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Festival films: Al Otro Lado and Adam and Steve

Al Otro Lado

, written and directed by Gustavo Loza, was Mexico's official selection for the 2006 Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. It offers three stories about children whose fathers are absent. But these men are by no means deadbeat dads; each one has emigrated in the hopes of finding greater prosperity somewhere else. One story involves a boy in Mexico; another has a boy in Cuba; and the last one deals with a young girl in Morocco. Although the film intercuts between the three stories, the film could have just as easily been structured as three separate chapters since each can stand alone as a self-contained story. As with two other San Diego Latino Film Festival entries'

Innocent Voices

and

Machuca'Al Otro Lado

takes a child's perspective on the world. But because of the three-way split the narrative takes, none of the stories develops with the depth, power or intimacy of either

Innocent Voices

or

Machuca

.

But Al Otro Lado's multinational approach emphasizes how widespread such stories are. Each of the three children reacts powerfully to the absence of his or her father, and each takes drastic action to try and bring him back. The film addresses the resiliency as well as the ingenuity of children, but it also suggests that these qualities cannot protect them from all harm. The stories vary in quality. The Mexican tale with its hints of magical realism, and the Moroccan story with its fiercely determined young girl, work best and feature the best performances. The Cuban story plays out as more contrived and the young actor comes across as more self-conscious. In general, director Gustavo Loza works well with the children and keeps the film from their point of view. But because of the time constraints of playing out three stories in less than two hours, he tends to take some shortcuts in the plot to bring each story to a conclusion.

Al Otro Lado was an audience favorite and was very well received when it was shown in March as a part of the Border Issues series of films at the 2006 San Diego Latino Film Festival. It arrives now as issues of immigration are being even more fiercely and passionately debated, and it adds potent material to the discussion.

Al Otro Lado (rated PG-13 and in Spanish with English subtitles) is more interesting for its content than its craft. But Gustavo Loza delivers an affecting work that may open some people's eyes to wider reaching issues about immigration. For additional information about screening times and tickets visit: www.sdlatinofilm.com or call 619-230-1938 #2.

Last month, the romantic comedy Adam and Steve opened FilmOut, San Diego's Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The film is written and directed by Craig Chester who first gained attention in Swoon , a drama based on the Leopold-Loeb murder case.

Adam and Steve opens in the 1980s as the Goth Adam (Craig Chester) accidentally arrives at a club during some disco night and falls rapturously in love with a golden boy on the stage named Steve (Malcolm Gets). They share a relationship ending one-night-stand that involves too much cocaine and some unpleasant body malfunctions. Cut to some fifteen years later. Adam is not longer a Goth, and Steve is a doctor. The two meet but fail to recognize each other. They fall in love again but the revelation of their former encounter threatens to destroy their relationship again.

Adam and Steve zings some one-liners, boasts a supporting performance by the ever-wonderful parker Posey and ends with a hilarious country song and dance. But Chester's film always feels like it's trying too hard. It wants to be silly and funny but it also wants to deal with gay issues, and Chester's attempts to blend the two often feel strained and self-conscious. Here's an example. Saturday Night Live's Chris Kattan plays Steve's straight, slacker roommate and his first greeting to Steve sums up the film's problems. He says: 'Welcome home gay doctor roommate.' That forced-meant-to-be-funny line tells us what we need to know'Kattan's character is straight, Steve is now a doctor, and the film will be obvious rather than subtle.

The one place where Chester does pull off some true comedy is with Adam's accident-prone parents who bear the Bernstein family curse. Mom, played by Julie Hagerty in a cast and head brace, and dad played by Paul Sand in a wheelchair, are hilarious as they cheerfully accept their fate of broken limbs and crumbling home. They're not cursed, they insist with a smile, just 'luck-challenged.' Here, Chester forgets his self-conscious messages and just has comic fun.

Adam and Steve (rated R for language and sexual content) doesn't merit rushing out to the theater to see, It'll be fine as a rental and you can fast forward through the scenes that don't work and just enjoy the ones that do. -----

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