Featuring more than a hundred movies from 20-plus countries, the 27th annual Chicago Latino Film Festival (opening Friday 1 and ending April 14) offers no shortage of opportunities to put your time and money on the table. Given the fest’s tendency to book emerging talents and debut efforts—there’s scarcely a recognizable name in the lineup, unless you count Che Guevara—filling out a viewing schedule feels like taking a shot in the dark.
Of course, there’s enough variety in this year’s grab bag that it’s possible to cater to your interests. Like tearjerking documentaries? Dreams of Haiti (Saturday 2 and Monday 4) chronicles efforts to rebuild a community after last year’s devastating earthquake. Interested in the art of dance? No fewer than three of the official selections have pep in their step. Others fold political concerns into the corners and crevices of conventional narratives.
In Brazil’s The Tenants (April 12 and 13), a slow-burning drama of generational discord, family man Valter (Marat Descartes) grows increasingly uneasy about the trio of rowdy twentysomethings that has moved in next door. “Those people aren’t like us,” says his wife, gently planting the seed of distrust. Valter spends the rest of the movie lurking, spying and simmering with paranoid dread. Director Sérgio Bianchi smartly paints this one-man implosion onto a backdrop of communal unrest, seeing it as a microcosm of a larger social disorder. It’s an imperfect film, but a loaded one, too.
Latino Fest continues to expand its selection of LGBT offerings. This year’s crop includes the homegrown I Am the Queen (Friday 1 and April 14), about transgender Puerto Ricans in Chicago, and The Elevator (April 9 and 12), a Bolivian genre exercise with a queer twist. Those with a low tolerance for pity parties may want to steer clear of the Brazilian lesbian breakup drama So Hard to Forget (Tuesday 5, April 10 and 12). Others may find much to relate to in its messy and honest grappling with heartache. Ana Paula Arósio has the fetching severity of Olivia Williams; watching her navigate the wreckage of one relationship and the promise of a new one is worth the price of admission, though one can’t help but wish the film spiked its sob story with a bit more humor.
The Peruvian psychological thriller She (April 11, 13 and 14) has a queasy charm. A painter who’s lost the creative touch finds that his wife and muse is pulling away from him. When she dies in a freak accident, he fills the bathtub with ice and rediscovers his inspiration. This is the sort of macabre scenario a different filmmaker might have exploited for pitch-black humor. That it’s played almost totally straight makes it even more perverse.
An engaging highlight, the Cuban-Venezuelan lark Habana Eva (April 7, 9 and 10) demonstrates how far a little directorial pizzazz can take you. The story—a love triangle set in the immediate aftermath of Castro’s retirement—is unremarkable. Yet the compositions are elegant, the performances nuanced; director Fina Torres (Woman on Top) is a confident stylist. In a festival that often seems to privilege cultural diversity over authorial voice, this is a movie worth rolling the dice on.
The Chicago Latino Film Festival runs Friday 1 through April 14. See chicagolatinofilmfestival.org for theater information.