NashFilm52: ‘Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine’ Review

Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine is an ambitious project that presents humane themes but does not work to capture itself coherently.

Courtesy of NashFilm

As we continue to the last international film featured in the International Lens program of Nashville Film Festival we make our way into an Uruguayan film about escapism. Now, this is where it gets a bit embarrassing for me. I am hopelessly in love with Latin American cinema. I love the films from this region where my ancestors are from and I have watched so much from the countries in said region. I have never seen a film from Uruguay or even knew about the work that they have producing there. I was looking forward to finally exploring Uruguayan cinema but also after reading the synopsis I had interest in watching this film.

Written and directed by Alex Piperno in his directorial feature debut and shot by Manuel Rebella. The film stars Noli Tobol, Daniel Quiroga, and Inés Bortagaray who most of the cast is making their acting debuts as well except for our main actress. Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine looks at a story that connects three different sets of people through a mysterious corridor that leads to a different place along with a mysterious shed in the Phillipines that is believed to be supernatural. Throughout the film’s runtime, we explore the lingering lives of our protagonists as they escape into other parts of the world. The film explores themes of love, escapism, and a stagnant life that leads to our window boy to want to travel into a different area to get away from his mundane life.

I would like to focus on the positives of the film first, for example, this film is beautifully shot and its color palette is beautifully muted. I love color grading like this because usually people don’t find such muted colors so beautiful. It is not like that in this film at all. Our performances are patient and really sell you on our characters. The concept is very interesting and so ambitious but that is where a lot of its problem surface from. The film crumbles apart through its high ambition and suffers from some very dragged out pacing. By the time we make it to the third act, it feels like we have been watching this film for three hours but we have not even passed more than half of that. I respect a lot of what is being tried here but if this could have been pieced a bit more coherently together there would be a strong film to find in here.

All and all, not everything has to be amazing and I am still very appreciative of being able to watch this. At least I was able to explore a corner of cinema I had not delved into yet so that is to me a win!

‘Ema’: Dance The Pain Away or Fight Against It

Pablo Larraín’s Ema transcends many fields to create a somber piece about the loss of control of one’s life.

CREDIT: Fabula

I have been long overdue my exploration into the filmography of Pablo Larraín since I am really excited about his upcoming film with Kristen Stewart, Spencer, based on the life of Princess Diana that has been making lots of noise at the film festivals so far. Of course, this film is very different from what I imagine Spencer is going to be. Before this Larraín had made his academy award nominated film based on the life of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, Jackie. By looking at the synopsis you can tell that this a very different type of film and it was well worth the watch.

Ema looks at a tumultuous relationship between Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) and Gastón (Gael García Bernal) after having to return their adopted son because of his pyromaniac behavior. Ema is a reggaetón dancer along with her other colleagues, while Gastón is a director of a dance company that does not align itself with the reggaetón style. Both of these two are very different individuals and leads to them having a different outlook on life and how to raise their child. The film is expertly shot by Sergio Armstrong with some exquisite framing especially of the dance scenes. The film also has some very tasteful and interesting lighting setups that help set up the atmosphere that these dancers find themselves in. Ema also includes some incredible musical compositions from Chilean American musician Nicolás Jaar that really makes this film’s sound and feeling unique. It is very influenced by an unorthodox style of reggaetón that does not sound nothing like the first or new wave of the genre.

The movie is wonderfully performed by our main protagonists, but I don’t think this movie is concerning itself with telling a tightly knit story more so examining the environment and what it means for those who want a little more out of this life. Ema is not your “normal” protagonist, but she does want things that all of us humans want. We want to be appreciated, understood, and most importantly given the chance to love or be loved. Ema does not go about it the right way to achieve most of these things especially given the overall plot and how she plans to take her child back. Throughout all of this there are two things that she knows that she at least loves, those being her child (both Polo and the eventual one she will have) and dancing. Both of these allow her to feel like the person she is and no one can take that from her. I found Ema to be a very surprising film and cannot wait for what else this director can offer.

Ema is available to rent on most video purchasing sites.

‘Identifying Features’: The Harrowing Realities of the Borderlands

Fernanda Valadez shocks with her quiet and petrifying feature directorial debut look at the dangers of crossing the U.S. Mexico Border.

