Cine Latino Festival features Alfonso Cuaron’s remarkable Mexican double

You may remember the Mexican film Y Tu Mamá También (2001), which among other things launched the acting career of Gael Garcia Bernal. It’s one of my favourite movies. Its director, Alfonso Cuarón, has since gone on to win many accolades, most notably in 2014 with the Oscar, Bafta and Golden Globe award as best director for Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. He has also directed one of the Harry Potter movies, and won awards for his camera work and screenplays. He’s a very talented man.

Y tu mama tambien

Team huddle: Diego Luna (left), Maribel Verdu and Gael Garcia Bernal in Y Tu Mama Tambien.

There has been great excitement around his latest film, Roma, in which he returned to his Mexican roots. It won the Golden Lion award at the Venice International Film Festival, and has been chosen as Mexico’s entry in for the Best Foreign Language film at the 2019 Oscars. It has also been chosen to open the 2018 Cine Latino festival, which starts next week in major Australian cities and features a very impressive line-up, including a restored version of Y Tu Mamá También, which will close the festival.

I was fortunate to be treated to a preview of Roma at Palace Cinemas in Sydney. It is superb in many ways, particularly the cinematography – Cuarón’s own, all in black and white. I mean, look at how stunning the images are in the trailer…


Still, it’s a very different kettle of fish to Y Tu Mamá También. It’s slower, sombre, very measured and requires patient viewing, at 135 minutes. To be honest, it felt longer! But it was more my bladder than my brain that wanted it to get a move on.

Naked warrior!

Be warned: there is a lot of dog turd (symbolic of ???? – you decide) in it, and unusually for modern cinema there is a startling spell of full-frontal male nudity in which Mexican actor Jorge Antonio Guerrero shows off his martial arts prowess to his girlfriend (the female lead, played by Yalitza Aparicio) with a makeshift weapon – a shower curtain rod.

It’s a film that every aspiring film maker should see, once for pleasure and for the story, at least once again to study the cinematography, clever imagery and symbolism. Here are comprehensive reviews (i.e., by much better film critics than me): from Variety, from The Guardian and from The Hollywood Reporter.

The 2018 Cine Latino Festival dates are:

  • Melbourne: November 13-28
  • Canberra: November 14-28
  • Sydney: November 15-28
  • Brisbane: November 21 to December 2
  • Perth: December 6-16

Music for coffins? The heavenly sounds of Mexico’s Caifanes

Recently a couple of songs by Mexican band Caifanes have popped up on my Shazam app. They are famous in their own country and wider Latin America, but as with many trailblazing bands, were initially pooh-poohed by the conservative music establishment when they first approached record companies in the late 1980s. Here’s an amusing extract from their biography on Wikipedia:

With demo in hand Caifanes approached CBS Mexico. The musical director at the time shunned them for dark new wave attire and said, “You look like fags.” At the time, Caifanes’ sound and look was influenced by British post-punk groups such as The Cure and The Jesus and Mary Chain. They dressed in black suits and sported frizzly hair and makeup. Upon hearing the demo of “Será Por Eso” (English: “That’s Why”), the CBS executive said, “At CBS, our business is to sell records, not coffins.”

I wonder what that executive thinks now when sees something like this…

Here’s a live version of one of the songs I Shazammed, Viento (Wind) . The lyrics are here.

Cumbia is a type of music that originated in Colombia. It’s catchy, infectious, happy and makes you want to dance in a wiggle-your-hips-kind-of way (particularly when you are imbibing at parties and festivals). Their cover of La Negra Tomasa was a huge hit.

Their first ever single, Mátenme Porque Me Muero (Kill Me Because I’m Dying), is typically 1980s but has stood the test of time. I like the keyboard intro and the flourish at the finish.

Here’s another one that Caifanes fans recommend, Debajo de tu piel (Under your skin).

Finally, I heard this one in a car one day after a long Sunday drive to a beach followed by a couple of beers at sundown. It was a pleasantly mellow way to see out the weekend.

Thrills and spills: are you ‘torpe’?


I have a friend who is clumsy in an endearing way. He’s Colombian and talks a lot with his hands, so anything that is in gesticulating range – the salt cellar or wine glasses at the dinner table, for example – is in immediate danger of being karate-chopped and sent flying. When accidents happened I’d good-naturedly exclaim “clumsy!” and then, one day, realising that I didn’t know the Spanish word for it, asked him what it was. The answer: torpe.

Exclaiming “torpe!” has become a running joke between us – after all, his clumsiness or torpeza is ongoing – and I have Christened him Mr Torpe, Señor Torpe.

