New Directors/New Films to Screen Films from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico

Lila Avilés’  The Chambermaid .

Lila Avilés’ The Chambermaid.

The Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center have announced the complete lineup for the 48th annual New Directors/New Films, taking place March 27 – April 7, which will feature 35 films from 29 countries including from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.

Having its New York premiere as Centerpiece of the festival is Alejandro Lande’s Monos, which won a Special Jury Award at Sundance and is sure to be one of the most hotly debated films of 2019 —one critic called it “Apocalypse Now on shrooms.” In Landes’s intensely thrilling twist on Lord of the Flies, Julianne Nicholson plays a terrorized American engineer held captive by teenage guerilla bandits in an unnamed South American jungle. Leaderless and rootless, the child soldiers puff themselves up with names like Rambo, Smurf, and Bigfoot (the latter a brutal Moises Arias), and survive the tedium and predation of the wilderness through sexual games and cult-like rituals. As they wage physical and psychological warfare on perceived enemies—and, inevitably, among themselves—they are reduced to a state of desperate barbarism. The film’s sense of surreal menace is amplified by Mica Levi’s discordant soundscape and Jasper Wolf’s cinematography.

Argentina is represented with two debut feature films: Lucio Castro’s End of the Century, a decades-spanning queer love story screening in its world premiere, and A Family Submerged, the feature directorial debut of actress María Alché (Lucrecia Martel’s The Holy Girl), shot by renowned cinematographer Hélène Louvart.

Castro’s End of the Century follows an Argentine man from New York and a Spanish man from Berlin who hook up by chance while in Barcelona. What seems like a one-night encounter between two strangers (played by Juan Barberini and Ramón Pujol) becomes an epic, decades-spanning relationship, which Lucio Castro depicts in a nonlinear fashion, and in which time and space refuse to play by the rules. Castro’s inventive and enigmatic debut feature is consistently surprising, turning a love story into a cosmic voyage with no clear beginning or end.

Best known for her mesmerizingly obsessive performance in Lucrecia Martel’s The Holy Girl, the Argentine writer-director-photographer Alché proves with A Family Submerged that she’s also a talent to reckon with behind the camera. Her debut film evokes the interior life of a middle-aged wife and mother of three (Mercedes Moran) who’s set adrift by the death of her sister. Though there are shades of Martel in Alché’s disorienting use of sound and fragmented narrative, the film’s hallucinatory mood and dreamlike interweaving of memory and experience are entirely her own. The passage of light itself—whether gently filtered through curtains or nakedly harsh—plays a central role in the family drama; in this, Alché benefited from the great cinematographer Hélène Louvart, who has also helped realize the visions of such auteurs as Agnès Varda, Wim Wenders, and Claire Denis.

Mexico wil be represented in the New York film festival with three films: Lila Avilés’s intimate portrait of a female hotel worker The Chambermaid; Andrea Bussmann’s experimental narrative Fausto, which synthesizes Oaxacan myths with the classic Faust story; and the powerful documentary film Midnight Family by Luke Lorentzen.

In her feature debut, theater director Avilés turns the monotonous workday of Eve (Gabriela Cartol), a chambermaid at a high-end Mexico City hotel, into a beautifully observed film of rich detail. Set entirely in this alienating environment, with extended scenes taking place in the guest rooms, hallways, and cleaning facilities, this minimalist yet sumptuous movie brings to the fore Eve’s hopes, dreams, and desires. As with Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, set in the same city, The Chambermaid salutes the invisible women caretakers who are the hardworking backbone of society.

The legend of Faust mingles with local folklore in Andrea Bussmann’s strikingly original shape-shifter, which dissolves the boundaries between reality and myth, fiction and documentary, and the visible and invisible. Filmed on Mexico’s Oaxacan coast, Bussmann’s film introduces a host of Faustian characters whose interactions effectively exhume a history of colonization marked by magic and oppression alike. Full of aesthetic surprises—textured, low-light cinematography and unexpected combinations of sound and image—Fausto is a rich and beguiling investigation into the role that fiction plays in the construction of history.

In Mexico City, there are fewer than 45 government-run ambulances to serve the city’s population of nine million. Filling the void are family-run private “operations” (often little more than a single, beaten-down van), who race to the scene of an accident or a crime while also dodging police shakedowns, cutthroat competitors, and standstill traffic. Arguably the most exhilarating documentary to come out of Sundance this year, Midnight Family follows the Ochoa family—the gruff but compassionate Fer and his two underage sons, Juan and Josué—at intensely close range on these Sisyphean missions of mercy. Though their wages of fear bring the scarcest of financial rewards, the Ochoas persevere, knowing they alone can save the girl with the traumatic brain injury or the teenage victim of domestic abuse from tragic ends.

Representing Brazil at New Directors/New Films is André Novais Oliveira’s sophomore feature Long Way Home / Temporada in which the everyday takes on a profound and touching resonance. Juliana (an excellent Grace Passô) moves from her Brazilian hometown of Itaúnas to the larger and more sprawling Contagem to take a job within a public-health program combating the spread of dengue fever. While waiting for her husband to join her, she sets about making the rounds, inspecting people’s homes for mosquito hiding places and becoming acquainted with a new cast of characters who will lead her to look beyond her past and toward an uncertain future. A deft and deeply felt character study, Long Way Home establishes Oliveira as a great emerging talent of contemporary Brazilian cinema.

Rounding up the Latin American strong contingent at this year’s New Directors/New Films are the short films Big Bridge / La máxima longitud de un puente by Simón Vélez López from Colombia/Argentina; Misericórdia by Xavier Marrades from Brazil/Spain; Echoes / Resonancias by Lucila Mariani from Argentina; and Altiplano by Malena Szlam, from Chile/Argentina/Canada.