CREDIT: Kino Lorber

I won’t lie, it has been difficult to put pen to paper when it comes to what I thought about this film. Fernanda Valadez’s Identifying Features is incredible and that is a complete understatement. What she is able to accomplish is so moving and harrowing at the same time. I kind of hate myself for waiting so long to finally watch this. This is not just a film about unconditional love but the absolute terrifying reality of crossing the border. This is a story that is known all too well, I mean there are a lot of movies that have done this story before like Babel, Desierto, Under The Same Moon, and others that have discussed the pain and dangers of trying to gain a better life by crossing to a neighboring country. Valadez constructs this masterpiece by engrossing the viewer in a journey that absolutely never lets go of you or maybe you just can’t help but keep looking.

Identifying Features is a pretty simple movie on paper, a mother goes looking for her child after he goes missing when he and his friend embark on a journey to cross the Arizona/Mexico border. The cast includes actual mothers who are still looking for their missing children today like our main actress Mercedes Hernandez. This is already something that impressed me because I am a fan of non professional actors’ performances. There is something about someone who is not experienced in the art of acting that can come on and express themselves artistically without ever having acted on stage or in front of the camera. In regards to this film though you have people who know from experience these hardships. They are able to bring another level of experience and knowledge that any other actor could bring to it. The film is expertly shot by Claudia Berrecil Bulos who captures natural lighting in some beautiful external shots. My jaw was on the floor throughout the third act with all of its rich visuals accompanied by an exquisite color palette. The music adds to the hypnotic and mesmerizing nature of the film that creates this very uneasy atmosphere. Throughout it all, the strongest part of this film is the script and beautiful direction from Fernanda Valadez.

It is really hard to approach these stories for me living on the border and being a son of immigrants. Part of me wants to scream to the industry that we don’t need more and more of trauma stories being the only stories about Latinos on the screen, but also we fail to understand that these are our stories whether we like them or not. These are the stories of our ancestors and we have to make sure to not let these stories die off. We have to point the mirror to society and show them exactly what is happening because then they will never understand the immigrant experience. Every single time Mercedes Hernandez is on screen I am heartbroken. I want to reach over the screen and hug her because this is a reality that is too well known in Latin America but especially on the border. Valadez is hoping that if we cannot understand the immigrant experience we can at least begin to empathize with the immigrant experience. Sadly, I know there are still people who will watch this and say, “well they should have stayed in their country.” I think this film perfectly tells you that we wish it was that easy. I just hope anyone who is still going through this can watch this and find a sense of community of grief knowing that they are not alone in their experience.

Fernanda Valadez has a great career ahead of her. Her directorial knowledge shines bright throughout the whole film. The way she chooses shots, lingers on looks, and is able to get these performances out of first time actresses is groundbreaking for her upcoming career. She has a very patient approach to her thematic characteristics being discussed. She is an impeccable artist who will make more wonders like this in her lifetime. I know I am really excited to see what else she will make.

You can buy or rent Identifying Features on most purchasing sites like Amazon Prime Video.

‘La Llorona’: The Incredible and Haunting Film From Guatemala

La Llorona (2020) excels to create an interesting new take on the folk tale filled with horror and insightful nuances.

CREDIT: La Casa de Production

Just like many Latinos, I was told the fear inducing story of La Llorona at a very young age. I was about six years old and my abuelita told us the story of this “weeping woman.” Now, the version I was told goes as follows. La Llorona was an indigenous woman who lived by the border. She had two kids, a boy and a girl, who she loved very much but she fell in love with a man who lived in the United States. La Llorona falls for the man but his feelings aren’t as strong as hers. After a rocky relationship he leaves her and she stays in Mexico while he travels up north for work. La Llorona believes that nothing could be wrong with her that could cause this man to leave her. She comes to the conclusion that her kids are at fault and one night she takes her children to the Rio Grande River to drown them. As they lose their life being drowned La Llorona realizes that she has done wrong and proceeds to drown herself. As she meets her creator, her God tells her that she cannot enter their kingdom until she finds her children and truly understands the severity of her acts. La Llorona comes back down to Earth and every night she weeps “mis hijos (my children)” as she searches for them. If you encounter her she may take your children from you especially if they roam the river alone.

