Revenge of the Latinas Latina Film Festival would be a better name for this year's wealth of outstanding women's performances. Not counting the festival's "Women and Film" conference and the "Sex, Women, and Shorts" program, the features alone boast a stellar gathering of Latinas in fact and fiction. The festival's opening film, A Paradise Under the Stars, is a glittering screwball comedy of racial and sexual politics, set in Havana's famous Tropicana nightclub. At times detonating into full-out farce, it keeps the viewer guessing between black and white, dead and alive, parent and child. The other Cuban offering, If You Only Understood, is a documentary whose male director pokes into black women's personal lives while ostensibly rehearsing them for a musical. Whatever his stated motives, this terrific portrait of eight women is also a diary of life in Havana, where citizens look to the future with fear and sullen determination.
Even the lesser performances have their compensations. The Venezuelan-Peruvian production At Midnight and a Half is a nightmare of impending apocalypse and gamesmanship in an abandoned city. In the Spanish Bluebird of Happiness, a haughty art restorer tries to rebuild her life in the Andalusian countryside. Thanks to distant, enigmatic performances from the women, both films become studies of solitude and willful detachment from human contact. In the Argentine Imposter, enigma defines the existence of a young man who sequesters himself in a ruined estate as another tries to unravel his secret.
In contrast, the Mexican films showcase women who love too openly for their own good. Marisa Paredes (All About My Mother) plays the starving, ostracized wife of a retired colonel who's been waiting forever for his pension in Arturo Ripstein's melancholy No One Writes to the Colonel. In Like a Bride, two young, Jewish women from 1960s Mexico become allies despite their differing Ashkenazi and Sephardic backgrounds, making choices that throw their families into turmoil. Chicano Gregory Nava's (Selena) latest is the lackluster American Tapestry, which picks up energy and passion from its final subject, a mother who risks slavery and an illegal border crossing so that her children can have a better life up north.
Finally, two of the more ambivalent portrayals of women can be found in Revenge, a Chilean tale of the extremes a woman can go to in staying with the abusive man she still loves, and I Was Born a Black Woman, a fascinating portrait of Brazil's first Afro-Brazilian woman senator. Altogether, the festival affords extraordinary glimpses into the machista life of Latinas.