When it debuted a decade ago, the Los Angeles International Film Festival was not only filling a void (although Latino films play at assorted “colorblind” festivals, representation can be slim and nonrepresentative of the myriad cultures under the umbrella of “Latino”), it was also a symbol of growing Latino cultural visibility. What was once primarily a forum to showcase films has been expanded to include a screenwriting competition and lab, a youth-literacy program and a film archive. The cinematic fare being served this year ranges from the pedestrian to the artsy. In the former category is Brazil’s Se Eu Fosse Você (If I Were You), a kooky body-exchange comedy in which a bickering husband and wife awake to discover they’re inhabiting one another’s body. As Claudio, a celebrated ad man at a declining agency, Tony Ramos is directed to be gratingly loud and constantly gesticulating, a decision with no apparent reward until you realize that his overbearing personality will give actress Glória Pires (who plays unhappy, subdued wife Helena) quite the workout once she has to “be” Cláudio. Crowd-pleasing? Likely. Good? No. Peru’s La Fiesta Del Chivo, based on the novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, uses the dictatorship of the Dominican Republic’s General Trujillo to examine the dark side of Latin American politics. Isabella Rossellini plays Urania, a wounded woman returning to the island of her youth with a horrific (but immediately guessable) secret from the past in tow. As she confronts her aged politician father about his part in Trujillo’s reign of terror, the film unfolds in flashback, sweeping up the viewer in the multilayered tale. Ms. Rossellini’s familiar accent is somewhat explained in the context of the tale, though it’s still a little distracting. The best of the films previewed was Mexico’s Sólo Dios Sabe. The film kicks off with a hip soundtrack and a foot in the worlds of both art and academia, initially seeming like the latest celluloid proof of the vibrancy of contemporary Mexican pop culture. But as the American-resident mistress of a married professor finds herself stranded in Tijuana and ends up on a road trip with a handsome journalist (Diego Luna), it becomes a cross-cultural musing on spirituality and sensuality, with the African-based religion of Candomble serving as the film’s foundation. It’s not all that deep, but the images are gorgeous and the ending very moving. See www.latinofilm.org for screening info. (Ernest Hardy)

LA Weekly