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Last call for San Diego Latino Film Festival

Here’s a welcome anomaly: a film about migration that isn’t structured around a border wall.

La Bronca: Jorge Guerra leads a one-man Via Crucis.
La Bronca: Jorge Guerra leads a one-man Via Crucis.

There are still a few days left to partake in this year’s San Diego Latino Film Festival. For a complete list of titles, visit http sdlatinofilm.com. In the meantime, here are two worth watching.

La Bronca (2019)

Here’s a welcome anomaly: a film about migration that isn’t structured around a border wall. Roberto (Jorge Guerra) comes from a broken home, but word has spread that the reason he’s fled his mother’s house in Peru owes more to the country’s history of violence than the unmanageable teenager’s proximity to becoming a statistic of it. But the move from a climate of tropical terrorism to dad’s home in snowbound and freezing Montreal leaves Roberto feeling martyred and alone. It’s made clear from the outset — a freshly uprooted stop sign slung over his shoulder, Roberto leads a one man Via Crucis through the snow — the hell isn’t going to freeze out of him, it’s only going to get hotter.

Bob Montoya (Rodrigo Palacios) is an even bigger adolescent than his son. It’s 1991, and in Montoyo’s mind, such assimilation efforts as no longer answering to the name Bobby López and having a mistress on the side — the type he’s not ashamed to bring around his boy — are good calls. Poised at the ground floor of computer technology, Montoya envisions millions to be made off anti-glare and privacy filters for PC monitors — enough riches to inch the Canadian transplant that much closer to the American dream. Still, one can’t help but notice that like the son, the father isn’t going anywhere.

Rounding out this trio of itinerant Peruvians chancers and cheats is Toño (Rodrigo Sánchez Patiño), the easiest of the bunch to find, generally loafing or sound asleep on the couch in Montoya’s basement. What happens in Lima rubs off on Montreal as family aces out friendship and machismo triumphs over all. When it comes time for a show of loyalty, that is, for father to pledge undying allegiance to son, Montoya does so in the worst way imaginable. By then, the writing and directing team of Daniel Vega and Diego Vega have devoted so much time to building a tale of hate compounded that the few extra minutes spent veiling the end result of a violent overreaction is all the more powerful when the they finally go in for the close up.

Nudo Mixteco (2021)

The funeral of Maria’s (Sonia Couoh) estranged mother is what brings her to San Mateo. She is the first of three seemingly disparate characters whose lives are destined to intersect over the course of the town’s long holiday weekend celebration. After her father stops short of physically ejecting her from the funeral — he blames his wife’s death on Maria’s love for another woman — Piedad (Eileen Yañez) arrives and, not wishing for Maria to freeze to death, insists that she spend the night. The nature of their relationship is soon made clear. “Where’s the father?” is Maria’s first question. The long patch of silence that ensues is broken with, “You kept it?” This is followed by a scene of intense lovemaking, a long post-coital silence, and a hushed breakfast with the baby. Just when it couldn’t get any quieter, María announces she’s leaving tomorrow and asks Piedad to join her.

You probably won’t catch on the first time through, but somewhere around the 16-minute mark, our three principles are brought together in the same time and space for the first time, with Toña (Myriam Bravo) and her mother taking over Maria’s spot as funeral procession caboose and Esteban on clarinet, entertaining both revelers and mourners alike. As if to compensate for the stretches of silence that open the picture, music (performed live) underscores much of the film. It’s an important part of Esteban’s life. The first person he goes to meet upon arriving back in town after a three-year absence is not his wife Chabela (Aida López) or his children, but fellow musician Nato (Noé Hernández). Profitable employment is scarce in San Mateo, hence the time spent making a living in another town to support his family.

Esteban reasons that instruments, like women, can only be played by the owner. But in his absence, his neglected wife Chabela has come under new ownership. His own mother chimes in, “You stayed away too long, son,” to which he responds by assigning blame on her for not looking after Chabela in his absence. A town council has final jurisdiction over the couple’s fate. A call is put out for the citizenry to meet in the town square, where the matter of Esteban’s “troubles at home” will be publicly arbitrated and ruled on.

