PSIFF 2013: LATINBEAT
I look first towards those films that have been annointed as their country's official submissions to the foreign language category of the 2013 Academy Awards®. Each year, PSIFF's Awards Buzz program highlights a robust sampling of these international submissions and all but four of the "Latin" submissions are screening in Palm Springsthis year. Missing in action are, most notably, Pablo Larraín's Chilean feature No (2012), which won the Art Cinema Award (the top prize in the Directors' Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival); Peruvian helmer Rosario Garcia-Montero's The Bad Intentions (2011), winner of the Best Latin American Feature Film at the 2011 Mar del Plata Film Festival (and currently available on Netflix Instant Watch); Rodrigo Plá's Uruguayan entry The Delay (2012); and Venezuelan director Hernán Jabes' Rock, Paper, Scissors (2012). Incorporating PSIFF's program capsules with critical overviews (where available), here's a preview of what will be screening come January.
Winner of the prestigious Casa de América Award at the San Sebastián Film Festival [and the Coral Award at the Havana International Film Festival], Clandestine Childhood is based on the real-life story of first-time director Benjamín Ávila, whose mother was one of the many thousands of dissidents who "disappeared" in Argentina's Dirty War. Ávila's naturalistic style highlights the humanity of his characters as seen through Juan's eyes; Teo Gutiérrez Moreno, in the lead role, belies his age with a layered and nuanced performance. When the action gets violent, Ávila boldly switches from live action to graphic-novel-style illustrations. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia.
As Diana Sanchez wrote when she programmed the film at TIFF: "A gripping, intensely personal account of a turbulent time and a meditation on the skewed perceptions of memory—with stylized animation used to depict the street violence that was all too common during the period—Clandestine Childhood blends vivid recollection and imaginative recreation. This exceptional first feature not only captures the spirit and passion of the freedom fighters who gave their lives for a cause, but also gives voice to their children, caught in a battle that was not their own yet rising heroically to the challenge." Sweeping Argentina's recent Sur Awards, presented by the Argentine Film Academy, Clandestine Childhood picked up 10 awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Male and Female Leading Performances, Best Male and Female Supporting Performances, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Costuming Design, and Best Sound Design. Film Movement has picked up the film for theatrical distribution (PDF press kit).
Despite these accolades, the trades have damned the film with faint praise. At Variety, Jay Weissberg writes, "Designed to highlight the uneasy coexistence between everyday childhood experiences and the intense pressures of living with parents secretly fighting the junta, the pic has strong moments, but is bogged down by a script that regurgitates standard-issue ideas without finding anything interesting to say." At The Hollywood Reporter, Neil Young deems Clandestine Childhood "the latest in a seemingly endless run of features about innocent children coping with the horrors of South American political oppression in the 1970s" and complains that "otherwise Ávila brings very little that's new, surprising or fresh to an already over-filled table—the picture is too mainstream for arthouses, too arty for multiplexes, and outside Argentina, where the wounds depicted are still raw, its best prospects lie as a mid-range festival pick." At Cineuropa, Vitor Pinto is more appreciative: "Instead of showing its characters' political commitment from a dark or predictable angle, the film focuses more on the domestic, family side of the issue. Although the film never hides the dangers of the situation, it chooses to give ample room to humor and radiant happiness personified by Uncle Beto: a character as revolutionary as he is romantic, and played by the Spanish actor of Argentinian origin, Ernesto Alterio. ...As the screenplay moves forward, his character is idealized (as we tend to idealize all those we lose), but this idealization is also, in a way, a homage to all those who have repeatedly brought their encouragement and optimism to the darkest times. This idealization is also clear in other characters, and in other moments of the plot: whether in the ideal way that Juan's first love's dance is filmed, or in the delicious tranquility of his mother's voice when she sings and plays guitar for her fellow activists."
"Remember Alan Moore's Watchmen?", Jacob Vangelisti recalls at Digital Hippos, "Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says 'Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.' Man bursts into tears, Says 'But, doctor ... I am Pagliacci.' " Vangelisti concludes: "The film industry does not make enough bildungsroman flicks, The Clown is this. It has peaceful exuberance in this coming of age tale. I'm ready to go to Brazil to find myself. Dance the dance of the eternal clown that is man."
Acclaimed director Carlos Moreno (Dog Eat Dog, All Your Dead Ones) helms this lavish production, shot in five different cities, blending raw and bloody, masterfully choreographed and edited action sequences with a frank and passionate love story. Colombian heartthrob Manolo Cardona (last seen in Contracorriente) plays Martin with power, vulnerability and sex appeal, heading up a cast that features some of the biggest names in Latin American cinema. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. North American Premiere.
