Judging by the films made available for preview from the 12th Annual Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, the lingua franca for the cinema of the modern Latin diaspora is a slick professionalism that binds together varied cultures, traditions, genres and politics. That’s not quite enough to save either the cliché-ridden Lokas (Chile), about a 9-year-old boy with a progressive political consciousness, who reunites his macho, homophobic father and gay, estranged grandfather; or the hyperstylish, hip-credentialed Paraiso Travel (Columbia), in which a gorgeous but infuriatingly dim young man and his unscrupulous girlfriend migrate from a comfortable life in Medellín to the harsh streets of New York, being scammed and brutalized along the way; critics’ darling Siguer Ros provides some of the film’s music. Clichés also dog Celia Fox’s enjoyable-in-a-Friday-night-DVD-rental-way Days of Wrath (USA), in which violence brings together a ratings-hungry Latino news-station manager and the gangbanger son he never knew he had. Too many coincidental connections between characters and forced demonstrations of karmic retribution grow wearisome after a while, but watching A-list talent like Laurence Fishburne and Lupe Ontiveros is always a treat, and Wilmer Valderrama is clearly having a blast as a psycho cholo. The best film previewed is Renee Tajima-Pena’s low-budget but handsomely made documentary Calavera Highway, in which the filmmaker follows her husband and one of his brothers as they transport the ashes of their late mother to a mausoleum in Texas. A journey across the Western U.S. to meet estranged relatives unearths family secrets, fleshing out the mother’s mysterious past in ways that both disrupt and solidify the family dynamic. The film is filled with affecting moments, but the most powerful is incredibly simple: In footage culled from family home movies, one of the adult sons is sitting on the sofa next to his frail, sleeping, dying mother; he simply looks at her for a while, and then drops his eyes to his hands, resting in his lap. There’s so much grief and sadness in that quick exchange, it breaks your heart. (Egyptian Theatre and Mann Chinese 6; thru Fri., Sept. 19. www.latinofilm.org)
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