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.

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.

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.


Say Hola or G’Day to Amaru Pumac Kuntur

I was a little surprised to find out that a band from Peru called Amaru Pumac Kuntur will be playing at The Factory Theatre in Sydney tomorrow night. The venue is just down the road from my apartment, but I won’t be able to see the Peruvians because I have a date with Scottish rockers Big Country at the same venue on the same night.


Still, they will be playing in Australia and Indonesia up until the Byron Spirit Fest in Byron Bay on April 21.

So, who are Amaru Pumac Kuntur? A folk-rock combo from Cusco who won Peru’s Got Talent in 2013, that’s who! Since then they have added a female Australian vocalist by the name of Fire Mane to their line-up.

Over to YouTube now for more on the “messengers of the mountains”, as they have been described. Here’s a live performance in Cusco (Cuzco in Spanish)

And here band members Chakira Miranda and the Aussie Fire Mane herself explain what the Rainbow Snake Tour of Australia is all about.

Good luck to them on their Australian tour. Who knows, you or I may even get to see them live in Cusco one day.

Here’s one more video for luck. The scenery is certainly stunning.


Throw a canary on the barbecue? Surely not!

After my close encounters with Uma Thurman, I have had another awkward moment with my phone’s predictive text. I was using Portuguese to describe a typical Australian Christmas meal …

Nós comemos muitos camarões (“we eat lots of prawns“) was what I wanted to say.

Sydney Xmas 2017 edited (19 of 94)

Exotic prawns spotted by Bernardo at the fishmarket. Photo: Bernard O’Shea

What my phone came up with: Nós comemos muitos canaries


How would you like to munch on these? Image: Pixabay

Now that I have whetted your appetite, why don’t you join me for a seafood extravaganza?


  • French: manger (to eat), un canari (a canary), une crevette (a prawn)
  • Italian: mangiare (to eat), un canarino (a canary), un gambero, un gamberetto (a prawn)
  • Portuguese: comer (to eat),  um canário (a canary), um camarão, (a prawn)
  • Romanian: a mânca (to eat), un canar (a canary), un crevete (a prawn)
  • Spanish: comer(to eat), un canario (a canary), un camarónuna gamba (a prawn)

Note: For simplicity’s sake, I’m treating shrimps and prawns as the same. Portuguese also has the word gamba, but it may be more used in Portugal than Brazil.

Three of the best from La Oreja de Van Gogh

La Oreja de Van Gogh are a Spanish band who have been around for two decades and have been highly successful in their home land and in South America. I have skimmed through some of their music while on flights – I always browse the Romance language film and music selections on a plane whenever they are available – but have never really studied La Oreja much at home. Their name in English would be Van Gogh’s ear.

This weekend I heard a friend doing karaoke to Rosas (a No.1 hit in Spain and many South American countries in 2003). So, out of curiosity, I had to look up to see what was it supposed to have sounded like. Here is a live performance of the song, featuring the current lead singer, Leire Martínez.

If you want to sing along yourself, you will need the “letras”. Here they are!

The original lead singer was Amaia Montero, who had quite a different style. Here she is in another chartbuster, Puedes Contar Comigo (You Can Count On Me), also from 2003.

Let’s move on a few years to 2013 when the single,  El Primer Día Del Resto De Mi Vida (“The first day of the rest of my life“) was released. It’s a cheerful one.

I hope you liked this selection. They are definitely a band worth investigating if you want to improve your Spanish.

Screen queens, stubborn soldiers and shots in a bar: Spanish Film Festival fare

The Bar copy

Eight people walk into a bar and then … a scene from El Bar (The Bar)

As one film festival closes (I’m talking about Australia’s French Film Festival), so another one begins. And this time, amigos, the featured language is Spanish. And it’s a landmark for the Spanish Film Festival – this will be its 20th edition, with some 34 films to show for it. Here is the schedule.

  • Sydney (April 18 to May 7)
  • Canberra (April 19 to May 7)
  • Melbourne (April 20 to May 7)
  • Adelaide (April 26 to May 14)
  • Perth (April 27 to May 17)
  • Brisbane (April 27 to May 14)
  • Hobart (May 11-18)

Some of my favourite Spanish actresses are featured, and I’m looking forward to seeing these in films in particular:

Penélope Cruz in La Reina De España (The Queen of Spain) 

The Queen of Spain

The film is set in the 1950s and Penélope plays an actress who returns from Hollywood to play Queen Isabella. It looks lavish.

Maribel Verdú in La Punta Del Iceberg (The Tip Of The Iceberg)

The tip of the iceberg

This film takes a look at corporate culture. When three employees of a multinational corporation commit suicide, Maribel plays an executive who is chosen by the company to investigate (and to do a good PR job for it), but the more she sees, the more aghast she becomes. She doesn’t look happy, does she?


For those who like war films or historical epics, 1898, Los Últimos De Filipinas (1898, Our Last Men In The Philippines) should do the trick.


1898 our last men of philippines

It certainly looks like movie making in a grand style.


Another one that looks interesting is El Bar, (The Bar, pictured at the top of this post). In it, people in a bar find themselves caught up in a terrifying episode.

Photographs courtesy of Palace Films.