The 31st Chicago Latino Film Festival kicks off this Thursday, April 9, and runs through Thursday, April 23. This year's edition of the long-running fest features a typically impressive and eclectic lineup of Latino-themed movies from Europe, South and North America. My best bet for the festival’s first week is Casa Grande, or the Ballad of Poor Jean.
Co-writer/director Fellipe Barbosa incisively dissects issues of class and race in the potent Rio-set drama Casa Grande, a semi-autobiographical first feature. The plot follows Jean (Thales Cavalcanti), a spoiled 17-year-old rich kid whose family life disintegrates when his father, a former financial hotshot, unceremoniously descends into bankruptcy. The family’s servants are let go one-by-one, including a young maid with whom Jean is having an affair, and the observations on “master/slave” dynamics that result would make this an ideal companion piece to the great 2012 Brazilian film Neighboring Sounds (with which it shares the cinematographer Pedro Sotero).
A good deal of Barbosa's dialogue is centered on questions regarding affirmative action in contemporary Brazil, but Casa Grande thankfully avoids preachiness. Although the movie’s political stance is clearly to the left, the vignette-like structure is admirably more interested in posing questions than providing answers.
Casa Grande screens on Friday, April 10 and Monday, April 13. For more info visit the Chicago Latino Film Festival’s official site.