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Latin Film Series Kick Off

Spanish Language Films Go Head to Head in Competing Film Programs

Above: Women from all over Mexico enter a talent search in "Casi Divas"

When it rains it pours. We don’t have any Spanish language films in theaters for months and now there’s too many to choose from thanks to a pair of competing Latin Film Series: Cinema En Tu Idioma (opening August 21 at UltraStar Mission Valley Theaters at Hazard Center) and The Maya Independent Film Series (opening August 21 at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas).

The better established of the two is the San Diego Latino Film Festival’s returning series Cinema En Tu Idioma, back for its tenth year. The series is a showcase designed to highlight new Latin American, Mexican and Spanish Cinema. The four-month series begins tonight with a week long engagement of “Casi Divas” starring Maya Zapata, Julio Bracho and Ana Layevska. This Mexican musical rom-com focuses on four beautiful and ambitious young women from different parts of Mexico all competing in a nationwide talent search to star in a feature film version of a popular telenovela. The TV show’s lead actress is getting a little “old” so the producer is looking for fresh blood and a promotional hook to grab the country’s attention.

The film opened number one at the Mexican box office and was a top grosser in 2008. SDLFF founder and executive director Ethan van Thillo says, "It's an honor to bring back director Issa Lopez’ work, who we had at our festival with ‘Efectos Secundarios.’ Audiences will also be excited to see past festival guests Julio Bracho, Maya Zapata, and Ana Layevska, in this fun Mexican hit."

The film is cute and predictable, the type of silly but enjoyable crowd pleaser that provides a good and safe opener for the series. The film is like a mock documentary of an “American Idol”-like talent competition. The Mexican soaps get gently skewered and director Issa Lopez also tries to score a little social commentary along the way. Hopefully some of the other titles in the series will be more artistically daring.

One of the murder victims in "Bajo la Sal"

Maya/Warner Brothers

Above: One of the murder victims in "Bajo la Sal"

But one of SDLFF’s best films from earlier this year is making an appearance at the First Annual Maya Independent Film Series running simultaneously at Landmark. The festival highlights international films from emerging Latino filmmakers with its series of eight films. “Bajo la Sal” is the only film I have screened from the bunch and it played back in March at the SDLFF. It’s a tense, dark thriller about a lonely teenager named Victor Zepeda (Ricardo Polanco) who works in his father's funeral home. In his spare time he create stop motion animations with Barbie dolls. The films all revolve around murder and are one of the highlights of the film. The live action part of the film revolves around a series of murders in Santa Rosa de la Sal, a small town close to the salt mines. Victor’s oddly obsessive movies make him a suspect since the crimes he depicts are eerily like the real ones. The film is directed and co-written by Mario Muñoz, who makes excellent use of the bleak salt mining landscape. If the other films in the series are anywhere near the quality of this one then there will be a lot to enjoy. But I can at least promise that “Bajo la Sal” is a well-crafted thriller.

The seven other theatrical premieres in the series are: “The Line” (USA), starring Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo, Armand Assante and Esai Morales in the tale of a veteran assassin tracking tracks down the head of a crime cartel; “Once Upon a Time in Rio” (Brazil), a love story between a boy who from the slums of Ipanema and the daughter of a rich lawyer; “Vicious Circle” (USA), a punk rock love story Latino style with Paul Rodriguez Jr. and Emily Rios; “Máncora” (Peru), a road film; “Bad Guys” (USA), about a female attorney; “Sultanes del Sur” (Mexico), a heist film; and “Crónicas Chilangas” (Mexico), a black comedy.

So if you’re in the mood for something with a Latin flavor, there’s plenty to choose from – at least for the next seven days.

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