At The Hollywood Reporter, Stephen Farber summarizes that The Snitch Cartel "is lively but doesn't offer nearly enough fresh variations on the Scarface formula." Farber explains, "The film is adapted from a longer TV miniseries. The compression involved in creating a two-hour feature is obvious and not always very graceful. The film jumps back and forth in time and hopscotches over North and South America as it follows a young man, Martin (Manolo Cardona), who rises to a top position in the Colombian cartel before being forced to become an informer for the DEA. ...To incorporate a lot of information about the various Colombian cartels during a 15-year period, the film relies heavily on voice-over narration, along with printed titles and newsreel footage to sketch the real events of the period. The narrative progresses in fits and starts as well as lumps of exposition, but it’s edited with flair to keep tension building." At The Huffington Post, Dan Lybarger writes, "Despite recounting a volatile era in the Colombian cocaine trade, director Carlos Moreno's take on the aftermath of the battle between the Cali and Medellin cartels after the death of Medellin leader Pablo Escobar features some familiar faces, some adequate action and an odd sense of indifference." Lybarger adds: "While the backdrop offers lots of potential, The Snitch Cartel never really comes to life. Most of the characters are one note and not terribly sympathetic. ...Because we see only fleeting glimpses of what life on the streets of Cali or New York, we learn only fragmentary information about the cocaine trade and its cost. Considering the ongoing cost of the war on drugs, that's as disappointing as a missed shipment." At Awards Circuit, Joseph Braverman wraps it up: "In all, The Snitch Cartel is perfectly serviceable as a slice of international entertainment, one that will titillate the senses of action enthusiasts everywhere. Aside from perhaps the Colombian people themselves, the film lacks the emotional pull to really shake up the masses. ...The film is positioned as one of great importance, but these ambitions are shrouded by high-octane action, a formulaic Hollywood narrative and an abundance of visual pizzazz. The Snitch Cartel is a triumph for international commercialism, but a step back from the all-encompassing thematic power of a great foreign language production."
This directorial debut for José María Cabral is only the Dominican Republic's fourth ever submission to the Academy Awards but comes at a time when the local industry is booming—recent changes in legislation have boosted production from an average of two features a year to ten last year. Cabral's thriller boasts slick cinematography and a story that only gets more complicated as it progresses. Actors Adrián Mas and Sergio Carlo give breakout performances as the besieged David and his maniacal tormentor. For Fox News Latino, Alexandra Gratereaux interviews Cabral at the New York International Latino Film Festival. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia.
Winner of numerous awards, including the prestigious Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the searing, intense After Lucia establishes Michel Franco as a major talent. Employing a rigorous and highly personal style that elevates subtext and visual clues over straightforward dialogue, Franco nails the emotionally devastating story, drawing restrained but utterly intense performances from leads Hernán Mendoza and Tessa Ia. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia.
Shortly after its win at Cannes, David Hudson gathered initial reviews for his Daily (now hosted by Fandor's blog Keyframe), namely National Post remarks by James Quandt; Charles Gant at Variety: "In no particular rush to articulate what exactly his characters are thinking and feeling, or to provide easy mood cues through music (there is none), Franco aims to engage through careful withholding"; and David Rooney at The Hollywood Reporter: "The film is of a piece stylistically with Franco's debut, Daniel & Ana, which premiered in the Directors Fortnight at Cannes in 2009. Austerity and rigorous control are his signature notes, with an unflinching realism marked by extended silences and a distinct preference for conveying information via oblique glimpses rather than in dialogue."
At The Flickering Wall, Jorge Mourinha cautions: "If there is one film you should warn viewers beforehand about, that would be Mexican director Michel Franco's disturbing sophomore effort, winner of Cannes 2012's sidebar Un Certain Regard and a film at moments so unbearable you may well ask whether the director worships at the shrine of Michael Haneke's clinical entomology." Notwithstanding, Mourinha proclaims After Lucia "a work of staggering formal and narrative control."
Director Pablo Berger has created a visually dazzling, unique film experience, turbo-charging the language of silent film with thrilling music and dance sequences scored by Alfonso de Vilallonga, and effortlessly shifting in tone from comedic to tragic, knowingly campy to genuinely frightening. Macarena García won the Best Actress Award at San Sebastián for her bright and sexy portrayal of the adult Blancanieves; Maribel Verdú (Y tu mama tambien) is a villain for the ages as the wicked stepmother. Winner: Grand Jury Prize & Best Actress, San Sebastian Film Festival. Official site [Spanish]. IMDb. Wikipedia.
