Film Reviews

Around the World in 21 Films

Only two months in, 1998 already seems to be the year for film festival and festival-ish series resurrections. First came the Museum of Fine Arts' "Local Spin" series, a return of 1995's "First Look." Now Ancestral Films, a small Houston nonprofit, is reviving its 1996 Pan-Cultural Film Festival. This year's 21-film festival salutes Mexican director Jorge Fons Perez and actor Edward James Olmos (of Stand and Deliver fame), and focuses, though not exclusively, on Latin American film from the late-'70s Cinema Novo movement onward. The selections include films from Mexico, Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Guatemala, Brazil -- and even Taiwan, Pakistan and the U.S. Highlights include:

Alambrista! One of Edward James Olmos's first films, this 1977 piece also stars Ned Beatty. The film provides an early cinematic perspective on the "immigrant question." Robert M. Young's portrayal of an illegal Mexican worker in the United States has been called "direct and forceful." (7 p.m., Sunday, February 8, at the Rice Media Center, Rice University entrance 8 [at University and Stockton], 527-4953. Opening reception at 6 p.m.)

The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez Another entry in the Robert M. Young canon, this 1982 turn-of-the-century historical drama (based on Americo Peredes's 1958 novel With His Pistol in His Hand) features Edward James Olmos as the Cortez of the title. Even though Texas's war for independence had been over for a good half-century at the time of the story, American and Mexican cultures still clashed -- in this case, over a horse theft that led to a killing. (7 p.m., Monday, February 9, Rice Media Center.)

Mi Familia ("My Family") Director-auteur Gregory Nava's 1996 historiography traces three generations of an immigrant family in East Los Angeles; Edward James Olmos carries a supporting role as Paco, brother of Jimmy, on whom the final third of the film focuses. (7 p.m., Monday, February 9, Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515.)

Lola A postmodernist's wet dream: The titular single mother is somehow also the child of her own daughter, who "defies the traditional male-defined roles of femininity." Whew. The 1989 film is set during the aftermath of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, as portrayed by director Maria Novaro. (7 p.m., Tuesday, February 10, Museum of Fine Arts.)

El Callejon de los Milagros ("Midaq Alley") The first of the two Jorge Fons Perez movies being shown, this film adapts Naguib Mahfouz's novel of three intertwining stories. It also holds the distinction of being the most-awarded Mexican film ever, with 49 awards, including the 1995 Mexican Academy Awards for Best Direction, Best Set Design, Best Costume Design, Best Actress, Best Editing and Best Original Score. (7 p.m., Wednesday, February 11, Museum of Fine Arts.)

Rojo Amanecer ("Red Sunrise") During the 1968 Olympic Games, seen by demonstrating students as a massive waste of public funds, Mexican soldiers shot hundreds of people in front of an apartment complex. The event, which came to be known as the Tlatelolco Massacre, went largely unnoticed by the international media, but Jorge Fons Perez's 1989 film re-creates it. Winner of the Golden Ariel at the 1991 Mexican Academy Awards. (7 p.m., Thursday, February 12, Rice Media Center.)

Jerico Venezuelan director Luis Alberto Lamata's 1988 film deals with conquistadores and cultural assimilation. When Santiago, a 16th-century priest, finds himself the only survivor of an Indian attack on the group of Spanish explorers he had joined, he slowly integrates himself into the indigenous culture, but must confront his decision when another group of explorers arrives. (7 p.m., Friday, February 13, Museum of Fine Arts.)

El Silencio de Neto ("The Silence of Neto") Made in 1994, 40 years after the Guatemalan coup that serves as a backdrop, the Neto in question is a boy struggling against his stifling family life. The CIA and the Cold War also factor into the plot, but the main focus is Neto's coming of age. (5 p.m., Saturday, February 14, Rice Media Center.)

Fresa y Chocolate ("Strawberry and Chocolate") Gay writer Diego falls in love with communist political science student David, who's straight. Add Nancy, who's attracted to both of them, and a comedy of errors ensues, touching on personal and political freedom in modern Cuba. Winner of the 1994 Special Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival and the 1995 Special Jury Prize at Sundance. (4:30 p.m., Saturday, February 14, Talento Bilingue de Houston, 333 South Jensen, 222-1213.)

The Girl in the Watermelon Set in New York, this 1994 Chilean film concerns 17-year-old Samantha's discovery that her paternity may be in question. Armed with her mother's diary entries on the subject, she writes to the two possible culprits, one a Latino, the other a wealthy gay art dealer, in search of her heritage. (7 p.m., Saturday, February 14, Museum of Fine Arts.)

Aside from the on-screen entertainment, the opening-night reception is also a tribute to Olmos, who (as of press time) was scheduled to attend. And at 6 p.m. Thursday, February 12, another dinner and reception will honor Jorge Fons Perez, who's a definite go for that evening.

For information and a complete festival schedule, call Ancestral Films, 527-9548.

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Meredith L. Patterson