Oscars 2016: Latin American and Caribbean Entrants

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teleSUR looks at all the Latin American and Caribbean contenders on the longlist for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, which will be announced Jan. 14. Follow the link above to the original report, which includes trailers of all the movies listed.

Twelve Latin American films exploring socioeconomic issues, including border politics, homosexuality, domestic work and Indigenous lives will be competing for the 2016 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela are the countries who hope to bring home the golden statue that has only been won twice by a Latin American country: Argentina won in 2010 for “The Secret in Their Eyes,” and in 1985 for “The Official Story.”

Mexico seeks to break this historical record with “600 Miles,” which narrates the story of a young Mexican man who finds himself struggling in the world of arms trafficking between the U.S. and Mexico while under the watchful eye of an agent on the other side of the border.

Crime is also the theme of Costa Rica’s “Imprisoned,” Chile’s “The Club,” and Argentina’s “The Clan,” which explore how sometimes those on the outside can have more chains than those locked up. In “Imprisoned,” mild-mannered Victoria falls into a criminal world when she becomes involved with a prisoner. Meanwhile, “Clan” is even closer to home, telling the true story of the Puccio Clan, a family who kidnapped and killed people in the 80s. “Club” looks at culpability for priests’ cimes — is it about individual responsibility or organized religion?

“Cloudy Times” is Paraguay’s first ever Oscar contender. It looks at ageing, generational relationships, the treatment of elders and long-term illnesses.

The often-neglected lives of domestic workers come in the spotlight in the Brazilian film “The Second Mother” with the struggle of Val, a low-income woman from an impoverished Brazilian region who abandons her child to move to Sao Paolo and work as a housekeeper.

Subtle shifts in the lives of three middle-aged men occur in “A Moonless Night,” Uruguay’s contender, a holiday movie of sorts that shows that nothing’s as it seems.

The Dominican Republic opted for “Sand Dollars,” a film that centers on a relationship of convenience between a white French woman and a female Dominican sex worker.

“NN” scratches the surface of repression surrounding Peru’s decades of political violence, by exploring what happens when remains cannot be identified.

The lives of Indigenous peoples are explored in the entries from Colombia, Venezuela and Guatemala. Colombia’s “Embrace of the Serpent” is a story on the 40-year-long search for a sacred healing plant that brings together two U.S. scientists and an Amazonian shaman who is the last survivor of his tribe. “Ixcanul” from Guatemala and Venezuela’s “Gone With the River” both use Indigenous languages — Kaqchikel Maya and Warao respectively — and both look at women who confront tribal cultural norms and traditions in the very different settings of the foothills of a volcano and the Orinoco delta.

Films are listed in alphabetical order by country. Synopses are from promotional material for the films.

Argentina – The Clan

Original title El clan
Director Pablo Trapero
Production year 2015

Within a typical family home in the traditional neighborhood of San Isidro, a sinister clan makes its living off kidnapping and murder. Arqimedes, the patriarch, heads and plans the operations. Alejandro, his eldest son, is a star rugby player at CASI – a prestigious local club – and the Argentine mythical national team. The son gives in to his father’s will and identifies possible candidates for kidnapping; his popularity shields him from suspicion. To a greater or lesser extent, the members of the family are accomplices in this dreadful venture as they live off the benefits yielded by the large ransoms paid by the families of their victims.

Brazil – The Second Mother

Original title Que horas ela volta?
Director Anna Muylaert
Production year 2015

Val is the kind of live-in housekeeper who takes her work seriously. She wears a crisp maid’s uniform while serving perfect canapés; she serves her wealthy São Paulo employers day in and day out while lovingly nannying their teenage son whom she’s raised since toddlerhood. Everyone and everything in the elegant house has its place until one day, Val’s ambitious, clever daughter Jessica arrives from Val’s hometown to take the college entrance exams. Jessica’s confident, youthful presence upsets the unspoken yet strict balance of power in the household; Val must decide where her allegiances lie and what she’s willing to sacrifice.

Chile – The Club

Original title El club
Director Pablo Larrain
Production year 2015

In a secluded house in a small seaside town live four unrelated men and the woman who tends to the house and their needs. All former priests, they have been sent to this quiet exile to purge the sins of their pasts, the separation from their communities the worst form of punishment by the Church. They keep to a strict daily schedule devoid of all temptation and spontaneity, each moment a deliberate effort to atone for their wrongdoings. Their fragile stability is disrupted by the arrival of an emissary from the Vatican who seeks to understand the effects of their isolation, and a newly-disgraced housemate. Both bring with them the outside world from which the men have long been removed, and the secrets they had thought deeply buried. The Club is acclaimed director Pablo Larraín’s taut, blackly comic commentary on individual responsibility, organized religion and the combustible combination of the two.

Colombia – Embrace of the Serpent

Original title El abrazo de la serpiente
Director Ciro Guerra
Production year 2015

At once blistering and poetic, the ravages of colonialism cast a dark shadow over the South American landscape in “Embrace of the Serpent,” the third feature by Ciro Guerra. Filmed in stunning black-and-white, “Serpent” centers on Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman and the last survivor of his people, and the two scientists who, over the course of 40 years, build a friendship with him. The film was inspired by the real-life journals of two explorers (Theodor Koch-Grunberg and Richard Evans Schultes) who traveled through the Colombian Amazon during the last century in search of the sacred and difficult-to-find psychedelic Yakruna plant.