The film’s third wheel is easily its most problematic. A young Toña was sexually abused by her uncle while Mom looked the other way. Knowing that, it’s impossible to comprehend why a mother would years later place her daughter in the same care of her abusers. Ángeles Cruz, an actress making her writing and directing debut on a feature, knows how to layer the setup, but the payoff was quite the head-scratcher.

Video on Demand New Release Roundup

I Care a Lot — Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) has what it takes to become the court-appointed guardian to a galaxy of unwitting seniors. From her hairstyle — a cascading pageboy with bamboo cutting board earflaps — to the determined heels against marble click-clack in her approach, every move is calculated to intimidate, to beat her mostly male competition at their own game. She comes by her arrogance honestly. No matter how questionable her motives, she knows how to play the system and gets what she wants without breaking any laws. There’s no knocking success — that is, until Marla runs up against a sharp granny whose baby boy is a made man in the Russian mafia. Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) is what’s known in the business as a “cherry” — a homeowner, never married, with no children or relatives. In no time, Jennifer is installed in a lavish care facility, with Marla stripping her house in a manner befitting a seasoned burglar. Eiza González co-stars as Fran, Marla’s partner both in and out of the courtroom. Writer-director J Blakeson draws no unwarranted attention to their relationship. It’s a given that both are strong, smart, viable women capable of balancing their personal lives and professional careers. But greed has a way of changing things, and it was only a matter of time before the smoothie hit the plate glass window. Checking the records, it turns out Jennifer does indeed have a son, Roman Lunyov (a slow-burning Peter Dinklage, savoring each sinful aside), the aforementioned mobster who loves his mother almost as much as the millions in diamonds, once stashed in her safe deposit box, that are now in Marla’s possession. Just before the fun-filled roller coaster ride deposited me back at the gate, I scribbled, “Could have stood one more twist” across the bottom of the notepad. That was written three minutes before the film ended, enough time for the filmmakers to make me regret my final wish. 2021 — S.M. ★★★

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La Bronca: Jorge Guerra leads a one-man Via Crucis.
La Bronca: Jorge Guerra leads a one-man Via Crucis.

There are still a few days left to partake in this year’s San Diego Latino Film Festival. For a complete list of titles, visit http sdlatinofilm.com. In the meantime, here are two worth watching.

La Bronca (2019)

Here’s a welcome anomaly: a film about migration that isn’t structured around a border wall. Roberto (Jorge Guerra) comes from a broken home, but word has spread that the reason he’s fled his mother’s house in Peru owes more to the country’s history of violence than the unmanageable teenager’s proximity to becoming a statistic of it. But the move from a climate of tropical terrorism to dad’s home in snowbound and freezing Montreal leaves Roberto feeling martyred and alone. It’s made clear from the outset — a freshly uprooted stop sign slung over his shoulder, Roberto leads a one man Via Crucis through the snow — the hell isn’t going to freeze out of him, it’s only going to get hotter.

Bob Montoya (Rodrigo Palacios) is an even bigger adolescent than his son. It’s 1991, and in Montoyo’s mind, such assimilation efforts as no longer answering to the name Bobby López and having a mistress on the side — the type he’s not ashamed to bring around his boy — are good calls. Poised at the ground floor of computer technology, Montoya envisions millions to be made off anti-glare and privacy filters for PC monitors — enough riches to inch the Canadian transplant that much closer to the American dream. Still, one can’t help but notice that like the son, the father isn’t going anywhere.

Rounding out this trio of itinerant Peruvians chancers and cheats is Toño (Rodrigo Sánchez Patiño), the easiest of the bunch to find, generally loafing or sound asleep on the couch in Montoya’s basement. What happens in Lima rubs off on Montreal as family aces out friendship and machismo triumphs over all. When it comes time for a show of loyalty, that is, for father to pledge undying allegiance to son, Montoya does so in the worst way imaginable. By then, the writing and directing team of Daniel Vega and Diego Vega have devoted so much time to building a tale of hate compounded that the few extra minutes spent veiling the end result of a violent overreaction is all the more powerful when the they finally go in for the close up.

