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Hidden Secrets in Undiscovered Places

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By Roger Costa

THE BOX

Addressing human traffic and exploitation, and the contagious circle of corruption fueling both crime and law in Latin America, acclaimed Venice-winner director Lorenzo Vigas’ striking and efficient dramatic thriller is seen through the perspectives of a kid who arrives in Mexico to collect the remains of his deceased father. But he learns that the man is still alive and running a very profitable working-exploitation operation with much more severe consequences. Urging for connection and affection he insists on working for his “father”, learning the rules of the game and eventually becoming a precocious criminal. Venezuela’s official entry for the 2023 Oscars is a haunting and bold exploration on the father/son relationship, as well as a brilliantly tense and remarkable portrait of sacrifice and human injustice.

(MUBI. 11/4. Cinema Village.)

YOU RESEMBLE ME

How can we evaluate someone’s emotional desperation leading to violence if we aren’t aware of their history, motivations and reasons? For many people who had suffered abuse and intolerance during their childhood, the road to recovery is full of obstacles and uncertainty, and the search for redemption is a never-ending quest. As the film opens, the viewer experiences a rich and engaging look at sisterly love and affection, as two sisters explore their neighborhood enjoying the pleasures of being children. The oldest, Hasna, promises to always look after the younger one, caring for her with unconditional love. But their adventures come to an end, when they have to return home, where things don’t really ring like that. Their mother has been abusing them in aggressively ways, increasing fear, losing innocence, and rushing their way into maturity. When Hasna is kicked out, she takes the little one along for the ride, finally escaping but getting caught by child-services and separated to different foster homes, initiating a life-long process of re-adaptation and new challenges. The film forwards to 2015, and next we follow the attempts of Hasna, now a messed up grown woman working on the streets of Paris, in changing her life for complete: she tries many jobs, including risking a chance to join the French Army- “I’ve spent my whole life protecting people. That’s what I do”, she says when they ask her for a good reason to hire her. But when declined, she alleges they are overshadowing her for being a Muslim. That’s when she connects to an estranged cousin, who is leading a legion of extremists online, believing she finally found her place in the world, confidant of her “call” to make a better world. Inspired by over 300 hours of interviews and archival material, director Dina Amer punctuates her film with such questions, never judging or justifying the protagonist, simply portraying with incredible accuracy and empathy, the tumultuous life of a woman who was wrongly called “Europe’s first female suicide bomber”.

With the support of executive producers Spike Lee, Spike Jonze and Riz Ahmed, the director conceives a knockout humanitarian statement, carried by a fearless, provocative performance by Mouna Soualem, who storms out the screen as the adult Hasna. Her nuanced, explosive and balanced turn as the emotionally vulnerable yet determined antihero, makes it an effective and memorable role. While Hasna is seeking console throughout the men she meets (and works for), and also through the people and the situations she must face and endure, attempting to heal her emotional wounds, the director adds documentary elements to the story, elevating its importance and relevance, and demonstrates inventive skills with the subtle use of visual effects (Hasna’s face mutates in certain occasions, giving it a chameleonic atmosphere, someone forced to act as someone else, to adapt and behave to the present situation). Gripping, moving and terrifying, this is an accomplished work. A powerful chronicle on personal trauma, dysfunctional family, religious and racial conflicts, violence inclinations and extremism.

(Self-distributed by the team. 11/4. Angelika Film Center.)

SOMETHING IN THE DIRT

Funny, inventive and bizarre, directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s latest slice of sci-fi paranoia centers on the attempts of two neighbors on getting rich after they discover a supernatural force in the remote L.A. building they live at. This is their fifth collaboration, which easily establishes them as auteurs. Their distinctive and weird style originally blends social critique, political interests and manipulation, darkly comic visions of modern behavior and culture, and the fascination for the unknown and its paranoic effects. An unusual and eccentric buddy sci-fi puzzle-comedy, it is as entertaining as it is mind-bending and enigmatic.

(XYZ. 11/4. Regal Union Square.)

UTAMA

Gorgeously shot and meticulously observed, mystical and humane, Bolivia’s 2023 Oscar entry is one of this year’s most heartbreaking and visually striking films. It follows the co-dependent relationship of an elderly Quechua couple living alone in an isolated mountainous area. They struggle to survive, which highly demands their physical work: to walk miles in order to carry back fresh water, and to take care of the animals. When their grandson comes to visit, they are filled with joy and companionship, but as he tries to convince them to come live in the city, pointing to the health benefits they could have there, (there hasn’t been any rain in a long time) an unsolved matter from the past surfaces threatening their union. Richly crafted, extremely sensitive, and deeply moving, writer-director Alejandro Loayza Grizi’s feature debut is a superb look at indigenous generational traditions, family bond and human integrity.

(Kino Lorber. 4/11. Film Forum.)


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