August 26 – October 5, 2021
Commemorating the 20th anniversary of Cinema Tropical, the leading presenter of contemporary Latin American filmmaking in the United States, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) presents 20 debut feature films by key Latin American writer-directors whose careers Cinema Tropical has helped champion over the past two decades—films that have never before enjoyed theatrical runs in New York, by now-celebrated artists like Lisandro Alonso (Argentina), Nicolás Pereda (Mexico), Sebastián Silva (Chile), and Dominga Sotomayor (Chile).
The exhibition opens with a special Sculpture Garden in-person screening of Matías Piñeiro’s The Stolen Man on Thursday, August 26.
Organized by Carlos A. Gutiérrez, Executive Director, Cinema Tropical, and Joshua Siegel, Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.
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El hombre robado (The Stolen Man). 2007. Argentina. Written and directed by Matías Piñeiro. With María Villar, Romina Paula. In Spanish; English subtitles. 91 min.
Before he became celebrated for his contemporary reimaginings of Shakespeare’s plays—including his latest film, Isabella (in theatrical release on August 27)—the Argentine writer-director Matías Piñeiro made his feature debut with this New Wave–inspired comedy about Bohemian middle-class youth in Buenos Aires, an enchanting story of fickle friendships and fleeting romances, of purloined museum artifacts and the texts and deeds of the 19th-century historical figure Domingo Augusto Sarmiento brought mysteriously to life. Shot in grainy, almost fugitive 16mm black and white, The Stolen Man wears its literary and cinematic references lightly, announcing the arrival of a filmmaker who playfully interweaves games of the mind and heart, the literary and the performative, and the authentic and the counterfeit.
Thursday, August 26, 8:30. MoMA Sculpture Garden; Virtual Cinema, August 27–September 3
De jueves a domingo (Thursday Till Sunday). 2012. Chile. Written and directed by Dominga Sotomayor. With Santi Ahumada, Francisco Pérez-Bannen, Paola Giannini. In Spanish; English subtitles. 96 min.
Winner of top prizes at Rotterdam, IndieLisboa, and New Horizons in Poland, Thursday Till Sunday, the debut feature of Dominga Sotomayor (Too Late to Die Young)—now considered one of the leading lights of contemporary Chilean cinema—is an exquisitely close study of Lucia, an 11-year-old girl buffeted by her parents’ marital tensions, recriminations, and bitter regrets and by a countervailing sense of her own inchoate desires and yearning for freedom. During their family road trip, as Lucia homes in on gestures and offhand remarks that seem pregnant with meaning, Barbara Álvarez’s camera rarely strays from her eagle-eyed point of view. (Álvarez’s gift for claustrophobic cinematography, in this case on Super 16, is also evident in Federico Veiroj’s Acne and Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll’s 25 Watts—both in this series—as well as Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman.)
Virtual Cinema, August 27-September 3
Rapado. 1992. Argentina. Written and directed by Martín Rejtman. With Ezequiel Cavia, Mirta Busnelli, Damián Dreizik. In Spanish; English subtitles. 75 min.
A pioneering figure in the New Argentine Cinema of the early 1990s, Martín Rejtman achieved a cult following with his debut film Rapado—the droll portrait of a world-weary teenager who roams Buenos Aires in search of his stolen motorbike—even before Lucrecia Martel, Pablo Trapero, and Lisandro Alonso arrived on the scene. With its favoring of comic haplessness and happenstance over overwrought and overwritten melodrama (think Howard Hawks rather than Stanley Kramer), Rapado both saved Latin American cinema from its worst excesses and helped define the devil-may-care attitude of Cinema Tropical’s earliest years. “You could draw comparisons to Jim Jarmusch’s ironic detachment or the spare precision of the Taiwanese New Wave that Rejtman usually cites as an inspiration. But if Rapado feels more familiar than when it first appeared, that’s perhaps due to the indie films that came out over the rest of the decade” (Quintín, Film Comment).
Virtual Cinema, August 31 – September 7
El lugar más pequeño (The Tiniest Place). 2011. Mexico. Written and directed by Tatiana Huezo. In Spanish; English subtitles. 100 minutes.
“One of the most impressive debuts by a Mexican filmmaker since Carlos Reygadas’ Japón” (Robert Koehler, Variety), The Tiniest Place is a powerful, lyrical choral story of resilience and rebirth. This landmark documentary film tells the story of Cinquera—a town in El Salvador nestled in the mountains that was decimated during the country’s bloody 12-year civil war—and the survivors who return to repopulate the town years later. Masterfully constructed using the oral testimony of a number of villagers and with magnificent cinematography by Ernesto Pardo, Tatiana Huezo’s (Tempestad) inspiring and compelling film has influenced many filmmakers across Latin America, establishing her as one of the most important directors of her generation.