"If The Artist is a love letter to the heyday of Hollywood silent cinema," Diana Sanchez poses in her TIFF program capsule, "then Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves ... is an homage to the sumptuous European silent melodrama. Relocating the Grimm fairy tale to a romantic vision of 1920s Spain and working in atmospheric black and white, Berger takes full advantage of the silent film's expressive potential to depict the golden age of toreros with gory, Goyaesque violence."
At Toronto Screenshots, James McNally writes: "The variety of musical styles along with the use of different rhythms of film editing make Blancanieves a more formally daring film than The Artist. Berger's influences are the masters of silent filmmaking from its latter, more developed stage: Gance, Murnau." McNally generously offers his recording of Berger's Q&A with his TIFF audience. Likewise dispatching from Toronto to The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney synopsizes, "Spanish writer-director Pablo Berger's reinvention of the Brothers Grimm classic is the most original of the year's Snow White makeovers."
Although none of the above submissions achieved the Oscar® short list for the foreign language category (see Guy Lodge's Hitfix assessment of that controversy), their inclusion in PSIFF's Awards Buzz program remains welcome and admirable. Moving on, of the 76 representative titles in PSIFF's World Cinema Now program, several fall within our purview.
Shooting on grainy 16mm film, director Javier Rebollo (Woman Without Piano) cleverly undercuts his weighty dramatic themes with subtle, playful, deadpan voiceovers, striking a uniquely offbeat tone. He gets pitch-perfect performances from his two leads, and takes his time to let their attraction build. Winner: Best Actor and FIPRESCI Award, San Sebastián Film Festival. Official site. IMDb.
At Variety, Jonathan Holland writes: "A dying Spanish hitman makes his final journey through the interiors of Argentina and himself in the quietly surreal, intermittently intriguing road movie The Dead Man and Being Happy. As free-rolling and unstructured as the journey itself, the pic demands submission to the helmer's skewed, ironic take on just about everything his protag encounters, and as with his two previous films, reactions will be divided between those who appreciate Rebollo's look-at-me auteur quirks and those for whom they're cinematic death." Holland continues: "Auds seeking any sense of cumulative dramatic force will be disappointed as the pic moves from one disjointed sequence to another, generating interest as much through the locations themselves (a haunting abandoned spa, a residence for aging former Nazis) as through what takes place there. The final 15 minutes are the most evocative, with a rousing folk song, its lyrics composed by the helmer, powerfully highlighting the difference between legends and the often pathetic realities behind them." Or as Neil Young abbreviates it at The Hollywood Reporter: "A strain of quirkily deadpan humor narrowly steers an ambitiously self-deconstructing screenplay away from becoming just another arid exercise in tricky formal techniques." Matthew Connolly adds at Slant: "At once familiar and enigmatic, The Dead Man and Being Happy feels like a connect-the-dots film with a few lines artfully blurred."
Winner of multiple awards, including the prestigious Critics Week Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Here and There establishes first-time director Antonio Méndez Esparza as a rising star of the international film world. He has a masterful ability to draw quiet intensity from simply staged scenes, conveying the unassuming dignity and humanity of his characters. Pedro De los Santos turns in a touchingly subtle and sensitive portrayal of a man who embodies the wider struggles of the Mexican emigrant experience. Official site. IMDb. Facebook.
At Variety, Jonathan Holland observes: "Combining moments of lyricism with a documentary-like feel for truth, Antonio Méndez Esparza's debut feature is far from hard-hitting, aestheticizing its tale with artful ellipses and juxtapositions. But its delicate portrayal of the emotional effects of immigration nonetheless amounts to a punchy social critique." At Indiewire, Eric Kohn adds: "Esparza constructs a family drama with supreme restraint while fleshing out his characters to the point where their problems take root in a fully realized environment where socio-economic conditions pull them apart. It's incredibly uneventful and devastating all at once." And here on The Evening Class, Ryan Lattanzio dispatched from Cannes where he served as a student juror for the Critics Week competition. Lattanzio states: "There is no big drama in Aquí y Allá, not a voice raised, nor even a tinge of hysteria. The people in Esparaza's film understand the smallness of their existence and despite having little money and modest dwellings, they seem grateful just to be alive. Esparaza imposes no agenda on his film. He simply wants us to encounter people in a place we have not seen, and his cast is comprised of non-professional actors whose restrained performances provide the film's naturalist underpin."
With a probing, hand-held camera and an instinctive feel for the throbbing pulse of his native Bogotá, director Juan Andres Arango brings his highly topical narrative to life with a commitment to social realism. The story is ultimately a hopeful one, eschewing sentimentality but affirming the possibility for youths like Tomas to find their way on the tough streets of Bogotá rather than emigrating or escaping into crime and drug addiction. An official selection of Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival. Official Site. IMDb. Facebook.