It is a word I will never forget, and quite pleasant-sounding too – two syllables, rather like the English words “tore’ and “pay’ joined together.


A good way of learning and remembering new adjectives, then, is to give your friends appropriate nicknames in your target language, and then tease them mercilessly until the word sticks. Some other examples in Spanish.

  • Mr Grumpy – Señor Gruñón
  • Mr Fastidious – Señor Fastidioso
  • Mrs Cheerful – Señora Alegre
  • Mrs Forgetful – Señora Olvidadiza

And the one that’s most applicable to me? Príncipe Encantador (Prince Charming) haha.



So, I know Colombia’s clumsy Señor Torpe (centre) but I have only just come across his  other Romance language equivalents. Allow me to present the following, from left:

  • Senhor Desajeitado of Portugal/Brazil
  • Domnule Neîndemânatic of Romania/Moldova
  • Signor Maldestro of Italy
  • Monsieur Maladroit of France

That’s all for now.

Príncipe Encantador

Images taken from Pixabay.

It’s my big Italian film festival!


This is the time of the year when Australia really goes Italian; and by that I don’t mean we suck up more strands of spaghetti into our mouths and pile up the pizza, washed down with Sambuca, Aperol or Peroni beers. No, no, no, this is when the best Italian films of the previous year or so hit the big screens in the big cities, and we say benvenuto to the Italian Film Festival.


Like the other foreign language film festivals in Australia, which I cover regularly on this blog, the Italian festival has been growing in in popularity each year since its inception in 2000. Back then, it offered 16 features; this year, by my count, there are 38.

The festival has been running in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra for more than a week, and only just started in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, but carries over into the first half of October, when it starts in Hobart (details at bottom).

01_BOYS CRY -®Pepito Produzioni_sm

So far I have seen only one film,  BOYS CRY (La Terra Dell’Abbastanza), a gripping drama in which two young men played by Andrea Carpenzano (above, left) and Matteo Olivetti (right) are drawn into Rome’s criminal underworld and gang warfare. The more they get drawn in, the harder it is to get out.

I’m planning on going on a big binge of Italian cinema in coming days, and while there are other dramas I’d like to see, usually I go for the comedies. Here are some that look promising.


MY BIG GAY ITALIAN WEDDING (Puoi baciare lo sposo) – based on a hit play, this is described as a “chaotic, heart-warming trip to the altar” as a young man travels to his conservative hometown (where his conservative father is the mayor) to marry his big bear of a fiancé. Expect some disgruntled growling from the mayoral offices!


Put nonna in the freezer

PUT NONNA IN THE FREEZER (Metti La Nonna In Freezer).  When her grandmother dies, a young woman has to put her in the freezer, so to speak, to receive her nonna’s pension and make ends meet. Then a cop enters her life and “amidst ingenious deceptions, disguises and misunderstandings, the young woman’s scam will begin to melt like a frozen grandmother in the sun”.


Love and Bullets 2

LOVE & BULLETS (Ammore e Malavita) won the Best Film at the Italian Academy Awards and many other international awards. It’s described as a “hugely entertaining mafia musical” involving a family of schemers whose latest plan is jeopardised by true love.


  • Sydney: 11 Sept  – 7 Oct, Palace Norton Street, Palace Verona, Chauvel Cinemas, Palace Central
  • Canberra: 12 Sept – 7 Oct, Palace Electric Cinemas
  • Melbourne: 13 Sept – 7 Oct, Palace Cinema Como, Palace Westgarth, Palace Balwyn, Palace Brighton Bay, Kino Cinemas, The Astor Theatre
  • Brisbane: 19 Sept – 14 Oct, Palace Barracks, Palace Centro
  • Adelaide: 19 Sept – 14 Oct, Palace Nova Eastend, Palace Nova Prospect
  • Perth: 20 Sept – 10 Oct, Cinema Paradiso, Luna on SX
  • Hobart: 18 Oct – 24 Oct, The State Cinema

Let’s do the SLAFF!


Last night was the start of a special event, the Sydney Latin American Film Festival. What makes it special Let me quote from the “About” section of the SLAFF website:

We are a not for profit organisation and funds raised from tickets sales are injected into social justice, environmental and community development organisations in Latin America and Australia. Over the past 12 years, our Community Support Program has raised more than $120,000. We could not have done this without our numerous volunteers, supporters, collaborators and sponsors, whose passion for promoting Latin American cinema and culture has enriched many lives.”

The video clip below gives details of which projects in Bolivia and Chile will receive grants this year.

Learning another language, travelling to places where the language is spoken and experiencing the culture first-hand, or simply watching films and listening to music in that language, have certainly enriched my life, and this is why I am a great fan of foreign film festivals. A big thanks to all the people and organisations that make them happen.

