Update on CineVegas (La Proxima Ola)

Festivals & Fairs, Health & Beauty, Latino, the Arts | | June 10, 2007 at 10:18

cinevegas1.JPGI’ve viewed five films so far at the 2007 CineVegas Film Festival happening at Brendan Theatres at the Palms, and have been concentrating on films by directors making their debuts with either first or second releases, especially foreign language. Part of the mission of CineVegas is to provide the opportunity to experience film you would not otherwise see in Las Vegas (or few other American venues.) The films are open to the public. More info is at the website listed at the end of this article.

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone” is set in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and directed by Tsai Ming-Liang. I must give this a mixed review in that the story of a mattress, two men and two women and the noisy, sweaty, gritty backstreets of Kuala Lumpur is intriguing to a point. But it shifts abruptly and uncomfortably at the end of the film from stark realism to misty surrealism. Acting is suberb. As a speedy Westerner you find yourself slowly winding down to the pace of the sultry tropics. Others might find the realism appealing, but personally, I don’t enjoy watching a film that focuses so much on bodily functions. Original version with English subtitles.

Viva” by Director Anna Biller (who also starred) was set in the swinging 70’s when nudism and free love were synonomous with California. Once you get past the fun part of totally 70’s decor, dress and all the kitsch of the era, the film is just plain silly. Billed as a tribute to vintage sexploitation films, I felt a bit exploited as audience. Cast and Director present for Q&A. American.

The Festival is also introducing “La Proxima Ola” (The Next Wave), films by the new cinema mexicana which hold promise for a fascinating surrealist expression particular to the Spanish mind. Some of the films were more successful than others, all have been technically excellent with a remarkable authenticity both in acting and art direction.

Once Upon a Time Maria” (Eros Una Vez Maria) is by first time feature film director Jesus Magana Vazquez. It is a stream of consciousness erotic saga that moves from fragmented memories of the various (and many) Marias of the protagonist’s life. Replete with sexual content and interesting score of original jazz and electronic music, the film is shot sometimes in black and white, otherwise in muted palette, sometimes with digital and sometimes 16 mm film. Jesus is obviously experimenting. The director was on hand for Q&A; he charmingly admitted that the film has no message and that filmmaking for him at this stage is a “game.” Spanish with English subtitles.

Morirse En Domingo“‘s (English title “Never on Sunday“) should really be “To Die on a Sunday” or more aptly “Never Die on a Sunday.” This is director Daniel Gruener‘s second film, the first ten long years ago was a Mexican horror film “Sobrenatural.” This time round Gruener tackles an unbelievable tale of the death of a beloved familiy member and the odyssey of his body and his nephew as they are caught in one intrigue following another – all the more arresting because it is based on a true story. This film codifies that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. If you have firsthand experience with Mexico you’ll even more appreciate the inside look at the underbelly of Mexican life with its flawed and complex textures. Gruener is a master of tension and mixes just enough surrealism to give the film that special Latin flavor. Cinematography, musical score and acting are superb. Gruener was also on hand for Q&A. Spanish with English subtitles.

I don’t want to say that I have left the best for last, because I thoroughly enjoyed Gruener’s film. But “Malos Habitos” or “Bad Habits” by director Simon Brass was such a visual delight and so exquisitely produced that it remains my favorite so far. The entwined tales of women with eating disorders is set in another Mexico from Gruener – this is the Mexico of privilege beside the Mexico of fervent Catholicism. Food is a tool, a symbol of weakness, of power, of pleasure. Brass comes from a background of directing commercials and he has all the requisite skill to produce breaktaking dream-visions which combine the baroque palette of Velaquez with the imagery of surrealists like Dali. He has assembled a wonderful cast of natural actors who lead us most convincingly (including extreme weight loss and gain) along their excruciating journeys. Brass was also available for a Q&A session after the film. Spanish with English subtitles.

This is a taste of high calibre film coming from our southern neighbors. The directors exhibit a remarkable ability to combine grittiness with humor, pathos with eros while telling a good story with finely-drawn characters of great believability. Despite the melodramatic cirumstances of complicated lives, our glimpes into the bottomless depths are achieved by subtle and often brief dialogues, only rarely punctuated by intense emotional outburst. I am left with a hunger for more.

Dates of festival: Jun 06-Jun 16. Showtimes vary. My calendar in the left column indicates only the first screening of each day. Tickets are $10 per screening, with passes ranging from $100-$525. For more info call 702-507-4849 (Theatre Box Office) or 888-883-4278 or visit cinevegas.com. Venue for most screenings is the Brenden Theatres at the Palms 4321 W Flamingo Rd Las Vegas NV.

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