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  These reviews and info are from the IMDb Web Site
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Mostly Spanish language films from other countries

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  El Descanso  (2002) - Country: Argentina

Just when I was about to aknowledge the fact that Argentina´s cinema nowadays is practically 100% dramatic, this little, funny and well-crafted comedy came along. Witty dialogues, swell performances and an outstanding photography round up an interesting production. The premise is in itself enjoyable: two friends from Buenos Aires (Argentina´s capital city) make a trip to Córdoba, a province covered in hills and mountainous landscape. One of them falls asleep while driving and they collide against a sign beside the road. While trying to solve how to continue with the original plans, one of them finds a marvelous old-fashioned hotel, that was once a must-see for celebrities but is now abandoned. Since nobody appears to claim the hotel, they decide to become the new owners and regain the majestic appearance the hotel used to possess. But their troubles are just beginning... I strongly recommend this film: there´s laughter, adventure and lots of entertainment. Besides that, I´m relieved: it seems there´s more to argentine cinema besides social crisis and tears...

  Nueve Reinas (2000) - Country: Argentina - AKA - Nine Queens

Plot Outline:   Early one morning, Marcos observes Juan successfully pulling off a bill-changing scam on a cashier, and then getting caught as he attempts to pull the same trick on the next shift. Marcos steps in, claiming to be a policeman, and drags Juan out of the store. Once they are back on the street, Marcos reveals himself to be a fellow swindler with a game of much higher stakes in mind, and he invites Juan to be his partner in crime. A once-in-a-lifetime scheme seemingly falls into their laps - an old-time con man enlists them to sell a forged set of extremely valuable rare stamps, The Nine Queens. The tricky negotiations that ensue bring into the picture a cast of suspicious characters, including Marcos' sister Valeria, their younger brother Federico and a slew of thieves, conmen and pickpockets. As the deceptions mount, it becomes more and more difficult to figure out who is conning whom.

Great movie - the only flaw? it should have ended after the bank closes...

THAT REALLY happened in Argentina (and it was AFTER the movie was released!) everybody's assests in the banks were FROZEN and exchanged for bonds, that value NOTHING.

It should have just ended there to clearly show that the government is the biggest con artist, the worst thief of them all!

great movie, you can get a feeling (in a fun way) of living in Buenos Aires sometimes... I was mugged on the bus so many times... but we still love that city....

  Central do Brasil (1998) - Country: Brazil - AKA Central Station

Plot Outline:   Dora, a dour old woman, works at a Rio de Janeiro central station, writing letters for customers and mailing them. She hates customers and calls them 'trash'. Josue is a 9-year-old boy who never met his father. His mother is sending letters to his father through Dora. When she dies in a car accident, Dora takes Josue and takes a trip with him to find his father.

I thought this movie was terrific, a little slow in parts, but I cared about the characters and was interested in their journey. I also liked the fact that the main character was not portrayed as a saint - Dora is a real person, flaws and all. Montenegro was robbed at the Oscars and so was the movie.

  In the Time of the Butterflies (2001) - Country: USA / Mexico

Plot Outline:   On November 25, 1960, the bodies of three sisters were found near the bottom of a cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official daily 'El Caribe' reports that it had been an accident, but it does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it mention the sisters' fierce opposition to the General Trujillo's dictatorship. This is their story: how Minerva started the tragedy by refusing Trujillo; how Patria became an opponent from the church itself; how Maria Teresa joined the revolution through the love. And how they lost their wings, but not their courage. They were Las Mariposas - "The Butterflies".

I expected more from this movie but it was enjoyable enough. The acting was ok and I was especially surprised at Marc Anthony's performance and Salma was good as always. Sadly, the story was not so great.


Solas (1999) - Country: Spain

Plot Summary:  Maria, whose parents live in the country, cannot stand her father's authoritarian ways and moves to the city. She finds a job as a cleaner and tries to survive in a wretched apartment in the shabby part of a big city. She is pregnant, and the fact that her boyfriend has abandoned her does not help matters. When her father goes to the hospital for an operation, her mother comes to stay with her. Her neighbor, an old recluse whose only friend is his dog, begins to come out of his shell and these three lost souls try to give each other the strength to start over.

I was moved by this one, and I'm a rock. Even though I did not like one of the morals of the story - that if you get a child, you can overcome alcoholism and lead a better life. Unfortunately that's a romantic dream challenged by many an alcoholic as an escape route, and I've seen many try and fail with the children caught up in the mess as victims.

But it's beautifully acted. The story is a tragic one, but it's told in a wonderful "laughter-through-tears" way.

Very nice framing too, and silent and emotional shots - not boring at all. Deeply moving. Thanks for this one

  Una Sombra ya pronto serás  (1994) - Country: Argentina - AKA - A shadow you will soon be

Plot Summary:  A computer programmer who, after his train breaks down, takes to wandering aimlessly through remote regions of La Pampa, Viedma and Carhue. he meets a succession of equally lost souls, including a globe-trotting gambler, a circus owner whose performers left him "because the whole country was a circus: and a tarot card reader with large gaps in her knowledge of the future.

With the wanderer bleakness of a Sábato's "Héroes y Tumbas" - or better, with the "end of the road" tristesse, gallows-humor and absurdity of Onetti's "Cuando ya no importe" - piense en "Que el ultimo en irse apague la luz" (Montevideo's epitaph spray-painted on a marble wall of the airport) - but with a tanguero's nostaglia, a comradery and heartbreak of lost souls, a Cono Austral vision reminiscent of Hamsun's "Mysterier", of Kafka's "Prozess" (The Trial), but with the light, the perpetual wind, the sunsets, the rustic semi-ghost towns of Pampas, and an absurd, poetic love of life that despite all I suppose places it closer to Fellini - as though life were a concatenation of operatic scenes, mostly "recitativo", but interspersed with intimiate scenes, touching moments of failed dreams and haunting illusions, arias of exquisite beauty - evoked through the eye of an artist: quaint, charming, touching, sensual, eternal, all defining the question of life as a subtle joke. The final artistic trick is the knack of a graceful and timely exit, before the actor and his scene - his role on this stage called "earth" become grotesque. How did Shakespeare put it? And in how many words, how many scenes, how many emotions?

I haven't time to compose a proper critique - whatever - so scribble the above shreds of thought hoping they produce some intuitive vision of the magnificent - but simple, low-budget, humanistic work of art that is this film. I see no way to improve it. I wish there were more like it.

Though how many could I take? At least a year has past, yet I still haven't recovered from "Butterfly" - Jose Luis Cuerda's (Spain) equally simple but abrumadora pelicula. I feel like crying to think of it. "Sombra", on the other hand, I can see (and have seen)again and again and again - savoring many scenes, especially at the end. "Butterfly", I may never watch again - its scars go deep.
  Diarios de Motocicleta (2004) - Country: Argentina / Chile / Peru

Plot Outline:  The Motorcycle Diaries is an adaptation of a journal written by Ernesto "Che" Guevara de la Serna when he was 23 years old. He and his friend, Alberto Granado are typical college students who, seeking fun and adventure before graduation, decide to travel across Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela in order to do their medical residency at a leper colony. Beginning as a buddy/road movie in which Ernesto and Alberto are looking for chicks, fun and adventure before they must grow up and have a more serious life. As is said in the film itself, it's about "two lives running parallel for a while." The two best friends start off with the same goals and aspirations, but by the time the film is over, it's clear what each man's destiny has become.

I am not a student of Che Guevara; I saw this because, like many people, I find Guevara to be an interesting, charismatic character. And I find Bernal to be just as charismatic an actor, so it doesn't bother me that this film doesn't focus on politics -- this is not an incitement to revolution, this is a road movie about a character who happened to become a legend later in life. (It may just as well have been about someone who would later become a social worker.) The entire film is unassuming and understated, and as it goes along it achieves what might be called a pleasant dullness in tone. It's not boring or flat -- we're constantly involved with these two characters -- but it's also not some stinging, brilliant piece of movie-making. This isn't a director trying to show off his stuff. The film works basically according to road movie rules: our characters bump into other characters on their long and winding journey, there's sex and love, and the whole thing is geared toward a self-discovery. But the film wisely doesn't tell us what, exactly, Guevara discovers; it relies on the events (a group of miners treated like cattle; lepers treated like, well, lepers) to let us surmise what that will be. And it's an especially nice touch, I think, that the film itself is as dedicated to people as Che is within the film. (Witness the final scenes.)

I think Bernal's presence in film right now is tremendously important. I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration to say that he is to Latin America what Alain Delon was to French cinema in the '60s. (What other foreign language actor can inspire 13-year-old American girls to seek out a film by Almodovar?) He's terrific here as a presence and as a character. It's a character very scripted -- when he shakes the hands of a leper without gloves, it's meant to be an Important Moment -- but Bernal manages to capture the essence of something larger. That may be due simply to his looks: he has a gorgeous skin tone, and he emanates a kind of golden brown hue. When he smiles, his snout upturned, it shatters any possibility of labeling his performance as mannered. It's never show-offy or unpleasant to watch; he inhabits his character so smoothly that you don't notice it -- it's totally natural. He plays a character with a romantic sickness, as well, to add something to his aura. (He has a kind of intense asthma; basically, he breathes heavily and looks like he's dying, not unlike Val Kilmer in "Tombstone.")

