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The Best of Latin American Cinema Hits Panama

The 2016 International Film Festival of Panama is scheduled to take place April 7-13. In just five years the festival has become one of the most important encounters for the Seventh Art in the region. The festival’s strong commitment to Latin American cinema is among its most outstanding features.

By  Roberto Quintero
Photos: Courtesy

If anything distinguishes the International Film Festival of Panama (also known as IFF Panama) it’s the special focus on Ibero-American cinema. It is therefore not surprising (though it is a source of great joy) to find Marisa Paredes, the grand dame of Spanish cinema, among the celebrities who will grace this year’s festival. With a career spanning over fifty years in theater, film, and television, she achieved worldwide recognition alongside filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar for her starring roles in Tacones lejanos (1991) and La flor de mi secreto (1995). These films paved the way for her to work with directors from México, Italy, France, and many other places, compiling a filmography that reads like a telephone directory.

Her arrival in Panama is linked to her friendship with Italian actress Lucía Bosé, who will also be honored during the festival. The festival seizes the opportunity to pay tribute to Paredes by screening Tacones lejanos, which stars Paredes, Victoria Abril, and Lucía’s son, famed Spanish singer Miguel Bosé, who will also take part in the celebrations honoring the paths of both actresses.

As if that weren’t enough, another great luminary of Latin America’s Seventh Art has confirmed his participation in the festival: Mexican Damián Alcázar, who has received more Ariel Awards, the most prestigious Mexican film industry recognition, than any other actor. Famous for his strong performances in such films as La ley de Herodes (1999), El crimen del padre Amaro (2002), and El infierno (2010), at sixty-three he is recognized as an international success, having starred in productions in Colombia, Ecuador, and the United States. The film that brings him to Panama is Magallanes, a Peruvian drama directed by Salvador del Solar.

The film tells the story of a former military officer, played by Alcázar. Twenty years after the war against the Shining Path Maoists, Alcázar’s character reunites with Celina (played by actress Magaly Solier), a woman who was abused by members of the army when she was just fourteen. The film made a huge splash in Perú and abroad after touring festivals and winning important distinctions such as the Colón de Oro at the Huelva Latin American Film Festival (Spain) and the Special Jury Prize for First Film at the Havana Film Festival. The biggest surprise came when the film was recently nominated for Spain’s Goya Awards in the category of Best Latin American Film. Although it didn’t win, it was a tremendous honor for the production and for Peruvian cinema.

The Goya award ended up going to El clan, an Argentine film by director Pablo Trapero, which is also scheduled to screen at the IFF following its success at some of the world’s most important festivals, including Venice, Toronto, and San Sebastián. This crime drama starring veteran actor Guillermo Francella tells the story of the Puccio clan, a traditional family from Buenos Aires that decides to undertake a series of kidnappings, holding business executives for ransom. Based on a real life case that rocked Argentine society in the early 80s, press releases state that the director has wanted to tell the story since he started studying film.

Released last August, El clan had the most successful opening weekend in the history of Argentine cinema, selling more than 500,000 tickets to beat out Damián Szifron’s Relatos salvajes (2014) by some 50,000 tickets. When it finally left theaters months later, Trapero’s film had been seen by more than 2.6 million moviegoers.

Another high-profile film that will be part of this celebration is Desierto, the formal filmmaking debut of Jonás Cuarón, son of famed Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón. This thriller, starring Gael García Bernal, tells the harrowing tale of twenty Mexican workers trying to cross the desert along the U.S. border while being hunted down by border vigilante Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his dog. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and won the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Prize in the Special Presentations category; it is just beginning to open in American cinemas.

Although it may seem that the festival’s Latin American section has favored dramas and some of the more difficult film genres, one of the most anticipated screenings at this year’s IFF is the comedy Truman, a Spanish-Argentina co-production by revered Catalan director Cesc Gay starring a couple of charmers: Ricardo Darín and Javier Cámara. The film tells the story of Julián and Tomás, two childhood friends who meet again after many years. In the company of Julián’s dog Truman, the two men share surprising and emotional moments during what could very well be their final meeting.

The film has received rave reviews. A review by Carlos Boyero in the Spanish daily El País notes that “although the story is tragic, the director never fails to raise a smile with the film’s bittersweet tone, comedic moments, and caustic humor…His way of telling the story is accurate, evocative, elegant, subtle, and complex. Besides, he is working with one of the three or four best actors around today: a man named Ricardo Darín, who turns in an unforgettable performance.” The film received its greatest honors the night of the Goya Awards, winning five of six nominations: Best Film, Best Director, Best Leading Actor (Darín), Best Supporting Actor (Cámara), and Best Original Screenplay.

These are only a few of the outstanding films scheduled to screen at the Panamanian festival. In just seven days IFF Panama will offer more than seventy films in 130 screenings. Check out all the programming, guests, venues, and special events at www.iffpanama.org.

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