‘Argentina 1985’

With the return to democracy after years of military dictatorship, the Argentinian civilian government prosecute the leadership for crimes against humanity.

A dour but enthralling procedural telling of the race against time as Chief Prosecutor Julio Strassera (Ricardo Darin – The Secret in Their Eyes, Truman) struggles to find an experienced legal team prepared to work against the former junta. Looking to younger, junior members of the legal profession and supported by Deputy Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani – The Clan, The Unseen), Strassera documents extensive evidence to obtain justice for the hundreds of thousands ‘disappeared’ during the dictatorship.

Directed by Santiago Mitre (Paulina, The Summit), Argentina 1985 is engrossing, nuanced and avoids overly dramatically opportunistic moments in spite of death threats, car bombs and the like to spice up the story. The result is a respectful, no bells and whistles unfolding of the true story.

Nominated for the 2023 Oscar for best foreign language film.

Rating: 69%

‘The Secret In Their Eyes’

A solid police procedural narrative unfolding over many years, the rape and murder of a recently married young woman continues to haunt criminal investigator Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin – Everybody Knows, Truman) long after his retirement.

Interweaving past and present investigations, Esposito refuses to let go, persuading his boss Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil – El mismo amor la misma lluvia, Un oso rojo) to reopen the case. Political ramifications are at play that lead to tragedy and unexpected results as personal emotions between Esposito and Hastings are kept in check.

An unexpected Oscar for best foreign language film (becoming only the second Argentinian film to win the award), beating out the acclaimed front runners A Prophet (France) and The White Ribbon (Austria), The Secret in Their Eyes, written and directed by Juan José Campanella (El hijo de la novia, El cuento de las comadrejas) is elegant, subdued and engrossing.

Winner of the 2010 Oscar for best foreign language film.

Rating: 73%

‘The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet’

Dispensing with the titular dog a few minutes into its run time, The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet proves to be a feature that wholly fails to live up to any expectations. And it’s an enigma to boot – the dog barely makes a sound for the entire time it’s on screen.

Director Ana Katz (Florianopolis Dream, My Friend From the Park) explores everyday banality in monochrome understatement through 30something graphic designer, Sebastian (the director’s brother, Daniel Katz – Straight On Mate, Florianopolis Dream). Until, that is, a natural disaster renders the air poisonous above a metre or so, forcing the population to crouch or purchase a full-head oxygen mask to walk fully erect.

Filmed over many years, The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet is a prescient tale. Ana Katz allows the film to amble episodically over time (Sebastian losing his job, becoming a father). But for all its found quirkiness within the mundane, there is little in terms of direct narrative focus.

Rating: 40%

‘Antonio One, Two, Three’

Three different narratives of a single story involving the same named characters. As Antonio, Mauro Suares (Sol Alegria, A Portuguesa) finds himself oscillating between a successful theatre star (#3) to scumbag friend to the lighting designer of the Lisbon fringe theatre (#1) in hiding from his father. Turns out that in spite of his university fees being paid, Antonio has been nowhere near a lecture theatre in almost a year. A star Brazilian theatre director (Daniel Pizamiglio – Arrabalde) in the first narrative is a struggling performance artist to Antonio’s success.

Award-winning short-filmmaker Leonardo Mouramateus, in his feature film debut, loosely reimagines Dostoevsky’s story White Nights. It’s much more playful telling than the average adaptation of the Russian novelist! But lightweight characterisation and storytelling results in a struggle to win over the audience.

Rating: 53%


Quiet, hypnotic, unmannered in its presentation by a non-professional cast, Ixcanul is an age-old story of an arranged marriage where the bride-to-be has her eyes on a younger man.

Living and working on a coffee plantation on the slopes of an active volcano in Guatemala, the Kaqchikel parents of 17 year-old Maria (María Mercedes Coroy) are only too delighted to see their daughter promised to the recently widowed plantation foreman. He has young children who need a mother. Only Maria is determined to leave for the US with Pepe, a labourer – and to ensure he keeps his promise, Maria lets Pepe ‘taste’ her. He, of course, steals away – and leaves Maria with something to remember him by.