At Variety, Peter LeBruge considers La Playa D.C. "a well-intentioned coming-of-ager strong on ethnographic interest but disappointingly lax on narrative." At The Hollywood Reporter, Neil Young describes the film as "a minutely-observed peek into hardscrabble lives that pours intoxicatingly fresh aguardiente into a rather dusty old bottle." Both critics emphasize Garcia's bold directorial talent, auspicious in how it reflects Colombian filmmaking.
Shot on 16mm film for a documentary feel, the film follow the investigation of an increasingly skeptical priest into this affair. Both a cultural critique of what director Esteban Larraín sees as Chile's need for affirmation in the face of a collective inferiority complex and a succinct illustration of Juvenal's "bread and circuses" concept of governmental appeasement, Larraín’s political drama speaks volumes about how the Pinochet years deeply scarred a nation's already fragile psyche. IMDb. North American Premiere.
At Variety, Boyd van Hoeij notes that Larraín's "background in documentary helps lend urgency, immediacy and credibility to the unbelievable tale of a teenage orphan whose supposed contact with the Virgin Mary attracted huge crowds just when the dictatorship needed some popular distraction. Despite an unfocused p.o.v., the pic is a nonetheless a gripping, almost mythical rise-and-fall yarn...." Van Hoeij winnows out "a natural homoeroticism" to the rapport between Michelangelo and Lazaro, one of his "pint-sized disciples", as well as with the village priest Father Alcazar. "[S]omewhat disturbingly, a sexual element also arises in the adored youth's evolving relationship with the kind-hearted Alcazar, who is not immune to temptation. Larraín's sense of restraint is key in making it clear that Michelangelo is starting to experiment with his uncontested authority and, more specifically, the power of his allure, even if the young teen is perhaps a long way away from understanding anything about his sexuality."
Director Benito Zambrano (Solas, Habana Blues) has created a gripping dramatic tour-de-force that brings to the big screen, at last, the bravery and determination of the women who lived through some of the darkest years of Spanish history. He gets a searing, career-defining performance from María León (previously best known as a comedic actress) as Pepita, and a beautifully understated turn from Inma Cuesta (Blancanieves) as Hortensia. Official site [Spanish]. IMDb. Facebook.
At Variety, Jonathan Holland observes: "A harrowing drama that transforms the sorry plight of female prisoners in post-Civil War Spain into a bleak examination of man's inhumanity to women, The Sleeping Voice magnificently tells a tale that needs to be told and retold. Shrewdly remaining mainstream while plumbing the depths of grief and violence, this engrossing pic is often unbearably intense in its depiction of atrocities, and affecting in its portrayal of its protags' doomed fight against politics and patriarchy." At The Hollywood Reporter, Deborah Young stages complaints about the film, but admits the "vivid performances by attractive leads María León, who won Best Actress kudos at the San Sebastian festival, and the fiery Inma Cuesta do add interest."
The conceit is simple yet original: Gomes begins the film in contemporary Lisbon, where middle-aged Pilar (Teresa Madruga) takes a kindly interest in several elderly friends, including her next door neighbor Aurora (Laura Soveral), whose failing faculties are a cause for concern. This section, "Paradise Lost", then segues into "Paradise", the reminiscence of Aurora's long-lost lover, Ventura, who astonishes Pilar with his tale of passion and murder in colonial Africa in the early 1960s.
Referencing Murnau's film of the same name, Gomes shoots in silvery monochrome, "Paradise Lost" in 35mm, while "Paradise" is on much grainier 16mm stock, and in the style of a silent film melodrama (albeit with sound effects, voice over, and music—including a Portuguese version of "Be My Baby" that will haunt your dreams). This is cinema: whimsical, wistful, and so melancholy even the crocodiles are moved. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia.
Volumes have already been written about Tabu, clearly one of the year's best. For starters, I recommend David Hudson's critical overview at Fandor. That should keep you busy.
First-time director Lucy Mulloy boldly explores a side of Havana never before seen on film, displaying an impressive visual flair and a grasp of the complexities and contradictions in the hearts and minds of today's young Cubans, while the section of the film shot on water is as emotionally intense as it is technically impressive. Winner: Best New Director, Best Actor (Arrecaga and Florian), Best Cinematography, Tribeca Film Festival. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.
Una Noche premiered at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival and 2012 Tribeca Film Festival to international critical acclaim. The film shot to international media attention, ahead of its U.S. premiere, when two of the film's lead actors, Javier Nuñez Florian and Anailin de la Rua de la Torre, disappeared on their way to present the film at its Tribeca premiere, reportedly defecting to the U.S. In a highly publicized twist Javier Nuñez Florian and his co-star Dariel Arrechaga went on to win the Best Actor Award even as Florian remained in hiding during the ensuing media frenzy.
