy

The Chicago Latino Film Festival (CLFF), organized by the International Latino Cultural Center, has returned for its 32nd year, beginning with an opening ceremony on Friday, April 8 and screening its final entries on Thursday, April 21. The films in the CLFF represent genres from virtually every Latin American country as well as from the United States.

Screenings in this festival generally consisted of a short film opener and a feature film. The first pairing I attended, which was screened on Saturday, April 9 at 8 p.m. and Monday, April 11 at 8 p.m., was the short film “Baptism” and the feature-length thriller I Swear I’ll Leave This Town.

“Baptism” (orig. “Bautismo”)

USA | 2015 | 11 min.

dir. Rigoberto Gómez-Carmona

“Baptism” is an unconventional drama about a man who refuses to attend an extended family member’s baptism ceremony with his wife and their two children, thereby driving his wife to insanity. In the short, the alcoholic and possessive husband goes on a rant before locking himself in the bathroom. With no means to get to the ceremony, the wife cycles through several emotions—frustration, anger, disappointment, sympathy—before desperately seeking validation from her husband. Gómez-Carmona cast one male actor to play the roles of the wife, husband, and children. This subversive take on a traditional narrative might initially confuse the viewer, but it ultimately prompts the viewer to think critically about dangerous but pervasive gender dynamics that persist in Latin-American culture in the United States.

I Swear I’ll Leave This Town (orig. Prometo Um Dia Deixar Essa Cidade)

Brazil | 2014 | 90 min.

dir. Daniel Aragão

I Swear I’ll Leave This Town is a psychological thriller about the sociopolitical issues plaguing Brazil, ranging from drug abuse and mental health treatment to sexism and political corruption. The story follows Joli (Bianca Joy Porte), a recovering crack addict and the daughter of a mayoral candidate in Recife. Upon returning home from a rehabilitation center, Joli is put in charge of an anti-drug campaign by her overbearing father. Aragão’s narrative, which places particular emphasis on style and symbolism, progressively comes apart at the seams until the lines between metaphor and reality are blurred.

This pairing highlights the theme of powerlessness, integral to Latin-American cinema. Individual oppressors—men who exercise power over the women they “own”—represent oppressive structures rooted in sex, economic status, and substance abuse.

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The second pairing I attended, which was screened on Tuesday, April 12 at 6:45 p.m. and Thursday, April 14 at 7 p.m., was the short film “White Death” and the feature length documentary The Room of Bones.

“White Death” (orig. “Muerte Blanca”)

Chile | 2014 | 17 min.

dir. Roberto Collío

The experimental documentary short “White Death” is a ghostly walk through the Antuco region of Chile where 45 soldiers were thrown to their deaths by a mountain storm during the Chilean dictatorship. Collío’s approach juxtaposes grainy, slow shots of snowy mountainsides, desolate memorials, and dilapidated lodges with impressionistic animation. The result is a somber exploration of the suffering experienced by these banished soldiers, who are abandoned but also remembered. As the camera crawls through long-forgotten shelters, the viewer experiences this piece of history with an incomparable poignancy.

The Room of Bones (orig. El Cuarto de los Huesos)

El Salvador/Mexico | 2015 | 60 min.

dir. Marcela Zamora

The Room of Bones is a documentary that follows four mothers from El Salvador as they search for their children’s remains at the Institute for Legal Medicine against the backdrop of three decades of social violence. Zamora, a veteran documentary director, was inspired by reading a September 2013 article in the popular Salvadoran newspaper El Faro entitled “El cuarto de los huesos está sobrepoblado,” or “The Room of Bones is Overcrowded.” The “room of bones” refers to the room used to store and catalog unclaimed bones for the Forensic Anthropology Team at the Institute for Legal Medicine. The mothers Zamora interviews rarely turn their faces to the camera as they recount their exhaustive attempts to discover any news about their missing sons and daughters. As anthropologists label and analyze half-recovered skeletons and tattered remains of unearthed clothing, Zamora constructs a powerful and unsettling narrative that transcends politics, capturing the tragedy of death and closure in one of the most violent countries in the world.

The themes of death, disappearance, and lingering memory in this pairing are not exclusive to these two films. Since the emergence of Latin-American film in the international sphere, macabre symbols (think Día de los Muertos imagery) have become more prominent. As the medium of cinema evolves, so have the elements of this iconography.

As evidenced by these four films, this year’s festival offers a diverse array of films that tackle social issues through a variety of different lenses and genres.

The Latino Film Festival runs through April 21 at the International Latino Cultural Center (55 West Van Buren Street, Suite 310). Tickets $10 for students. More information online at

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