Obviously, if you are not in Sydney, you might think this festival is of no use to you, but the program is a “best of” recent South American films that might inspire you if you are looking for something to watch in Spanish, particularly, or Portuguese.

There will be films from Chile, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Panama, Cuba, and Brazil. Great armchair travel! The trailers are up on the website.

Here are some that I am particularly looking forward to seeing. This Colombian one, which was in the running to be the country’s official entry as best foreign film for the next Oscars, looks intriguing. Does he know that she knows that he murdered her father?


I like the look of this one, not only for the Peruvian Andes scenery, but also for the insight into the retablo art form.


I have to have a bit of Brazilian Portuguese in the mix, and “trial by social media” is a very modern theme, so …



If you happen to be in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane or Melbourne between mid and late November, you will be able to catch some of the Cine Latino Film Festival at Palace Cinemas. I will post the program as soon as it is announced.

French film festival sets new record


The attendance figures from the Alliance Française French Film Festival in Australia have just been released, and once again a new record has been set. All up there were 184,713 attendances – a 5.8 per cent increase on the previous year – at the 50 films screened across 23 cinemas.

FrenchfingerThe festival was especially popular in Sydney, where attendances rose by 9 per cent to 57,427, helped in part by the opening of the Palace Central Park cinema complex near Central station. The figures for the other cities are not yet available.

The most popular film was the one that got the festival off to a rollicking start,  C’est La Vie.

It will be interesting to see if the Spanish Film Festival, which has only just ended, achieved similar growth. I suspect it will.



As one festival ends, so another begins: the German Film Festival is on from May 22 to June 10 in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, to be followed shortly afterwards by the Scandinavian Film Festival (July).

Romances languages will be back in focus with the Italian Film Festival (September) and Cine Latino Film Festival (November).

Images from Pixabay.

What went wrong for Portugal at Eurovision?

Well, well, well. Eurovision can be cruel. One year you win it, the next you come last in the final. On your home territory! This was Portugal’s experience at the Eurovision 2018 final in Lisbon on the weekend.

So, unlike Salvador Sobral‘s Amar Pelas Dois (Love For Two) which won in Kiev in 2017 despite being so old-fashioned and so untypical of Eurovision, the equally untypical  O Jardim (The Garden), sung by Cláudia Pascoal, turned out to be the wrong song in the wrong time. It got just 39 points. That said, I much prefer it to Israel’s winning entry, Netta’s Toy, a song that I never, ever want to hear again!

Here is Cláudia in action.

The backing singer in the video is the woman who wrote the song, Isaura Santos, and I would have liked her to have played a more prominent part in it. She’s an interesting performer. Check this out:

Was there better options for Portugal?

Did the Portuguese “music authorities” err in their selection process for Eurovision 2018? The Eurovision entry is chosen at the annual Festival da Canção (Festival of Song). Here O Jardim scored 22 points, but so did another song, Para Sorrir Eu Não Precisco De Nada (I don’t need anything to make me smile) by Catarina Miranda. The latter was the jury’s top pick, but O Jardim won the televoting, and that clinched it for Cláudia.

Would Catarina have done any better? One thing’s for sure, the Portuguese don’t seem to go in for lively dance tunes! This is the song that came third at the Festival da Canção.

Despite the result, I am sure the Portuguese enjoyed the attention and the honour of hosting the event. Have you been to Lisbon? It’s a great city, as I explain on my travel website in a piece to coincide with Eurovision – Lisbon’s in the limelight.

Maribel Verdú driven to drink in hilarious Spanish movie

nullHola amigos! The Spanish film festival is winding up in Australia (although Perth has three more days to go). I caught seven films in all on top of a busy working schedule, so me siento orgulloso de mi mismo – I am feeling pretty pleased with myself.

The film chosen as the opening night special The Tribe – La Tribu, (click here for info and trailer) proved every bit as fun as anticipated. It’s a great feel-good movie.

Here’s another that I highly recommend. It’s actually the Spanish remake of a film made in Chile in 2016 and was such a hit that a Mexican remake soon followed, and now Spain is getting in on the act, with the marvellous Maribel Verdú (pictured above, at right) playing the lead. (Read about all three versions here).

No Filter – Sin Rodeos

I haven’t found a subtitled trailer for this yet, but you’ll get the gist of it anyway. On IMDB (the Internet Movie Data Base) the film is listed as “Empowered”.

In the film Maribel Verdú has a whale of a time going from a as-meek-as-a-mouse downtrodden woman named Paz to a lioness who roars and lashes out with her claws: revenge proves to be very sweet and satisfying.