At Variety, Justin Chang writes: "Marked by a vibrant evocation of Havana street life and excellent performances from three non-pro naturals, Una noche throws off a restless energy well attuned to its tale of impetuous Cuban teens preparing to make the dangerous ocean journey to Florida. Writer-director Lucy Mulloy's sexy, pulsing debut feature has an undercurrent of ribald comedy that doesn't entirely prepare the viewer for the harrowing turn it eventually takes, but it nonetheless amounts to a bracing snapshot of desperate youths putting their immigrant dreams into action." At Indiewire, Gabe Toro adds: "There's a youthful energy running through Una Noche… [It's] alive and vibrant … at times funny, heartfelt, naughty and nice, a tale of three youngsters who deserve better than the forces that limit them, the corruption that eats away at their powerfully-beating hearts." At Slant, Ed Gonzalez notes: "Lucy Mulloy is a tourist, but she understands Havana's complex sociopolitical situation better than most. Granted unprecedented and unbelievable access to shoot in the city ... the film realistically reveals the largest city in the Caribbean as a maze of history and discontent, it conveys the struggle of its characters to facilitate their escape from their island prison as a ramshackle puzzle desperately pieced together from a hodgepodge of ill-fitting pieces, some stolen, others acquired through bartering. ...Una Noche shines a light on the balseros phenomenon without miring itself in politics, such as discussions of the 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot' policy."
These are the urgent moral questions that confront Father Nicolas (Jérémie Renier—from the Dardennes' The Child and The Kid with a Bike)—when he joins Father Julian (Ricardo Darín, The Secret in Their Eyes, Nine Queens) after a violent, faith-shaking experience in a jungle mission. Working closely with the more experienced and politically astute Julian in his bid to get a long-promised housing development back on track (the eponymous white elephant), Nicolas is exposed to the drug economy, gang wars, and to pretty social worker Luciana (director Trapero's wife and muse, Martina Gusmán). This social and spiritual melodrama carries extra heft because of its palpable authenticity. Everything—even the abandoned, never finished hospital where the priests take up residence—is real, and no doubt that goes for the endemic corruption and exploitation depicted on screen too. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook [Spanish].
As Diana Sanchez contextualizes in her TIFF program capsule: "From the haunting, literally incendiary opening sequence to the final stand-off between the police and the slum-dwellers, Trapero keeps the tension at a high boil while also depicting the existence of his marginalized subjects with unerring realism, immediacy and impartiality. Drug addicts, lapsed priests, social activists—all are equal under Trapero's unsparing yet empathetic gaze, demonstrating once again that his interest resides with neither saints nor sinners, but with men." At The Argentina Independent, Melissa Macaya explains further: "In the opening scenes of the film, the viewer is taken to the Elefante Blanco, a massive and dilapidated grey building in the heart of a Buenos Aires villa. The building was once destined to be the largest hospital in all of Latin America but was never finished. After President Juan Domingo Perón was ousted in 1955, the building remained abandoned and became synonymous with stagnant poverty. Elefante Blanco not only serves as the title of the film, but also captures the spirit and tone of the story. Like the building, the people living and working in the villas in and around Buenos Aires find themselves rundown but still standing with hope that things will one day improve. The film takes the audience to this reality and gives them a taste of its bitterness."
Accompanying this healthy representation in the World Cinema Now sidebar, PSIFF offers a few more entries in their New Voices, New Visions programme.
This low budget first feature by Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori is a breakneck joyride that rivals Hollywood action movies for inventiveness and thrills-per-minute, but also conveys a rich and gritty sense of place, with a range of vivid characters. Meneglia and Schémbori make impressive use of their location, choreographing exciting and elaborate chase scenes using little more than people pushing long, wooden wheelbarrows. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook [Spanish]. U.S. Premiere.
At Variety, Robert Koehler assesses: "Turning the Paraguayan capital's biggest public market into an arena for a wild and cunningly plotted chase movie, filmmaking partners Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori build a rollicking entertainment with 7 Boxes. Certain to be one of the first titles from Paraguay to make a serious dent in the international marketplace, the pic makes a pleasurable surplus from minimal resources and plenty of ironic-comic-violent storytelling energy." At Indiewire, Boyd van Hoeij describes 7 Boxes as "The Fast and the Furious with wheelbarrows" and adds: "Maneglia, who wrote the intricately structured screenplay, excels in keeping the twists and turns coming while keeping all his narrative balls in the air. And the final payoff is a doozy. City of God-like, agile camerawork by commercials cinematographer Richard Careaga is smudgy yet breathtaking, and combined with a pumping score that mixes electronic music and local, traditional instruments it delivers, well, the goods." At Twitch, Kurt Halfyard deems 7 Boxes "genre-film bliss" and claims there are as many surprises in this film "as there are retail opportunities in the market." He concludes, "The storytelling confidence, the unaffectated acting, and, above all, a heightened grasp of plotting and logistics on display in 7 Boxes is astonishing."
The debut feature from Daniela Seggiaro, Beauty won the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Latin American Film at the Rio de Janeiro Film Festival. Its central image is a powerful metaphor for the small-scale violence and lack of sensitivity toward indigenous people by Argentina's dominant social class, but Seggiaro has a light and confident touch, and elegantly folds her strong polemic into an exquisitely subtle narrative, where characters and choices are far from black and white. Official site. IMDb.
At Variety, Boyd van Hoeij writes: "Scribe-helmer Daniela Seggiaro's deceptively simple debut feature poses as a small-scale domestic drama but contains a subtle yet harsh critique of Argentineans' ignorance and dismissal of the marginalized Wichi people. Like Peruvian helmer Claudia Llosa, whose The Milk of Sorrow copped Berlin's Golden Bear, Seggiaro reps a strong new female voice from South America." At The Hollywood Reporter, John DeFore notes the film's "effect is simple but transporting, particularly powerful thanks to its thoroughly unpretentious delivery. As Yola adjusts to the removal of one more link to her community, the film needs little more than a string of remembered words and a carefully chosen image to suggest an entire culture at risk of losing its foothold in the world." At The Stranger, Anna Minard adds: "Nosilatiaj spends most of its time conveying the larger meanings behind small moments—an unasked for haircut, a glance across a room."
It just took him some time to find a producer willing to finance a surrealistic melodrama about a circus dwarf jailed for a crime of passion; coming out of prison 10 years later he refuses to play the clown, and decides to go into porn instead. (The right fairy godfather did come along eventually: Don Ranvaud, the man behind City of God, Central Station and Rolling Family.) Trained in animation, Nardi has created a visually stunning film, something redolent of film noir, German expressionism, Tod Browning and Alejandro Jodorowski (El Topo; Santa Sangre). But this is not simply pastiche; Nardi has made a strange and magical movie about identity, alienation, and thinking big—nothing at all like The Artist. IMDb. North American Premiere.
At Screen, Mark Adams writes: "Beautifully shot and structured and packed with funny, strange and memorable moments, Sadourni's Butterflies is always intriguing and unusual with Cristian Medrano impressive as Sadourni, a darkly determined character driven to violence who simply wants to fit into society. It is a complex and self-consciously surreal film, but certainly one that is relentlessly intriguing and stylish."
Wrapping up with PSIFF's documentary sidebar, Mexico is featured twice in the festival's True Stories line-up.
Drought is the most accomplished work yet from award-winning Mexican director Everardo González. He weaves together his beautifully rounded narrative with unforgettable images of the Cuates de Australia ecosystem: humans, animals, land, and great, God-revealing skies. The richly textured sound design incorporates the gorgeous a cappella three-part harmonies of local folk music. Winner: Best Documentary, Los Angeles Film Festival. IMDb. Facebook.
At Slant, Andrew Schenker writes: "Fixing its gaze on the parched landscapes of rural, northern Mexico and the people who survive the region's unforgiving climes, Drought is a portrait of a community under siege by forces beyond its control and its attempts to go about the daily stuff of life. Employing largely unobtrusive observational camerawork, spliced with a few interviews with the locals, Everado González's documentary brings to the screen both an eye for stark beauty in desolation and a sympathetic look at the citizens of the communal town of Cuates de Australia." At The Hollywood Reporter, Sheri Linden offers: "As he intended, González’s feature transcends the genre of ethnography; he has shaped his eye-opening chronicle with a powerful aesthetic sensibility. Pablo Tamez and Matías Barberis' ambient sound is a fine complement to the visuals. Further heightening the material's impact, to haunting effect, are 1970s recordings of cantos cardenches—folk songs that are, fittingly, named after a type of cactus. With their aching melancholy, these a cappella numbers for three voices are the perfect accompaniment to the understated drama unfolding in this dusty terrain."
Revered for the great beauty and complexity of his cinematography, Figueroa had a long career in his homeland and Hollywood, working for top-drawer directors including Luis Buñuel, Emilio Fernandez, John Ford and John Huston. He shot more than 200 films, although here Maillé draws solely on his Mexican films from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. The cinematographers discuss a wide range of topics, including the portrayal of emotion through faces; the expressionist terrain of black-and-white; monochrome vs. color; and the future of cinematography in a digital age. Official site. IMDb. U.S. Premiere.
