The sixth annual Festival ACine Latino! opens its ambitious program this Wednesday with several days of films at various venues, notably the venerable Victoria Theater at 16th and Mission streets. Sponsored by San Francisco's Cine Accion, the nation's oldest Latino media arts organization, the festival admirably suggests the full range of this hemisphere's cinema, showing many worthy films not being screened anywhere else. Highlights this year include in-person tributes to Rita Moreno (at the Castro this Wednesday) and Argentine director Octavio Getino (The Hour of the Furnaces), as well as a number of locally made short films. The range of works by and about Latinos, from the spirited entertainment represented by Moreno's work in West Side Story to the justifiably harsh political cinema of Getino, is suggested by the two fest films I sampled.
Sandra Werneck's Little Book of Love is a mildly amusing romantic comedy about a love affair between two middle-class denizens of Rio de Janeiro, not that different from something Nora Ephron might make; the bumbling male lead even looks a bit like Billy Crystal. People who enjoy films full of earnest discussions of relationships, direct address to the camera, scenery, sex, and smooching should make a beeline to the Victoria this Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
People who like Italian spaghetti westerns should stick around for Carlos Gallardo's Single Action, at the same venue at 11:15 p.m., a well-made shoot'em-up about a Mexican government agent who, in the guise of a drifter, infiltrates a gang of criminals. The baby-faced Gallardo miscasts himself as the coffee-swilling Eastwood clone, although he does wear a Man-With-No-Name hat with some panache. The women are beautiful and the men die well. The film's political pretensions are puzzling, however -- the plot revolves around a true historical event, the 1994 assassination of Mexico's leading presidential candidate. One's pleasure in this well-directed pulp is somewhat diluted by the film's eventual resolution in an Oliver Stone-style cover-up. It's as though JFK were remade as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.