PotionMuch of Paz’s new-found courage is down to a mysterious potion that she is given by a shonky guru whose mysticism – and some prominent advertising – somehow lures her into his den. He warns her to take only a sip, but she downs it in one go. Will she need her stomach pumped? And will she lose all her strength after it has passed through her digestive system? Or is it really the potion that has such a radical effect? Maybe the mental strength has been in her head all along, just waiting for something to unleash it.

Either way, the leash comes off the results are hilarious. The film had the audience in stitches of laughter, and it’s much funnier than the trailer above suggests.

easelSome of the best scenes involve her and her insufferable pompous, pretentious painter/artist of a husband (a superb performance by Argentinian actor Rafael Spregelburd) who seems to be suffering a chronic case of the artist’s equivalent of writer’s block.
But Paz, too, proves a dab hand with the paint, and the scene where he finally gets his comeuppance is a treasure. Anyone who has ever been bemused or befuddled by modern art will be tickled pink with the outcome.

If you happen to be a cat lover (or are exasperated by cat lovers) you should also see this film – I’m not going to say any more.

Mysterious motives in Spanish pawn movie

The Chess Player

If you want to brush up on your Spanish, French and German languages – and possibly your chess skills too – then here is the film for you: El jugador de ajedrez (The Chess Player). I saw it at part of Australia’s 2018 Spanish Film Festival, which at the time of writing is still running in Adelaide, Brisbane (till May 13) and Perth (till May 16).

A female French journalist Marianne (played by Melina Matthews) barges in at a crucial moment in a championship game involving a handsome Spaniard Diego (Marc Clotet, above) and a not so handsome fat guy. Marianne is the not the only woman in the room but she is the only lady in red and stands out amid all the black, brown and grey and the wafts of cigarette smoke. She doesn’t know much about chess, but that’s journalism for you –  journalists are expected to quickly become experts in anything they are sent to cover; it requires rapid wit and intelligence, which is why I am one, haha. Luckily for Marianne there is another suave Spaniard, Javier (played by Alejo Sauras), on hand to explain to her the finer points of chess and the mind games involved.

Needless to say, the ugly fat guy loses and the beautiful people go out to celebrate over glasses of champagne. But which handsome Spaniard will woo the French femme? More mind games!

Then things get sinister, first with the Spanish Civil War, then World War Two and the Nazi occupation of Paris. This is your cue to watch the trailer…

Just when it seems there is no hope for Diego, suddenly the chessboard is back on the table, courtesy of Colonel Maier (Stefan Weinert), who likes chess and Anton Bruckner (“the greatest composer since Beethoven” – I am with him on that one) and has a sharp mind, making interesting observations on religion and society. Diego becomes his protégé. “I hope you understand my motives,” the Colonel says. Even though I am a very intelligent journalist, I hadn’t a clue what his motives were!


El jugador de ajedrez is not a perfect film by any means but it is a gripping wartime drama, covering the whole gamut of human emotions: love, hope, despair, desperation, betrayal, courage, strength, brutality and bullying – war is the ultimate form of bullying, is it not? Don’t be put off if you don’t know much about chess: the game is peripheral to the action. This is more about how humans can be used or sacrificed as pawns. And maybe even sometimes the pawns can come out on top.

Good vibes with maternal dance tribes at the Spanish Film Festival

The Spanish Film Festival has opened in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne (until May 6), and will start soon in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth (April 26 to mid-May), with Hobart to follow on May 3-9.

SFF2018 edited (5 of 14)

This is the 21st edition of the festival, and 25 films are on show. At first glance, this pales in comparison with the recent Alliance Française French Film Festival, which featured 50 films, but Spanish language enthusiasts in Australia still have the Cine Latino Film Festival to look forward to in November, when we will see a good selection of films from Latin America. All presented by good old Palace Cinemas. Mucho gracias, Palace.

I attended a press preview of the festival recently, with a feature film and some trailers, and the one that raised the most laughs – particularly among native speakers, the dialogue is very witty – was the film chosen to open the festival, La Tribu (The Tribe). It looks like a lot of fun. I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles, but basically, it is about a nasty corporate type who, after a bump on the head in an accident, returns to the family that he has long since shunned, to recuperate, mainly through the maternal tribe’s dance classes.

There are some nifty dance moves that the cast had to master.

There is a fun “the making of” clip too.

I’ll discuss other films in the festival in later posts, but in the meantime have a look at them on the Spanish Film Festival website.

Incidentally, one of the sponsors of the festival is the Torres winery, and I must say I really liked this one…

SFF2018 edited (10 of 14)

I will be quaffing more of it in sensible moderation between now and closing night.