Costa Rica – Imprisoned

Original title Presos
Director Esteban Ramirez
Production year 2015

A young girl gets involved in a family drama when she starts a secret friendship with a prison inmate. All parts involved, inside and outside, will have to deal with the consequences of such kind of relationship and what’s necessary to preserve it. While it is common to contrast freedom with confinement, those on the outside can have just as many or more chains than a prisoner. Our minds and spirits know no bounds; that is why prisoners may be able to better understand the true meaning of freedom.

Dominican Republic – Sand Dollars

Original title Dolares de arena
Director Israel Cardenas, Laura Amelia Guzman
Production year 2013

Noeli, a young Dominican girl, goes every afternoon to the beaches at Las Terrenas. Together with her boyfriend, she looks for a way to make a living at the expense of one of the hundreds of tourists that wander around there. As people parade through her days, Noeli has a steady client: a mature French woman, who as time goes by, has found in the island the ideal refuge to spend her last years. Noeli’s boyfriend feigns to be her brother and outlines a plan in which Noeli travels to Paris with the old lady and sends him money every month. For Noeli, the relationship with the old lady is based on convenience, but feelings become more intense as the departure date closes in.

Guatemala – Ixcanul

Original title Ixcanul
Director: Jayro Bustamante
Production year 2015

Maria, a 17 year old Mayan girl, lives and works with her parents on a coffee plantation in the foothills of an active volcano in Guatemala. An arranged marriage awaits her: her parents have promised her to Ignacio, the plantation overseer. But Maria doesn’t sit back and accept her destiny. Pepe, a young coffee cutter who plans to migrate to the USA becomes her possible way out. Maria seduces Pepe in order to run away with him, but after promises and clandestine meetings, Pepe takes off, leaving her pregnant, alone and in disgrace. There’s no time to lose for Maria’s mother, who thinks abortion is the only solution. Yet despite her mother’s ancestral knowledge, the baby remains, “destined to live”. But destiny has more in store for Maria: a snakebite forces them to leave immediately in search of a hospital. The modern world Maria has so dreamt about will save her life, but at what price…

Mexico – 600 Miles

Original title 600 millas
Director Gabriel Ripstein
Production year 2015

Arnulfo Rubio, a young Mexican, works with a gringo barely older than himself to smuggle weapons from Arizona to Mexico for a drug cartel. We follow him buying weapons, crossing borders and during his almost familial encounters with middle-men and clients. What Arnulfo does not know is that for some time he has been under surveillance by agent Hank Harris. Harris is a member of US law enforcement organisation ATF, an agency notorious for its dubious methods when it comes to combating Mexican drug cartels. One day Harris makes a fateful mistake; Arnulfo panics and decides to take the agent hostage and hand him over to his clients in Mexico. During their long road trip from Arizona to Culiacan the two very different men begin – albeit awkwardly – to warm to each other. But no sooner do they arrive at their destination than events come thick and fast. An inexorable spiral of violence is unleashed and their fates soon become inextricably intertwined. An utterly hopeless situation for Arnulfo, that leads to a deeply ambivalent, emotional ending …

Paraguay – Cloudy Times

Original title El tiempo nublado
Director Arami Ullon
Production year 2014

For as long as Arami can remember, her mother has suffered from epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. As the only child of an absent father, Arami had to be responsible for herself and her mother at a very young age, what proved to be a very demanding situation. Then, 10 years ago, she could somehow cut the cord, as she found her own happiness in Switzerland, where she is living with her partner Patrick. Her mother is still living in Paraguay and Julia, an untrained help, cares for her around the clock for a modest salary. However, her mother’s health is increasingly deteriorating. Julia can no longer cope with the situation and wants to quit her job. Since no one except Arami can look after her mother, she has to return to Paraguay. Will she be able to find a solution for her mother in a country, where the caretaking of the elderly is mainly up to their relatives? And if so, should she give up her happiness in Europe and go back to her mother? “Cloudy Times” is a supremely personal film about an universal issue, we all have to face: What are we going to do with our parents, once they are old and ill?

Peru – NN

Original title NN
Director Hector Galvez
Production year 2014

NN (Non Nomine) is the name under which bodies that can not be recognized or identified are clasiffied. The remains of a male body who had presumably disappeared during the years of political violence in Peru have been exhumed but nobody claims them. Now the only clue to his identification is a picture of a smiling girl found in his shirt. Only a blurred photo, a snapshot of a moment in time and a memory…

Uruguay – A Moonless Night

Original title Una noche sin luna
Director German Tejeira
Production year 2014

New Year’s Eve and three lonely people make their way to a small town in the middle of Uruguay. César, a divorced taxi driver, is visiting his ex-wife’s new family to try and win back the love of his five-year-old daughter. Antonio, a magician, becomes stranded after breaking down on his way to a New Year’s gig and spends the night with Laura, a toll officer, on a motorway in the middle of nowhere. Folk singer Miguel is in prison, but receives a free pass to perform again in front of an audience. “A Moonless Night” is film about love, missed chances and the passing of time.

Venezuela – Gone with the River

Original title Dauna. Lo que lleva el rio
Director Mario Crespo
Production year 2015

Dauna is subject to the rigid conventions of an ancient culture. For her, life on the Orinoco delta cultivated a strong curiosity for what lies beyond the river. Her natural talent for language and learning was always nurtured by her family and Father Julio. Tarcisio, her childhood sweetheart, also patiently supports her, but doesn’t know how to deal with social pressure in the Warao community. Dauna is sure of her love for Tarcisio but fears he will succumb to what tradition dictates, thwarting her ambition for academic development. (Synopsis from the Montreal Film Festival)

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