The PSIFF program capsule is largely cribbed from Alissa Simon's Variety review, which also notes: "Maillé removes the film excerpts from their narrative context, stripping them of sound so his interviewees can focus on the essence of the image and the depth of the frame. As he cuts together thematic sequences (for instance, landscapes, women walking, couples kissing, musicians performing, people dancing or sleeping), hypnotic minimalist music composed by Michael Nyman and Manuel Rocha draws viewers into the visuals and elevates their intensity."
A final sweep of the PSIFF lineup reveals a few stray films that don't appear to be grouped within any specific sidebar.
Making an impressive debut feature as writer/director, Adrian Saba shows admirable restraint in letting the relationship between two deeply guarded souls gently unfold, incorporating drily comedic touches and bravura, artfully composed long takes. Prada and Du Bois bring to life the pained humanity of their characters with a remarkably controlled intensity. IMDb. Facebook.
At The Hollywood Reporter, Neil Young describes Little World as "heartwarming but without a scintilla of mawkishness" and "a straightforwardly effective introduction to an unforgettable individual and his disarmingly persuasive attitudes to life."
Shot in a spectacular mountain locale, from a script co-written with acclaimed screenwriters Jorge Guerricaechevarría (Live Flesh, Cell 211, The Oxford Murders) and Sergio G. Sánchez (The Orphanage, The Impossible), first-time feature director Jorge Torregrossa has created the rare genre film that's artful and thought-provoking as well as gripping entertainment. The top-notch cast features, amongst others, top Spanish film star Maribel Verdú (Pan's Labyrinth, Y Tu Mamá También). Official site [Spanish]. IMDb. Wikipedia.
TIFF programmer, Diana Sanchez writes: "Brilliantly and relentlessly building the tension to a hair-raising pitch, Torregrossa's end-of-the-world allegory milks its sci-fi conceit for maximum suspense. Framing his protagonists against the majesty of a towering landscape that seems to dwarf the human drama played out beneath its indifferent gaze, Torregrossa transcends the boundaries of genre to offer a profound meditation on a fundamental philosophical question: what does it mean to exist, and to share that existence with others?" The Q&A for The End's TIFF screening is up at YouTube. At Cineuropa, Alfonso Rivera states: "Beneath its appearance of a mainstream film, The End is, more than anything else, an existential film. It speaks of destiny, what we are, wounds from the past, and how we are conditioned by the gaze of those who surround us. ...A melancholy, psychological, and nihilist nightmare that Torregrossa has nourished with his obsessions: ambiguity, suppressed desire, and disenchantment. The result is a film that looks commercial—it is already being compared to the television series Lost—but that hides strong doses of depth." Cineuropa also hosts Rivera's interview with Torregrossa.
No matter what walk of life you come from, what industry you’re interested in pursuing or how much experience you’ve already garnered, we’ve all seen firsthand the importance of critical thinking skills. In fact, lacking such skills can truly make or break a person’s career, as the consequences of one’s inability to process and analyze information effectively can be massive.
“The ability to think critically is more important now than it has ever been,” urges Kris Potrafka, founder and CEO of Music Firsthand. “Everything is at risk if we don’t all learn to think more critically.” If people cannot think critically, he explains, they not only lessen their prospects of climbing the ladder in their respective industries, but they also become easily susceptible to things like fraud and manipulation.
With that in mind, you’re likely wondering what you can do to make sure you’re not one of those people. Developing your critical thinking skills is something that takes concentrated work. It can be best to begin by exploring the definition of critical thinking and the skills it includes—once you do, you can then venture toward the crucial question at hand: How can I improve?
This is no easy task, which is why we aimed to help break down the basic elements of critical thinking and offer suggestions on how you can refine the skills that drive your own critical thinking abilities.
What is critical thinking?
Even if you want to be a better critical thinker, it’s hard to improve upon something you can’t define. Critical thinking is the analysis of an issue or situation and the facts, data or evidence related to it. Ideally, critical thinking is to be done objectively—meaning without influence from personal feelings, opinions or biases—and it focuses solely on factual information.
Critical thinking is a skill that allows you to make logical and informed decisions to the best of your ability. For example, a child who has not yet developed such skills might believe the Tooth Fairy left money under their pillow based on stories their parents told them. A critical thinker, however, can quickly conclude that the existence of such a thing is probably unlikely—even if there are a few bucks under their pillow.
6 Crucial critical thinking skills (and how you can improve them)
While there’s no universal standard for what skills are included in the critical thinking process, we’ve boiled it down to the following six.
The first step in the critical thinking process is to identify the situation or problem as well as the factors that may influence it. Once you have a clear picture of the situation and the people, groups or factors that may be influenced, you can then begin to dive deeper into an issue and its potential solutions.