Nudo Mixteco (2021)

The funeral of Maria’s (Sonia Couoh) estranged mother is what brings her to San Mateo. She is the first of three seemingly disparate characters whose lives are destined to intersect over the course of the town’s long holiday weekend celebration. After her father stops short of physically ejecting her from the funeral — he blames his wife’s death on Maria’s love for another woman — Piedad (Eileen Yañez) arrives and, not wishing for Maria to freeze to death, insists that she spend the night. The nature of their relationship is soon made clear. “Where’s the father?” is Maria’s first question. The long patch of silence that ensues is broken with, “You kept it?” This is followed by a scene of intense lovemaking, a long post-coital silence, and a hushed breakfast with the baby. Just when it couldn’t get any quieter, María announces she’s leaving tomorrow and asks Piedad to join her.

You probably won’t catch on the first time through, but somewhere around the 16-minute mark, our three principles are brought together in the same time and space for the first time, with Toña (Myriam Bravo) and her mother taking over Maria’s spot as funeral procession caboose and Esteban on clarinet, entertaining both revelers and mourners alike. As if to compensate for the stretches of silence that open the picture, music (performed live) underscores much of the film. It’s an important part of Esteban’s life. The first person he goes to meet upon arriving back in town after a three-year absence is not his wife Chabela (Aida López) or his children, but fellow musician Nato (Noé Hernández). Profitable employment is scarce in San Mateo, hence the time spent making a living in another town to support his family.

Esteban reasons that instruments, like women, can only be played by the owner. But in his absence, his neglected wife Chabela has come under new ownership. His own mother chimes in, “You stayed away too long, son,” to which he responds by assigning blame on her for not looking after Chabela in his absence. A town council has final jurisdiction over the couple’s fate. A call is put out for the citizenry to meet in the town square, where the matter of Esteban’s “troubles at home” will be publicly arbitrated and ruled on.

The film’s third wheel is easily its most problematic. A young Toña was sexually abused by her uncle while Mom looked the other way. Knowing that, it’s impossible to comprehend why a mother would years later place her daughter in the same care of her abusers. Ángeles Cruz, an actress making her writing and directing debut on a feature, knows how to layer the setup, but the payoff was quite the head-scratcher.

Video on Demand New Release Roundup

I Care a Lot — Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) has what it takes to become the court-appointed guardian to a galaxy of unwitting seniors. From her hairstyle — a cascading pageboy with bamboo cutting board earflaps — to the determined heels against marble click-clack in her approach, every move is calculated to intimidate, to beat her mostly male competition at their own game. She comes by her arrogance honestly. No matter how questionable her motives, she knows how to play the system and gets what she wants without breaking any laws. There’s no knocking success — that is, until Marla runs up against a sharp granny whose baby boy is a made man in the Russian mafia. Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) is what’s known in the business as a “cherry” — a homeowner, never married, with no children or relatives. In no time, Jennifer is installed in a lavish care facility, with Marla stripping her house in a manner befitting a seasoned burglar. Eiza González co-stars as Fran, Marla’s partner both in and out of the courtroom. Writer-director J Blakeson draws no unwarranted attention to their relationship. It’s a given that both are strong, smart, viable women capable of balancing their personal lives and professional careers. But greed has a way of changing things, and it was only a matter of time before the smoothie hit the plate glass window. Checking the records, it turns out Jennifer does indeed have a son, Roman Lunyov (a slow-burning Peter Dinklage, savoring each sinful aside), the aforementioned mobster who loves his mother almost as much as the millions in diamonds, once stashed in her safe deposit box, that are now in Marla’s possession. Just before the fun-filled roller coaster ride deposited me back at the gate, I scribbled, “Could have stood one more twist” across the bottom of the notepad. That was written three minutes before the film ended, enough time for the filmmakers to make me regret my final wish. 2021 — S.M. ★★★

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