By Roger Costa
Hired as the nanny of a baby girl whose cold mother is constantly travelling on business, Manuela finds in the girl a chance of replacement for the emptiness caused by her destiny and economic condition. As their relationship evolves, she is put at a crossfire when unexpected circumstances arrive.
In the role of a Latin American immigrant seeking to secure a living in Los Angeles, Barbara Lombardo rises as a promising actress, anchoring this absorbing, often melancholic drama with distinguished nuance and confidence. The same goes for first time director Clara Cullen, superbly capturing the emotional turmoil, cultural challenges and sacrifices of this unique feminine universe. Influenced by neo-realism, she commands the film with naturalistic, sensitive eyes, patiently observing every detail of Manuela’s psychological and emotional wounds.
There’s also an engaging sense of uncertainty and anxiety, as Manuela longs for her child left in Argentina while she works for a future in America. Cullen uses this element to infuse suspense and social commentary to the narrative, paving the way for a drastic twist right around the corner that will lead to its masterful conclusion. It is a quiet film that makes it a big storm out of the immigrant condition.
(US Premiere. Screens 2-10, 11. Figa Films.)
THE LEGEND OF MEXMAN
Already hailed as a great discovery about filmmaking passion and devotion, director Josh Polon’s insightful and moving documentary shines a light on mental disorder, proving that in most cases the cure comes from working out your imagination. That’s exactly what this small gem’s subject does, filmmaker/actor and craftsman German Alonso: he avoids the mental health struggles, keeping himself constantly busy with his imagination, compulsively developing ideas for his film projects. Shot as a buddy-movie, it follows Alonso’s attempts to finalize his first feature film starring his immigrant superhero character, Mexman, while dealing with personal conflicts, such as how the early diagnosis of a disease impacted his life, the lack of a romantic partner, and his devotion to the art, and the people working with him. Packed with kickass fun material, such as Alonso’s creative process with his toys and real actors, as well as thoughtful perspectives on the human ability to overcome trauma and obstacle, the result is an inspiring, and frequently hilarious statement on artistic perseverance and empathy.
(World Premiere. Screens 2-17, 18. Lucky Hat Entertainment.)
Writer-director Sheila Pye’s meticulously observed and ambiguous feminine coming-of-age drama centers on the traumas experienced by a group of friends trying to escape their harsh realities as they create a world of their own while hiding out at an abandoned farmhouse. Set in rural Ontario, the film is gorgeously shot and beautifully performed by the efficient five girls, including Maddy Martin and Jenna Warren as the pair of best friends protagonists. A strikingly poignant and timely directorial debut, Pye scores an accurate take on the social, sexual and psychological challenges faced by Generation Z.
(US Premiere. Screens 2-13, 15. Borrowed Light Films.)
Award-winning veteran actress Lori Singer (“Short Cuts”, “Footloose”) gives a hypnotic and heartbreaking performance as a respected author and teacher dealing with the effects of loneliness and abandon, caused by her husband’s loss. Written and Directed by Victor Nunez, the film is a tender, patient and contemplative meditation on working ethics, motherhood and womanhood, all affected by the inevitable rhythms of life (and death). Through a naturalistic perspective, and wonderfully honest chemistry among the cast and their philosophical exchanges, Nunez crafts an impressive portrait of a woman in search of hope and meaning, punctuated by the transformations COVID brought to our age.
(World Premiere. Screens 2-11, 13. Flyover Too LLC.)
(The Santa Barbara International Film Festival runs February 8-18. Go to https://sbiff.org/ for details.)