Virtual Cinema, August 31-September 7
25 Watts. 2001. Uruguay. Written and directed by Juan Pablo Rebella, Pablo Stoll. With Daniel Hendler, Jorge Temponi, Alfonso Tort. In Spanish; English subtitles. 92 minutes.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of this wry, fresh, and funny slacker comedy, shot in black and white in Montevideo, in which three friends, Javi, Seba, and Leche, spend the day wandering around the neighborhood with nothing to do but drink beer, smoke, talk about girls, and interact with picturesque characters. Winner of the Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival, 25 Watts consolidated Uruguay’s influential role in the revitalization of Latin American cinema of the new century, initiating a prolific and exciting period for young local filmmakers, and launching the careers of many key filmmakers, including the directorial duo Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll (Whisky), producer Fernando Epstein (Monos), and cinematographer Bárbara Álvarez (The Headless Woman).
Virtual Cinema, September 2-9
Melaza (Molasses). 2012. Cuba/France/Panama. Written and directed by Carlos Lechuga. With Yuliet Cruz, Armando Miguel Gómez, Luis Antonio Gotti. In Spanish; English subtitles. 80 min.
When the town sugar mill is shut down, a young couple, Aldo and Mónica, are pushed to the point of desperation as they struggle to preserve their personal passions and principles. While this could have become an overwrought drama, Carlos Lechuga’s debut film defies its title by being neither sickly sweet nor oppressively dark, instead offering sharply drawn characters, a subtle wit, and an understated, sensitive style.
Virtual Cinema, September 2-9
La libertad (Freedom). 2001. Argentina. Written and directed by Lisandro Alonso. With Misael Saavedra, Humberto Estrada, Rafael Estrada. In Spanish; English subtitles. 75 min. Lisandro Alonso (Liverpool, Jauja) upended expectations from the very start, opening La libertad—and launching his successful career—with a techno-beat credit sequence that seemed to offer the promise of something adrenaline-fueled but instead segues to something far more inquisitive, instinctual, and sensuous than any conventional movie would dare essay: a meditation, through a series of exquisite long takes, on the nature of man and on man in nature. With patient observation and sly bits of staging, Alonso’s portrait of Misael Saavedra, a self-reliant woodcutter who lives in and off the rugged Argentine Pampa, embodies an almost 19th-century Transcendentalist ideal of freedom, honest labor, and the ethical, well-lived life.
Virtual Cinema, September 7-14
Sangre. 2005. Mexico/France. Written and directed by Amat Escalante. With Cirilo Recio Dávila, Claudia Orozco, Martha Preciado. In Spanish; English subtitles. 90 min.
Violence as a shock to the system, whether familial or societal, is a throughline in much contemporary Mexican cinema, though it is rarely depicted with such intimate ferocity as in Heli, for which Amat Escalante won Best Director at Cannes in 2013. A different sort of violence, more habitual and domestic, underlies Escalante’s debut slow-burn drama Sangre, which premiered at Cannes and then in New Directors/New Films 2006. Shot in widescreen with nonprofessional actors, the film observes the joyless marriage of Diego, a paunchy doorman who counts visitors at a municipal building, and his younger wife Blanca, who works at a sushi restaurant, as their familiar routine—argue, watch telenovelas, have sex, argue, have sex—is upset by the sudden and desperate arrival of Diego’s daughter from a previous marriage.
Virtual Cinema, September 7-14
Acné. 2008. Uruguay/Argentina/Spain/Mexico/USA. Written and directed by Federico Veiroj. With Alejandro Tocar, Ana Julia Catalá, Gustavo Melnik. In Spanish, Hebrew; English subtitles. 97 min.
Who but a doting mother could love Rafi, an awkward, pimply Jewish teen from upper-middle-class Montevideo? While Rafi’s closest friends desperately crave a chance at any sort of venial sin—smoking, drinking, gambling, a good first lay—the proscribed rituals of movie adolescence do little to satisfy Rafi’s longing for a real kiss. Therein lies the bittersweet comedy of Federico Veiroj’s debut film, and the light touch and emotional depth he would bring to later award-winning films like A Useful Life, Belmonte, The Apostate, and The Moneychanger.
Virtual Cinema, September 9-16
Agua fría de mar (Cold Water of the Sea). 2010. Costa Rica/France/Spain/Netherlands/Mexico. Written and directed by Paz Fábrega. With Monserrat Fernández, Lil Quesada Morúa, Luis Carlos Bogantes. In Spanish; English subtitles. 83 min.