I would like to remind you all that I grew up on the border so this kept me far away from the river which was possibly the goal of this story being told to me at such a young age. The story of La Llorona has gone through changes various times that we don’t really know the actual story or where it originated from. One thing is true though, all of its incarnations have been fear inducing. The story of La Llorona has been translated onto the silver screen before but was done terribly at adapting such a terrifying story. On the contrary, what I watched on Shudder was far from being terrible.

La Llorona (2020) is set in Guatemala as General Enrique Monteverde is tried for genocide after him and his army murdered many of the local indigenous population in the 80’s. At first, Monteverde is tried and found guilty of genocide but because the old man is not in the best of condition he is allowed to stay at his home under a form of house arrest. After losing all but one of his helpers at the home he employs a beautiful indigenous woman with long black hair and a white gown. Once Alma the new housekeeper starts to work for them and various protests happening every day, something starts to feel very strange within the home as the effects of isolation start to settle in.

Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona (2020) is exhilarating, nuanced, and downright incredible. First of all, let me talk about the bare minimum, La Llorona is an indigenous woman and the fact that she is played by an indigenous actress is beautiful to see. Not only is she casted appropriately but her and the various indigenous people in the film talk different dialects of the Mayan language. Such important characteristics that seem to be the bare minimum are never represented in Hollywood. The way that this Guatemalan film incorporates the folk story makes for an incredibly interesting retelling. The modern retelling and commentary of Latin American politics within this horror film is vastly nuanced. Instead of focusing entirely on the folklore of La Llorona, the film uses the story more as a backbone to create the bone chilling atmosphere of the picture. Maria Mercedes Coroy as Alma/La Llorona is incredible and goosebumps inducing. Every deep stare from her feels like it is looking deep into your soul. Everything from the performances, cinematography, and fluid direction makes for quite a picture. La Llorona (2020) is truly a masterful effort from Bustamante and their team of creatives.

This film is one of the best of the year, and I highly recommend you all watch it as soon as possible. Watch La Llorona (2020) on Shudder.

‘The Mole Agent’: A Heartbreaking But Unique Documentary

Chile’s official selection for the Best International Feature race at the 2021 Oscars is filled with nuance, heartbreak, and a conversation that needs to be started.

CREDIT: Micromundo Producciones

Why do we put our elders in nursing homes? I hope we start to ask ourselves that more often after 2020. These homes can be a nice spot for some, but it can be a really lonely place for those that stay there. Plus, one cannot ignore the history of elderly abuse that occurs in nursing homes. Maite Alberdi’s documentary urges us to ask ourselves, why would we place such important people in our lives in these institutions?

The Mole Agent (2020) looks at an investigation of possible elderly abuse happening at a nursing home after a daughter brings up her concerns that her mother may be abused at the facility. A private investigator seeks out an old man to go undercover and collect as much information as possible. While our protagonist collects information he starts to make friends and grow close to the people staying at the home. What he learns with this information is just as heartbreaking as possible elderly abuse.

Maite Alberdi directs one of the best films of the year and one of the biggest contenders to win next year’s Best International Feature. The film is tense and reflects one of a spy thriller but the documentarian backbone of the movie keeps it on its toes. The cinematography and naturalistic lighting is just right for this film. It all comes together to create the atmosphere of this unique film. What makes this movie special though and worth all of the hype critics are giving it? It is the writing and the people we meet within the film. Every single moment we spend with our protagonist as we learn more about the people who stay at the home allows us to learn more about what this facility does and how the people staying there feel about it. The stories and people we meet throughout the film are beautiful and carry such heartbreaking weight with them. Some of them have not been visited in years and have adopted a new family in the home with the friends they make there. It’s because of all this that The Mole Agent (2020) is beautiful and touches your heart especially those who have experience with these facilities. I know that once the credits started rolling and a bit of tears traveled down my cheeks I immediately thought of my abuelita. The film is magical yet so simple and because of that it works so well.

It is not as groundbreaking on the level that I thought I’m No Longer Here (2020) was but it is still such an important film to keep an eye out for it throughout this awards season. Watch The Mole Agent (2020) on virtual cinema at The Film at Lincoln Center.