In his feature debut, director Jayro Bustamente skilfully captures a film of simple, great beauty with committed, nuanced performances from Maria and her mother (María Telón) particularly memorable. As the old indigenous customs and new worlds collide, rituals are acted out as they have been for centuries – but the modern day denouement is wholly unexpected.

Rating: 78%

‘Birds of Passage’

Tradition clashes with western commerce as the indigenous Wayuu peoples of northern Colombia cash in on lucrative drug trafficking with American dealers. 

A chance encounter results in Rapayet (a fine debut from José Acosta) identifying the growing and supply of marijuana as a profitable business. It’s pre-Cartel Colombia of the early 1980s. The tradition of the Wayuu is to look to the interpretation of dreams and listen to the spirits: but the younger generation want more than tradition.

As the tension between the old and new worlds increases and Rapayet looks for dominance over his more traditional mother-in-law (an indomitable Carmiña Martínez), so family struggles to control the business lead to the inevitable destruction of culture and lives.

Directors Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra (Embrace of the Serpent, The Wind Journeys) assuredly capture a narrative that is both meaningful and accessible.

Rating: 76%

‘The Heiresses’

Involved in a relationship for more than 30 years, Chela (Ana Brun) suddenly finds herself alone as Chiquita (Margarita Irun) is imprisoned for fraud.

A slow-burn tale of love, loneliness and female sexual desire, The Heiresses is a beautifully nuanced character study as Chela comes to terms with the couple’s dwindling wealth and privilege in Paraguayan society. As crystal cut glassware and 19th century dining tables are sold, so Chela finds herself driving wealthy female neighbours to card games and funerals.

A languid, quietly-spoken Brun, barely off screen for the film’s 98 minute duration, collected the Silver Bear best actress award at the 2018 Berlinale for her debut role. The Heiresses is also the feature film debut of director Marcelo Martinessi. Both pull off their respective roles with experienced aplomb.

Rating: 64%

‘Hard Paint’

hardpaintThe turbulent double-life of a young Brazilian gay man (Shico Menegat) immerses the audience in a beautifully nuanced narrative that is simultaneously haunting, thrilling and erotic.

By day a lost, lonely soul whose sister, in moving to Salvador from Porto Alegre, leaves Pedro alone in their shared apartment. But at night, as NeonBoy, he has developed a unique adult entertainment for paying gay internet trawlers involving luminous paint. A copycat performer leads Pedro to unexpected love.

Deft telling of the story by directors Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon (Seashore) with several unexpected developments, muted tonality and a claustrophobic sense of place create an intimate character study of a vulnerable gay male and a commentary on wider issues of loneliness, homophobia and love.

Rating: 69%

Screened as part of Melbourne International Film Festival

‘A Fantastic Woman’

fantasticOscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film (2018), this timely Chilean drama, focussed around a stellar central performance by transgender actress Daniela Vega (The Guest), explores grief and prejudice in modern-day Santiago.

With the sudden death of her older partner, Orlando, Marina finds herself ostracised by his grieving family, including threats of violence from Orlando’s adult son. But what prevents the latest from Sebastian Leilo (Gloria, Disobedience) slipping into oversimplified or overtly emotional political melodrama is the multilayered performance from Vega. As Marina, she is as steady as a rock, a history of violence and prejudice hidden behind her knowing, fathomless gaze.

Rating: 71%

‘Family Life’

large_MV5BZjllOWE1YzYtZDlhZi00ZDdiLTk3MTctMjhlZDRkNGU0ZTZlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQ1NDQyNjQ_._V1_SY1000_CR0_0_678_1000_AL_Overtly commercial family comedy drama as a feckless Martin (Jorge Becker – Thursday ‘Til Sunday) house sits for a distant (successful) cousin in a cool part of Santiago. With three months accommodation on offer, a directionless Martin soon starts to take on the lifestyle of his cousin’s family.

Based on a short story by Alejandro Zambra and shot largely in director Alicia Scherson’s (Play, Il Futuro) own apartment, Family Life is something of a whimsical kitchen-sink dramedy which fails to significantly ignite.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 30%