Winner of the Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival, a milestone achievement for Central American cinema at the time, Paz Fábrega’s first film follows Mariana and Rodrigo, a young and affluent couple from San José, Costa Rica, who are spending their New Year’s vacation on the Pacific coast, when they find seven-year-old Karina, who has run away from her family. This random encounter will provoke anxiety for Mariana, particularly after the girl disappears the following morning after telling them of having been a victim of family abuse. Handsomely lensed by Uruguayan cinematographer María Secco and elegantly directed, Fábrega’s understated, fascinating work earned her international acclaim and opened exciting possibilities for Central American cinema.
Virtual Cinema, September 9-16
Balnearios. 2002. Argentina. Directed by Mariano Llinás. In Spanish; English subtitles. 80 min.
An overlooked gem, Balnearios is a infectiously demented ode to Argentine turn-of-the-century bathing resorts and to the lifestyles of the indolent. Mariano Llinás’s mock-serious tone belies his dead-serious fascination with the myriad forms and mysteries of storytelling, his documentary (hybrid? sendup?) paving the way for his even more ambitious genre mashups in Extraordinary Stories (2014) and La Flor (2016). ”The idea of modern pagan cities given to the worship of the sea may be thought of as a strange, fascinating phenomenon. This film is the result of such fascination” (Llinás).
Virtual Cinema, September 14 – 21
El salvavidas (The Lifeguard). 2011. Chile. Directed by Maite Alberdi. Screenplay by Alberdi, Sebastián Brahm. In Spanish; English subtitles. 64 min.
A deceptively simple and fascinating study on social behavior, this debut feature by the recent Academy Award–nominated Chilean documentarian Maite Alberdi (The Mole Agent) follows Mauricio, a lifeguard with a deep tan and dreadlocks who, paradoxically, tries to steer clear of the water. Justifying his rigid work philosophy, he preaches that prevention is the best way to prevent drowning. Yet the crowds of tourists that flock to the Chilean beaches during the summer season, and Mauricio’s coworkers, don’t want to deal with his attitude and arrogance. From her very first film, Alberdi creates truer-than-fiction characters from her documentary subjects, using cinéma vérité narratives and humor as ingenious tools for poignant social commentary. Winner of the Cinema Tropical Award for best Latin American documentary, The Lifeguard heralded the arrival of an exciting and unique voice in world documentary cinema.
Virtual Cinema, September 14-21
Mulher à Tarde (Afternoon Woman). 2012. Brazil. Written and directed by Affonso Uchôa. With Renata Cabral, Luísa Horta, Ana Carolina Oliveira. In Portuguese; English subtitles. 70 min.
Even before the international success of Araby, codirected with João Dumans, Affonso Uchôa found poetry and politics in the overlooked lives of marginal Brazilian people. His Afternoon Woman is a painterly, formalist portrait of three seemingly ordinary women living in a seemingly ordinary home in Nacional, a neighborhood in the working-class city of Contagem, Minas Gerais, where Uchôa subsequently made The Hidden Tiger and Seven Years in May and where he continues to reside. Inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert, Gus Van Sant’s Last Days, Júlio Bressane’s Filme de amor, and Sergei Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates, the filmmaker betrays a fascination with the intricate interplay of meaningful gestures and decisive moments in shaping a sense of self and creating a kind of cinematic reality.
Virtual Cinema, September 16-23
Santa Teresa y otras historias (Santa Teresa and Other Stories). 2015. Dominican Republic/Mexico/USA. Written and directed by Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias. With Judit Gómez, Priscilla Lazaro, Cristina Kahlo. In Spanish; English subtitles. 65 min.
In his auspicious debut fiction film, Dominican ﬁlmmaker Nelson Carlo de los Santos (Cocote) cleverly extrapolates from Chilean author Roberto Bolaño’s unﬁnished, posthumously published novel 2666 to explore a multiplicity of perspectives and voices in a town riven by bloodshed. In the fictional Mexican border town of Santa Teresa (a stand-in for Ciudad Juárez), the researcher Juan de Dios Martínez straddles the line between journalism and detective work, investigating a handful of crimes and abuses perpetrated on women and workers of the zone. Deftly mixing fiction, nonfiction, and essay, Santa Teresa and Other Stories is a lyrical, experimental take on the humanitarian crisis in Mexico brought on by the drug wars.
Virtual Cinema, September 16-23
Temporada (Long Way Home). 2018. Brazil. Written and directed by André Novais Oliveira. With Grace Passô, Russo Apr, Rejane Faria. In Portuguese; English subtitles. 113 min.