How to improve: When facing any new situation, question or scenario, stop to take a mental inventory of the state of affairs and ask the following questions:
- Who is doing what?
- What seems to be the reason for this happening?
- What are the end results, and how could they change?
When comparing arguments about an issue, independent research ability is key. Arguments are meant to be persuasive—that means the facts and figures presented in their favor might be lacking in context or come from questionable sources. The best way to combat this is independent verification; find the source of the information and evaluate.
How to improve: It can be helpful to develop an eye for unsourced claims. Does the person posing the argument offer where they got this information from? If you ask or try to find it yourself and there’s no clear answer, that should be considered a red flag. It’s also important to know that not all sources are equally valid—take the time to learn the difference between popular and scholarly articles.
3. Identifying biases
This skill can be exceedingly difficult, as even the smartest among us can fail to recognize biases. Strong critical thinkers do their best to evaluate information objectively. Think of yourself as a judge in that you want to evaluate the claims of both sides of an argument, but you’ll also need to keep in mind the biases each side may possess.
It is equally important—and arguably more difficult—to learn how to set aside your own personal biases that may cloud your judgement. “Have the courage to debate and argue with your own thoughts and assumptions,” Potrafka encourages. “This is essential for learning to see things from different viewpoints.”
How to improve: “Challenge yourself to identify the evidence that forms your beliefs, and assess whether or not your sources are credible,” offers Ruth Wilson, director of development at Brightmont Academy.
First and foremost, you must be aware that bias exists. When evaluating information or an argument, ask yourself the following:
- Who does this benefit?
- Does the source of this information appear to have an agenda?
- Is the source overlooking, ignoring or leaving out information that doesn’t support its beliefs or claims?
- Is this source using unnecessary language to sway an audience’s perception of a fact?
The ability to infer and draw conclusions based on the information presented to you is another important skill for mastering critical thinking. Information doesn’t always come with a summary that spells out what it means. You’ll often need to assess the information given and draw conclusions based upon raw data.
The ability to infer allows you to extrapolate and discover potential outcomes when assessing a scenario. It is also important to note that not all inferences will be correct. For example, if you read that someone weighs 260 pounds, you might infer they are overweight or unhealthy. Other data points like height and body composition, however, may alter that conclusion.
How to improve: An inference is an educated guess, and your ability to infer correctly can be polished by making a conscious effort to gather as much information as possible before jumping to conclusions. When faced with a new scenario or situation to evaluate, first try skimming for clues—things like headlines, images and prominently featured statistics—and then make a point to ask yourself what you think is going on.
5. Determining relevance
One of the most challenging parts of any critical thinking scenario is figuring out what information is the most important for your consideration. In many scenarios, you’ll be presented with information that may seem important, but it may pan out to be only a minor data point to consider.
How to improve: The best way to get better at determining relevance is by establishing a clear direction in what you’re trying to figure out. Are you tasked with finding a solution? Should you be identifying a trend? If you figure out your end goal, you can use this to inform your judgement of what is relevant.
Even with a clear objective, however, it can still be difficult to determine what information is truly relevant. One strategy for combating this is to make a physical list of data points ranked in order of relevance. When you parse it out this way, you’ll likely end up with a list that includes a couple of obviously relevant pieces of information at the top of your list, in addition to some points at the bottom that you can likely disregard. From there, you can narrow your focus on the less clear-cut topics that reside in the middle of your list for further evaluation.
It’s incredibly easy to sit back and take everything presented to you at face value, but that can also be also a recipe for disaster when faced with a scenario that requires critical thinking. It’s true that we’re all naturally curious—just ask any parent who has faced an onslaught of “Why?” questions from their child. As we get older, it can be easier to get in the habit of keeping that impulse to ask questions at bay. But that’s not a winning approach for critical thinking.
How to improve: While it might seem like a curious mind is just something you’re born with, you can still train yourself to foster that curiosity productively. All it takes is a conscious effort to ask open-ended questions about the things you see in your everyday life, and you can then invest the time to follow up on these questions.
“Being able to ask open-ended questions is an important skill to develop—and bonus points for being able to probe,” Potrafka says.
Put your critical thinking skills to work
Critical thinking skills are vital for anyone looking to have a successful college career and a fruitful professional life upon graduation. Your ability to objectively analyze and evaluate complex subjects and situations will always be useful. Unlock your potential by practicing and refining the six critical thinking skills above.
Most professionals credit their time in college as having been crucial in the development of their critical thinking abilities. If you’re looking to improve your skills in a way that can impact your life and career moving forward, higher education is a fantastic venue through which to achieve that. For some of the surefire signs you’re ready to take the next step in your education, visit our article, “6 Signs You’re Ready to Be a College Student.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in December 2012. It has since been updated.