Review: XXY, Encarnacion, Santiago and Silent Light at the Latin Wave Film Festival

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I managed to catch four of the eight films screened during the Museum of Fine Art, Houston’s Latin Wave festival this weekend. I loved one, liked two others and one I, well, we’ll get to that last one in a bit.

First, what I loved: XXY by Argentine director Lucia Puenzo. The story of a 15-year-old hermaphrodite, XXY follows Alex and her family as they stumble through the maze of sexual identity and societal pressures. When Alex’s mom invites a surgeon and his family for the weekend, it’s not just a social call. The doctor has come to discuss corrective surgery for Alex; trouble is Alex isn’t sure she wants to be ‘corrected.’ Neither is her father, who wasn’t aware of the doctor’s real purpose. To complicate matters, Alex and the surgeon’s son, Alvaro, fall in love.

Ines Efron plays Alex to ambiguous perfection. Both male, female and something decidedly in-between, Efron is haunting and captivating. When a group of teenaged boys attacks Alex, her terror and desperation are all too real. At the film’s end, she says good-bye to Alvaro, played by Martín Piroyansky, with both a guarded fear that Alvaro doesn’t deserve and an element of apology because she knows he doesn’t.

Efron is eloquent in the film’s many silences, conveying volumes with a slight tightening of her jaw or almost indiscernible shift in her eyes. Overall, XXY pushes the bounds of what we think of as a domestic drama. I loved, loved, loved XXY.


I liked Encarnacion a lot, too. Also from Argentina and with a female director, Anahi Berneri, Encarnacion is the story of Erni (Silvia Perez), a former showgirl who is dealing with getting older. While make-up might do a little something for her crow’s feet, her sagging curves aren’t so easily covered up. Still, Erni is attractive and well put together. When she goes back to her small hometown for a niece’s birthday, she’s both scorned and admired (often at the same time). To her credit, Erni remains true to herself and while the barbs sting, she doesn’t change her behavior.

Perez is easy to like. She quietly plays the sexpot with a low simmer, instead of a crass, trying-too-hard desperation. She’s self-sufficient and confident, both as an actress and as a character.

I liked Santiago, by director Joao Moreira Salles. A documentary about the Salles family butler Santiago years after he has retired, Santiago shows us a life well-lived. Filmed in his tiny apartment and the former mansion where he worked, Santiago is full of surprises, including the fact that the former servant has spent the last 30 years compiling an expansive genealogy of royalty from around the world, in intricate detail and four languages. Easily as cultured as the people he served, Santiago isn’t bound by the classism and ageism others try to impose on him. He has his kings and queens to keep him company, after all.

Okay, here’s the film I didn’t like: Silent Light. No, that’s not true, I just didn’t get it. Maybe ultra-refined, super hip cinephiles just have more taste chromosomes that I do or something, ‘cause I was b-o-r-e-d, bored. Filmed in Mexico, Silent Light tied for the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and its director Carlos Reygadas is touted as the next big thing, but honestly, the film was completely lost on me. Set in a Mennonite community in Northern Mexico (who knew?), Silent Light centers on Johan, who is married to Ester, but having an affair with Marianne. Everyone is very quiet and slow moving. Nothing much is said, hell, even the sex is slow. After a while, I started counting how long it was between spoken dialogue just to keep myself awake. I got up to two and a half minutes on one take.

I admit, I just didn’t get it. The rest of the audience (it was a full house) all sat attentively, seemingly riveted to the screen and it slowly unfolding story. Maybe my blood sugar was low or something.

If you missed Latin Wave, or just want to keep the Latin American cinema thing going, check out The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, now playing at the Anglika. – Olivia Flores Alvarez

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