The everyday takes on a profound and touching resonance in André Novais Oliveira’s debut fiction film. Juliana (an excellent Grace Passô) moves from her Brazilian hometown of Itaúnas to the larger and more sprawling Contagem to take a job in a public-health program combating the spread of dengue fever. While waiting for her husband to join her, she sets about making the rounds, inspecting people’s homes for mosquito hiding places and becoming acquainted with a new cast of characters who will lead her to look beyond her past and toward an uncertain future. A deft, deeply felt character study, Long Way Home establishes Oliveira as a great emerging talent of contemporary Brazilian cinema.
Virtual Cinema, September 21-28
¿Dónde están sus historias? (Where Are Their Stories?). 2007. Mexico/Canada. Written and directed by Nicolás Pereda. In Spanish; English subtitles. 73 min.
Together with his relative contemporaries Lisandro Alonso in Argentina, Pedro Costa in Portugal, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul in Thailand, the Mexican-Canadian filmmaker Nicolás Pereda imbues the lives of the working poor with dignity, complexity, and resigned humor, making the marginal central to our attention through his use of fragmentary narratives, oblique angles, near-wordless communication, anti-psychology, and a destabilizing interplay between neorealist “truth” (nonprofessional actors, indigenous locations) and staged “fiction.” In Where Are Their Stories?, about a familial conflict over land, Pereda introduces Teresa Sánchez and Gabino Rodríguez, actors who would continue to play mother and son in very different guises in subsequent films like Together, Perpetuum Mobile, Summer of Goliath, and Greatest Hits.
Virtual Cinema, September 21-28
La perrera (The Dog Pound). 2006. Argentina/Canada/Uruguay/Spain. Written and directed by Manuel Nieto Zas. With Pablo Riera, Martín Adjemián, María Sofía Dabarca. In Spanish; English subtitles. 109 min.
Desperate and unfortunate, lazy and hesitant, 25-year-old David has failed as a student and lost the scholarship that financially supported him in the capital city. Now he must pass an exam that will take place in a year if he wants this grant to continue. In order to prepare, he has come to live at La Pedrera, a small beach town where his father has given him the mission of building a house during the winter. Manuel Nieto Zas’s confident debut feature is the story of the construction as well as David’s tragicomic fight to survive in a world where there are as many dogs as men, and few women, and where no one wants to work.
Virtual Cinema, September 23-30
Historia del miedo (History of Fear). 2014. Argentina/France/Germany/Qatar/ Uruguay. Written and directed by Benjamín Naishtat. With Jonathan Da Rosa, Tatiana Giménez, Mirella Pascual, Claudia Cantero, Francisco Lumerman. In Spanish; English subtitles. 79 min.
In his three feature films, director Benjamín Naishtat (The Movement, Rojo) has brilliantly explored political notions of fear and social decay in different moments of Argentine history. In History of Fear, his enigmatic and unsettling debut feature set in the present-day Buenos Aires suburbs, social order is brought to the brink of collapse when a heat wave grips the city. The film’s characters form a choral narrative, each one belonging to a different social class and forced to confront their own motives, instincts, and fears as uncanny things start to happen. With assured directing, strong cinematic elements, and a knockout cast, Naishtat delivered a powerful sociological thriller that unmistakably established him as a filmmaker to watch.
Virtual Cinema, September 23-30
Gente de bien. 2014. Colombia/France. Directed by Franco Lolli. Screenplay by Lolli, Catherine Paillé, Virginie Legeay. With Carlos Fernando Pérez, Alejandra Borrero, Santiago Martínez. In Spanish; English subtitles. 86 min.
Class struggle is a recurring trope of Latin American cinema, yet Franco Lolli’s nuanced and elegant direction brings complexity and insight to economic strife in this engrossing and naturalistic coming-of-age drama set in Bogotá. Gente de bien, which literally means “people of goodness” but is also slang for “the well off,” follows Eric, a 10-year-old boy (the nonprofessional Brayan Santamaría, in a wonderful performance) who is sent with his dog Lupe to live with his impoverished father, whom he barely knows. When his father’s boss, a woman of great privilege, decides with the best of intentions to take the boy under her wing, it causes awkward conflicts in the family.
Virtual Cinema, September 28 – October 5
La vida me mata (Life Kills Me). 2007. Chile. Directed by Sebastián Silva. Screenplay by Silva, Pedro Peirano. With Gabriel Díaz, Diego Muñoz, Claudia Celedón. In Spanish; English subtitles. 92 min.
Sebastián Silva catapulted to international attention after winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for his second film, The Maid, going on to make Crystal Fairy,Magic Magic, and Nasty Baby. Yet somehow his debut feature, Life Kills Me, has never sufficiently gotten its due. Mixing eroticism, despair, absurdist gallows humor, and sudden bursts of fantasy, it’s the story of a no-budget cinematographer, trailed by death and misfortune, whose life is reawakened by the grotesque macabre pleasures of a newfound friend.
Virtual Cinema, September 28-October 5