Enjoyable as the film often is -- and it's certainly a beautifully-made film; the soundtrack and the locations and cinematography are very nice -- you sometimes wish that the director could somehow manage to infuse the film with a passionate Spanish narrative and still keep the clean, unsentimental atmosphere that he creates. 8/10
  Soy Cuba/Ya Kuba (1964) - Country: Soviet Union / Cuba

Plot Summary:   Four vignettes in Batista's Cuba dramatize the need for revolution; long, mobile shots tell almost wordless stories. In Havana, Maria faces shame when a man who fancies her discovers how she earns her living. Pedro, an aging peasant, is summarily told that the land he farms has been sold to United Fruit. A university student faces down a crowd of swaggering U.S. sailors and then watches friends shot by police when they try to distribute a pro-Castro leaflet. The war arrives on the doorstep of peasants Mariano, Amelia, and their four children when Batista's forces bomb the hills. Mariano wants peace, so he seeks out the guerrillas to join the fight.

Mikhail Kalatozov's 1964 I Am Cuba spectacularly showcases its fervent political ideology through a series of fascinating vignettes set all around the nation. Made shortly following the collapse of the Batista regime, the picture takes up a fervently pro-Castro stance, painting the leader as a heroic defender of the poor, exploited people who struggle to make a living on the "weeping" island. Most of the film's episodes are dazzling, and I particularly enjoyed the tale of Maria/Betty (played by the gorgeous Luz Maria Collazo), a young girl who turns to prostitution to survive. Another excellent story belongs to Pedro (Jose Gallardo), an older farmer who burns his entire sugar cane crop and his home when he learns it has been sold by the landowner from whom he rents. The second half of the film delves more deeply into the lives of some revolutionaries, especially Enrique (Raul Garcia), a student who contemplates an assassination attempt on a corrupt police officer. One cannot watch I Am Cuba without noticing the stunning camerawork, which often seems free of the bounds of gravity, floating and gliding with a delicate ease through the lush scenery.

   L' Auberge Spagnole  (2002) - Country: France / Spain

Plot Outline:   As part of a job that he is promised, Xavier, an economics student in his twenties, signs on to a European exchange program in order to gain working knowledge of the Spanish language. Promising that they'll remain close, he says farewell to his loving girlfriend, then heads to Barcelona. Following his arrival, Xavier is soon thrust into a cultural melting pot when he moves into an apartment full of international students. An Italian, an English girl, a boy from Denmark, a young girl from Belgium, a German and a girl from Tarragona all join him in a series of adventures that serve as an initiation to life.

Xavier is a 25 year old Frenchman, stuck in the same rut of life as most people his age. He's looking for something to help him get a job, when he discovers that a friend of the family can get him a job with the EU if he knew Spanish. So Xavier decides to enroll in an exchange program called Erasmus, where he will live and study in Barcelona.

After arriving Xavier ends up settling in with about 6 roommates from various European countries (Italy, Germany, England, Spain, Norway, Belgium) and the wild cast of characters creates some ingenious comic situations. The film though is quite charming, and is dead on in explaining what it is like to live in a foreign land, and to escape your roots. While the stereotypes that are examined are quite played out, they are shown in a way that seems unique to the characters and come out very warm and of course VERY FUNNY. A highlight of the film arrives when Wendy's English brother comes down to visit her, and we discover he's a dumb ass loud mouth comic who thinks he knows everything about all the other countries these people come from. He ends up providing the majority of the funniest scenes by poking fun at every person in the group at his own dumb expense. But the highlight of the film really is how it shows what it means to live in another country. In the beginning we see that Xavier is awkward from fumbling around trying to find his first apartment, to complaining about Catalan, and by the end with the t-shirt he receives from his roommates on the last day, we see how he has been transformed by the friends he has met from all over.

Quite a fun film, not perfect, but definatly a great film to see that will but a big smile on your face, and a warm feeling inside you once you have left the theatre.

  El Silencio de Neto  (1994) - Country: Guatemala

Plot Outline: A boy struggles against his stifling family life during the 1954 Guatemala coup.

I liked this movie a lot for many reasons. It shows how life was for a young teenager in 1950's Guatemala; Another reason is because it shows the coming of age of Neto and how his struggle to speak up. To truly express himself. Also I liked this movie because I«m from Guatemala and I«m happy to see such a good movie produced in my country.
   Un Lugar en el Mundo (1992) - Country: Argentina / Spain / Uruguay

Plot Summary:   Mario and Ana, in voluntary exile from Buenos Aires, live in a remote Argentine valley with their 12-year-old son Ernesto. Mario runs a school and a wool cooperative; Ana, a doctor, heads a clinic with Nelda, a progressive nun. Into this idealistic family comes Hans, a jaded Spanish geological engineer -- surveying the land for the local patron, to see if it can be dammed for hydro-electric power, which would drive the peasants from the land into the cities.

