Hailing from Central and South America, a fresh crop of critically acclaimed films currently showing at the Museum of Fine Arts offers something different with every title. Perhaps you’re in the mood for suspense like the drama of the drug war-inspired “Heli.” Maybe you would rather enjoy lighter fare like a comedy about a lonely security man and his pet rooster in “All About the Feathers.” Really, the only similarity the movies in the MFA’s Film Series from March 8 through March 27 is that their directors share a preference for long takes.
The first flick is the offbeat Costa Rican tale of “All About the Feathers” (“Por Las Plumas”). A morose and directionless security guard named Chalo becomes enamored with the idea of cock fighting—a big cultural sport in many Latin American countries. He buys one and with it, all the awkward situations that come out of chicken-training montages and rogue-rooster hijinks like attacking bystanders at the downstairs restaurant. No movie like this would be complete without a lineup of oddball characters, including the friendly neighbor who becomes invested in Chalo’s quest to compete or his co-workers who readily espouse wisdom on faith and family, none of which is particularly of interest to Chalo.
First-time director Neto Villalobos revels in the awkward long shots, playing out the comedy slowly, but steadily. It’s grownup humor, rewarding the viewers with patience. Once Chalo and Rocky the rooster begin to compete, the physical gags increase, but Villalobos is just as clever with his punch lines. One of the best jokes is set up slowly over three separate scenes, executed off-camera, and then cuts straight to the disastrous aftermath. You’re just as in on the joke as the director.
The bleak world of “Heli” follows a troubled family unwittingly dragged into the infamous Mexican drug war. The family’s youngest daughter becomes enamored with a young policeman, but their relationship threatens the strained world of her older brother, Heli, when the policeman stashes cocaine at their home. Kidnapping, beatings and the constant threat of death follows. The police are either too corrupt or too overworked to help, leaving the family at the mercy of cartels. The film is brutal, serving as a reminder of the ongoing drug war’s toll on families. Vividly captured, the movie’s long takes slowly build tension until the end. Director Amat Escalante won Best Director at Cannes Film Festival in 2013 for “Heli.”
From another Cannes-awarded director Marcela Said, “The Summer of Flying Fish” (“El Verano de los Peces Voladores”) is an exploration of the lingering side effects of colonization during a wealthy family’s vacation. Seen from the eyes of Manena, the rich teenage daughter, she observes the disparities between her comfortable lifestyle and the local indigenous population who lost claim to their land to her family. Manena questions the inequality and director Said dares the audience to do the same. The movie is dark and murky, much like the ethics Manena’s father uses to defend his beliefs. “The Summer of Flying Fish” is visually compelling, playing on the darkened hues of Manena’s youthful uncertainty.
To round out the series is Fernando Coimbra’s Brazilian drama “Wolf at the Door” and José Luis Valle’s “Workers.” “Wolf at the Door” follows a couple on their search for their abducted child. Their journey reveals a less-than-rosy portrait of family life and brings up questions about their honesty to each other. From Mexico, “Workers” is another look on the class differences through the cast of characters.
For tickets and more information about the Latin American Film Series, visit the MFA website.
Monica Castillo is a freelance film critic and writer. You can usually find her outside a movie theater excitedly talking about the film she just saw or on Twitter @mcastimovies.