Dark comedies featured at film festival

by Mar 10, 2004 12:00 am

Spartan Daily

Black comedy, vivid characters and life's little ironies make up a common thread of three of the movies available to watch today and tomorrow during the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose.

However, each of them is as different as their locations, and choosing one might be a difficult task that depends on the viewers interests and tastes.

The colorful El Barrio neighborhood in New York City in "Vote for Me," the exotic Spain in "Kill Me Tender" or the hybrid American supermarket in Serbia in "Jagoda in the Supermarket" all offer interesting perspectives on the world.

"Vote for Me," which will be shown today at 7:15 p.m. at the Morris Dailey Auditorium, is a short (78 minutes), benign political satire, full of vivid and funny neighborhood characters.

Leo Machuchal (Ricardo Barber) is an angry 70-year old superintendent living in El Barrio, a New York neighborhood where Puerto Ricans have a difficult time getting along with blacks. However, when, through a series of events, Leo is proposed as candidate for a U.S. Congress chair, both communities come together to help him win the election. Leo's success heavily resides in his honesty and rough attitude toward corrupt politicians and their policies, while his charm beats out his political opponents, a couple of self-centered demagogues.

The movie pokes fun not only at boastful politicians, but also at most of America's obsessions nowadays, such as political correctness, feminism, vegetarianism, racism and reverse discrimination, to name a few. It also wonderfully outlines the vibe of big town ethnic neighborhoods, as reflected in the evening gatherings on the sidewalk where several unique characters discuss politics while playing dominoes.

The movie was written and directed by Nelson Denis, who represented El Barrio as its state assemblyman between 1996 and 2000, and drew from his own real experiences.

The movie is tremendously enhanced by the cinematography, which builds a suitable hot and loaded summer city atmosphere through warm colors such as red and yellow.

"Kill Me Tender" has as much humor as "Vote for Me" but wrapped in a different package. If "Vote for Me" spills out genuine humor, this Spanish movie is a subtle black comedy focused on lowlifes.

Nestor (Emilio Gutierrez Caba), an old, recently widowed baker who lives in a small town 40 km from Barcelona, lays his eyes on young and sexy Maribel (Ingrid Rubio), who sometimes goes to bed with the baker's son-in law. When Maribel visits her sister, who runs a club for sadomasochists in Barcelona, she falls in love with Manolo (Alberto San Juan), a debt collector dressed up as a furry bunny. However, Nestor proposes to her and, convinced by her sister, Maribel marries the old baker for his money, hoping his end is close. But, all's not always well that ends well and the characters' lives take interesting turns in the end.

In addition to the sex scenes that might be a hot attraction, the movie builds upon a solid script that reveals vivid, unscrupulous and very real figures. The story is not only about greed and money. What lies beyond the different love stories is mainly the human quest for contentment in life. And the movie's conclusion might be that it doesn't matter what makes you happy or what others think should make you happy, as long as you get it. Rubio makes a credible young pervert who enjoys life but wants more. Her talents were previously acknowledged in 1996 when she received the lead role in director Carlos Saura's "Taxi."

"Kill Me Tender" director Ramon de Espana Renedo was working as a journalist and writer when he started seeing his books turned into movies. He decided to write his own screenplay for "The Perfect Wave" and took to directing for the first time with "Kill Me Tender," shown on Thursday at 5 p.m. and on Friday at 4:45 p.m. both at Camera Three.

"Jagoda in the Supermarket," shown today at 9 p.m. at Camera One, tosses out two fluorescent flags for fans of Eastern European movies. Director Emir Kusturica ("Underground" and "Arizona Dream") served as the movie producer here, while Branka Katic, in the title role, played one of the gypsies in Kusturica's farce "Black Cat, White Cat."

The film contains elements of comedy, tragedy, political satire and socio-economic analysis.

Jagoda works in an American-like supermarket located somewhere in Yugoslavia, owned and energetically run by an Americanized well-groomed woman. One night, Jagoda (Katic) refuses to sell strawberries and verbally insults an old woman who leaves the store heavily disappointed. The next day, the woman's grandson, a war-veteran, takes the supermarket, its clients and employees hostage as a form of revenge for his grandmother's humiliation. While people gather outside to support police special forces' efforts to help the besieged, Jagoda gets involved in the love story of her life.

It is easy to recognize Kusturica's influence (Balkan music included) on depicting the ironies and contradictions that rule in post-communist Eastern Europe: the "nouveau riches" whose language is peppered with American slogans and behavior with misfit American customs, old people who have it hard making sense of a new world, old communism habits that thrust underneath new so-called democratic practices. However, the movie doesn't quite rise to a harsh socio-political satire as it intends. Viewers who like the style will certainly enjoy the black humor targeted toward a misunderstanding of capitalism, globalism and American values in a society that is still faltering on a shaky ground.

Besides, Katic's charming smile could mesmerize anybody who adored her in "Black Cat, White Cat." Each of the three movies offers enriching perspectives on the world for the curious moviegoer.

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