I got to see this movie by chance after reading an interview to Cecilia Roth in La Nacion online newspaper. When asked for her favorite film, she mentioned "Un Lugar en el Mundo". This movie, as suggested in many places, it's as good (or better) as "La Historia Oficial", which is one of the best Argentine movies ever. Personally, I liked this one more. It's a very warm movie about the the relationships of the characters between themselves and with the place they inhabit. Certainly, the place to shoot it was chosen wisely. Argentinian pampa and Patagonia desert have a special appeal, very difficult to describe unless you visit them, some kind of special magic. The movie depicts also the strong gravitational effect that the Catholic Church has in Argentinian culture, mostly in the countryside. As you will see around the movie, besides the frequently shown green ford falcon, diesel train, horse carriage and old ambulance, the other constant are the gatherings in or around the church. A very strong recommendation if you liked "Un Lugar en el Mundo": "Historias Minimas". This is movie shares the same type of narrative it's about human relationships of a group of people in Puerto San Julian, an Atlantic town down south in Patagonia. The difference is that Un Lugar en el Mundo has a very heavy duty cast, all consummated actors and actresses. Historias Minimas only relatively known actor is Javier Lombardo, the rest are mostly first time plays.

Trivia:  This is the only film in the history of the Academy Awards to have been nominated for an Oscar and then removed from the ballot. The director Adolfo Aristarain had intended this to be Argentina's official entry for Best Foreign Language Film. When he took it to the Argentinean committee for submission he was told that Argentina had already decided on another film (Eliseo Subiela's The Dark Side of the Heart). Undaunted he went next door to the Uruguayan committee and offered it as Uruguay's official entry. This went against the academy's rule which states that the film must be directed, written, produced and cast with people from the country of the film's submission. The board submitted "A Place in the World" as Uruguay's official entry despite the fact that it was directed by an Argentinean, written by an Argentinean, produced by Argentineans, cast mostly with Argentineans and told the story of an Argentinean rancher facing off against an Argentinean hydroelectric plant in Argentina. Aristarain knew the rules but decided to submit the film because his wife was a native Uruguayan who had been the film's costume designer and had a hand in co-writing the screenplay. When the 1992 Oscar nominations came out, A Place in the World was among the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film (ironically, the film that Argentina submitted was not). The Academy's board of governors learned that the film was in violation of the rule after the nominations had come out and decided to remove it from the official ballot. Aristarain felt that the board was out of line and after failing the convince them to change their minds, he tried to sue on the grounds of "breach of contract". He lost the suit on the ruling that the Academy "has the complete, untrammeled ability to base the awards on whatever it wants". Angry at the ruling, Aristarain made the decision not to release the film in the United States. He relented and it did get a minor release in early 1995 (where it grossed $100,986). As for the Academy, in an effort to avoid this kind of problem again, they rewrote their official rules to make the submission process more mathematically sound.

  The Mission (1986)

Plot Outline:  Father Gabriel ascends the mountains of Brazil to bring Christianity to the natives. He is successful and brings about a golden age among them. Mendoza, a slaver, kills his brother in a fit of rage, and only Fr. Gabriel's guidance prevents his suicide. Gabriel brings Mendoza to work at his mission with the natives, and Mendoza finds peace and asks to become a priest. The church , under pressure, cedes the land to the Portuguese which will allow slavers in again. Mendoza breaks his vows and organizes the natives to resist while Gabriel warns him to help them as a priest.

This is a movie that will always stay in my memory. First time I saw it, back in the late 80's,I thought it was too brutal and even morbid in a way. But the second and third time I was swept off by its non-conformist beauty. The story begins unusually, with De Niro's character killing his own brother over a woman. The good priest in Irons' interpretation steps in as guiding light and leads him to salvation, which means that he takes him to his own Mission deep in the jungles. There De Niro is born again as an individual, though he doesn't lose his warrior instincts and I believe much of his story revolves around dealing with his newfound identity as a Christian and struggle to shake his old militant ways.

The film gives us some strong performances and both De Niro and Irons should be praised for they pull it off wonderfully in their parts. I believe this to be De Niro's last great performance. The movie is beautifully shot, a Roland Joffe trademark, and though it ends tragically it isn't a sad film. Its poignant and highly enlightening and I believe many souls were deeply changed after seeing it. The Morricone score is brilliant as always. A nice supporting cast includes Liam Neeson and Aidan Quinn in some of their best early work. Its a landmark film all in all and deserves a 9 out of 10.