Setting out to cover Latin American cinema, it wasn't immediately apparent how many Argentine films would be in the mix. As it happens, they form the most interesting selection of south-of-the-border offerings this year.
It's no surprise really, given that Argentina's movie industry has undergone a recent revival despite (some would say because of) a collapsed economy. A fortuitously protectionist law drafted in the mid-1990s made the Argentine government an unlikely ally for the struggling filmmaker, and some speculate that the atmosphere of impending doom and the falling peso have ironically inspired scenarios and foreign financial backing. Unemployment has coaxed many young Argentineans without much to lose into film schools.
The product of an earlier film-school generation, Little Sky brings teenager Félix to a seemingly idyllic farm household. But when the husband's drunken violence grows and Félix is drawn to protect the infant son (and not the yearning wife, contrary to expectation), the story tears itself away from the pastoral and into the chaotically urban jungle. Félix's fierce love for the toddler is a powerful if mute appeal for kindness to strangers.
More optimistically, Pin Boy captures the routine and pleasures of work: In this case, young Ringo learns the ropes of manual pinsetting at an old bowling alley from talkative veterans. Somehow one doesn't tire of Ringo's half-smiling reactions as he drinks in years of experience from his co-workers. Even a crossword puzzle provides a kind of joy in everyday life.
Everyday life takes on a sense of sacred doom in the enigmatic The Holy Girl, carrying possibly the most controversial advance buzz. Like Pedro Almodóvar's film Bad Education or Palindromes by Todd Solondz (also part of SFIFF), Holy allows its feverish Catholic girl a sexual inner life seduced by (as the tag line goes) “the temptation of good — and the evil it causes.” A theremin concert occasions vibrations between the girl and a middle-aged doctor, suggesting the healing and corrupting implications of the laying on of hands.
Evil and sin are mysterious things of the past in Los Muertos, as a 50-ish man released from prison takes a long journey into the remote jungle to be reunited with what's left of his family. Along the way Vargas meets kind strangers who groom and provision him for life on the outside, but what an outside! The jungle to which he returns holds the secrets of his incarceration and his willing solitude, but there are few plot revelations. Just lose yourself in it.
Another jungle awaits in Buenos Aires. In the superb Whisky Romeo Zulu, Enrique Piñeyro's debut, the director plays himself, an airline pilot troubled and then blackballed by his employer when he starts agitating for enforcement of safety regulations. The ending credits prove the film's nonfiction origins: Lax standards caused the 1999 crash of a Boeing 737 in the center of the city, and Piñeyro's efforts led to the arrests of top airline and government brass for “criminal ravagement.”
Little Sky: Sunday, April 24, 3:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 26, 6:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Pin Boy: Saturday, April 23, 7 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Sunday, April 24, 6:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 26, 3 p.m., AMC Kabuki
The Holy Girl: Friday, April 22, 9:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 24, 6 p.m., Pacific Film Archive
Los Muertos: Saturday, April 23, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 26, 2:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 30, 7:15 p.m., Pacific Film Archive
Whisky Romeo Zulu: Saturday, April 23, 4:10 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Sunday, May 1, 6 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, May 4, 6:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki