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A roundup of the best screen gems at this year's Latinbeat Film Festival

Wednesday, Sep 21 2005
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Seven films from six different Central and South American countries rotate for a week as part of the Latinbeat Film Festival , which originated at the Film Society at Lincoln Center and is circulating nationally for the first time. Alex Bowen's My Best Enemy, a great success in its native Chile, tells of five recruits and their sergeant marching off toward the Argentine border as the two countries gear up for war (which really happened, back in 1978). Wandering lost on the frontier, they meet an Argentine patrol, equally cut off. It's an anti-war, pro-soldier film like many others, and could be remade on hostile borders all over the world. Its aim is universal, the result honest and competent.

Also universally applicable is Marcos Loayza's Jesus' Heart, demonstrating for all that Bolivia has a health insurance problem as bad as ours. A middle-aged bureaucrat's heart attack impoverishes him until he hits on the bright idea of masquerading as a namesake with terminal cancer. The dark comedy that follows pits the wily Jesus (Augustin Mendieta, who resembles Jeffrey Tambor on a really bad day) against unctuous insurers in a film both involving and literally balladic (a guitarist strums recurring musical commentary).

Carlos Sorín's Bombom, the Dog also has a humorous take on a globalized economy that has flattened regional ones, whatever the skills and good will of their workers. In this Argentine film, Juan Villegas, whose broad face and perpetual half-smile suggest Danny Aiello out of Eli Wallach, is a 52-year-old, laid-off gas station attendant whose talents as both mechanic and knife carver have been discarded. Chance makes him custodian of a beautiful, willful pure-blood pit bull (they call them dogos on the Pampas), and it looks for a while as if Juan has a new career on the dog show circuit. This warm, leisurely film also features, like My Best Enemy, lovely photography of the vast horizons at the Americas' southern end; it resembles an Alexander Payne film without the sprinkling of irony. Juan and these films all travel a genuinely open road.

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Gregg Rickman

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