“LALIFF’s Big Unexpected Surprise”(Movie Review.)
June 5, 2024
June 12, 2024

LALIFF 2024 Coverage, Days 3-5

by Rosa Parra

Day Three of LALIFF was filled with great films, the central focus being the animated short film program, “Anímate,” with 12 short films varying from two minutes to 20 minutes. These are the four that stood out most to me.

The program opened with “Pollo Punch,” which runs for 10 minutes. Directed and co-written by Alec Castillo, this adorable short story follows a rooster who oversleeps because he constantly dreams of becoming a boxer. Consequently, his owner is always late to work. When the owner is placed in a challenging situation, the rooster must get in a ring to fight for some cash, which ironically makes his dream a reality. This film was hilarious, and the animation was bright. Some creative jokes landed right at the jugular (wink) and was the perfect way to open this program.

“Marvelous Gift” was written and directed by Danna Galeano with a runtime of six minutes. It follows a society where the gift of immortality has been granted. We see how healthcare, workforce, crime, the golden years and the meaning of life evolve, thanks to immortality. The lines in the hospital are never-ending, employees are replaced by robots, and turning 221 years old isn’t as enthusiastic as one may initially believe. The animation is excellent with its pinkish colors but in a desaturated tone that projects optimism and hopelessness simultaneously. It is a fantastic short that explores a severe what-if.

“Remember Us,” a 14-minute masterpiece written and directed by Pablo Leon, was the highlight of the program for me. This deeply moving film follows a journalist in El Salvador, who interviews people about their experiences during the civil war in the 1980s. The film’s emotional depth and powerful storytelling left a lasting impression on me, making it a must-watch for any film enthusiast. Pablo does an excellent job presenting a dark and challenging story via animation. By showcasing specific scenarios with shadows and some faraway shots, it manages to avoid the display of gruesomeness while succeeding in portraying the powerful impact of the stories. I couldn’t help but think about animated documentaries such as “Persepolis,” “Waltz with Bashir” and “Flee” in terms of their subject matter, animation style and approach. Every country has had wars and civil conflicts, and I find it necessary to highlight those throughout Latin America. It is a form of documenting history, allowing future generations to learn about the past to avoid repeating history. It is a thought-provoking short that deserves to be seen.

Lastly, “Roots,” a six-minute short, is written and directed by Sandra Suarez. It highlights the disorder of constantly pulling your hair. In a very bold and inventive approach, this is a movie that goes back and forth from stop-motion animation to 2D animation and it works! I wasn’t aware of this disorder, but it’s a remarkable depiction of a young woman who is afraid to let her friend see her with a bald spot. The stop motion animation reveals a darker side of what this woman faces as a chunk of hair manifests as the woman’s constant burden and dark secret. With the help of her cat, she must come to terms with the fact that only by coexisting with this disorder will she be able to enjoy life a bit more. This surprised me, but I was incredibly impressed with the two alternating types of animation.

Day Four was my busiest day of LALIFF that started with the screening of seven episodes of the TV series “Rey Mysterio vs The Darkness.” It’s no secret that I’m a wrestling fan so seeing this series was an instant priority. I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the entire screening. The animation is stunning! It’s reminiscent of anime but with Rey Mysterio, who has been wrestling for decades and was the first wrestler I immediately connected to. He was born in San Diego and is of Mexican descent, so culturally we shared many similarities. The Calavera Brothers directed this series that contains Mexican references of various locations, foods, traditions and most importantly, wrestling. Rey is the hero of this series but he doesn’t do it alone. He selects a fan to help him out and their bond is compelling to see unfold. It’s an action-heavy series with bright colors that perfectly suits any Rey Mysterio wrestling fan. But it isn’t exclusive to us. I was sitting next to a young boy and his reaction was delightful. Eye wide open and sitting at the edge of his seat, he was just another kid seeing one of the most iconic wrestlers of all time do what he does best, booyaka!

Then I watched two other films, “Say a Little Prayer” and “The Unexpecteds”. I will be writing a full review for “The Unexpecteds,” so keep an eye out for that. “Say a Little Prayer” was a nice rom-com that catered to the conventional tropes while managing to distinguish itself. The protagonist, Adela, is in her mid-30s, isn’t married and has no kids, so her mother and grandmother are concerned that she will never find her Mr Right. In an attempt to help her find a husband, they pray to San Antonio, a religious figure many women pray to help them find their better half. Ironically, the film also takes place in the city of the same name (a nice little touch). Adela is a brilliant art gallery owner; her two best friends always accompany her. The film is funny, moving, and hopeful. I appreciated the representation throughout in front and behind the camera. This star-studded cast elevates this film to a potential rom-com classic.

LALIFF closed with the screening of “Grassland,” a movie directed and written by William Bermudez and Sam Friedman. It follows a single mother who is illegally growing marijuana plants in her home. When her son becomes friends with the new neighbors (who is a grandson of a cop), her business is compromised and she must find a way to keep it hidden. This film was not for me. It catered to all the negative stereotypes Latinos have been presented as for decades. I can overlook a “stereotypical” representation of Latinos on screen if there is substance and context to the character, but something was absolutely absent from this mother. The film felt thin and redundant. The cop was also depicted very conventionally as an older white man who deals with aggressive behavior. Needless to say, this movie just didn’t work for me. I appreciate the message of shining a light on the unfair treatment of those who are caught carrying the substance, but this is California, where it’s no longer the case here so it just felt unnecessary. However, I understand that the situation is different in other places in the country.

Overall, this year’s LALIFF was another triumphant festival highlighting Latino talent and stories. I met creative filmmakers, actors and journalists who love what they do, and it shows in the films and panels on display. I wish all these films obtain distribution so wider audiences can experience these stories. Because to quote Dolores Huerta, “If we don’t know our stories, if we don’t know our history, then we really don’t know who we are.”