This year’s Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival shows the event, now in its 11th year, having settled into a comfortable groove, programmed with many films that are good but few that are mandatory viewing. As with most film festivals, the documentary section is the strongest, and two titles that come with celebrity names attached — Father G and the Homeboys, narrated by Martin Sheen, and Invisibles, produced by Javier Bardem — wear their noble intentions on their sleeves. Father G is rudimentary in terms of craft; its low-budget, point-and-shoot approach gives the film the look of a home movie. But its celebration of a priest who actually lives the philosophies of Christ — working with Latino gang members, counseling them, assisting them with legal problems, simply befriending them — is truly inspiring. Still, the best of the documentaries available for preview was Vivien Lesnik Weisman’s The Man of Two Havanas. Weisman made the film as a way to uncover and understand what makes her father — a former college friend and political colleague of Castro — tick, and to illustrate his current uncomfortable political position: someone who opposes the direction in which Castro took Cuba, but whose far-left politics also have made him and his family targets for death threats by the Miami-based Cuban right wing. If Weisman initially comes off as a spoiled, grating princess sulking for her father’s attention, the complex political dynamic that she untangles onscreen is compelling. On the fiction front, Ana Katz’s Malos Habitos (Bad Habits), from Argentina, comes draped in hyperstylized cinematic drag, at times veering dangerously close to art house self-parody (obvious metaphors, heavy-handed use of music and lighting, portentous close-ups). What saves it, though, are the script’s psychological insights into the causes and manifestations of eating disorders, the erotic and punitive uses of food, as they play out on three females in one family. Perhaps the most fascinating figure in the festival’s entire cinematic lineup is actually a secondary character in a film. The Brazilian A Casa de Alice (Alice’s House) follows middle-aged Alice — a wife in a sexless marriage and mother to three young men with lives of their own — who uses the return of a childhood sweetheart into her life to jump-start her romantic and erotic fantasies. But it’s her elderly mother, who lives with Alice’s family, who steals the film. Working as a tireless housekeeper in order to earn her stay, the older woman is privy to the secrets and private lives of the entire household. Watching her take in the assorted duplicities but still hold her tongue is what gives Casa its unforced power.
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