The latest installment of the Mar del Plata Film Festival took place between the 9th and 18th of November, and we were there to scope out all the most noteworthy films. Everything from subversive, experimental micro-budget pieces (Camila Jose Donosio’s Nona, Si Me Mojan Yo Los Quemo) to kooky music documentaries (Marie Losier’s Felix in Wonderland), slick Hollywood productions directed by well-known names (Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn, Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart) and the usual fare of film festival darlings (Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, Werner Herzog’s Family Romance LLC, Takashi Miike’s First Love), all manner of films were screened throughout the course of the festival’s ten days.
This year’s edition of the film festival broke records, with over 160,000 attendees. It was also a noteworthy year as it was dedicated to the memory of José Martínez Suárez, a legendary Argentine filmmaker who served as the director and champion of the festival for many years. Between the films, special activities, workshops and events, the 34th edition of the MDQ Film Festival was a truly special event to experience.
Of course, once a film hits the festival circuit, there are many ways its life could continue. It could get picked up by a distributor and achieve a traditional commercial release; it could hit the smaller, independent art-house circuit and become a cult favorite; it could be released on streaming platforms for home viewing; or, in some cases, it could simply fade into complete obscurity. The latter is a real shame, but a true possibility, especially for smaller films that have a hard time finding their audience.
This is why we’ve decided to list out our favorite Argentine movies from the Mar del Plata film festival, so you can keep an eye out for them as they hit screens (or streaming services like Cine.Ar Play) near you. Each of these films offers something interesting and new, and we think you should definitely check them out.
Por El Dinero
Alejo Moguillansky’s gorgeous, often laugh-out-loud hilarious, surprisingly poignant Por El Dinero was far and away our favorite Argentine film in the entire festival. Much like Moguillansky’s previous work, La Vendedora de Fósforos – which we reviewed last year – the film is largely concerned with the act of artistic creation, weaving real-life events into a meta-fiction that often slips in and out of verisimilitude in a way that echoes the work of Paul Thomas Anderson and Charlie Kaufman. The film tracks the misadventures of a Buenos Aires-based independent theater group as they attempt to make ends meet by becoming involved in an international theater competition, resulting in a bizarre tragedy.
There is a hazy wistfulness that permeates the entire film, and its mix of languages – it is told through the point of view of a French character who is in the process of being interviewed by the Colombian police, so the film is narrated through often poetic French-language monologues – contribute to the dream-like quality of this relentlessly strange cautionary tale. Keep an eye out for this one, as it is sure to make the rounds in the arthouse theater circuit.
Follow the film’s (or, rather, the theater play’s) official Facebook account to find out where you can watch it.
La Muerte No Existe y El Amor Tampoco
On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum we have the equally gorgeous La Muerte No Existe y El Amor Tampoco, directed by Fernando Salem and based on Romina Paula’s novel Agosto. This quiet, contemplative little movie is a meditation on two different types of grief: the grief over the loss of a friend, as the film accompanies its protagonist Emilia as she attempts to process the recent death of one of her childhood best friends; and the loss of love, as she slowly comes to the realization that she is trapped in a relationship she no longer feels happy in. It may sound a pretty bleak, but the themes are handled so beautifully that the film avoids the feeling of claustrophobic, oppressive sadness that would’ve overwhelmed it in less capable hands.
The plot is simple: Emilia works at a hospital in Buenos Aires and lives with her boyfriend. Her life is interrupted when she has to return to her hometown to help scatter the ashes of her childhood best friend, who died under undisclosed circumstances. Told against the stunning backdrop of the Argentine Patagonia, La Muerte No Existe y El Amor Tampoco is a breezy slice-of-life film with a threadbare story that isn’t concerned with movement all that much; instead, it finds an emotional space and simply lives in it for a while, exploring the various shades of bittersweet nuance that exist in the intersection of grief and reconnection.
Check out the film’s official Facebook page for more information on where you can watch it.
Ezequiel Radusky, co-director of the celebrated Los Dueños, returns with his first outing as a solo filmmaker with the delightful dramedy Planta Permanente. The film follows the lives of two cleaning employees who have been working in the maintenance area of the Public Works Department for years. Without really knowing what they’re doing, they decided to take advantage of an unused space in the area and put together a lunchroom for the other employees to use. When there is a change in upper management, their new business comes under fire; though they try their best to salvage it, there are various conflicting interests at play that put the entire venture at risk.
Radusky’s keen directorial eye captures the intricacies of personal struggle and power structures in a way that veers away from the well-trodden “rich vs. poor” tropes we’ve seen a million times before; instead, here we have a depiction of tensions from within the same social plateau (born out of the capricious whims of authority, mind you), leading to an incredibly interesting dynamic, and a frank and sometimes uncomfortable depiction of class struggle. A truly memorable film.
Follow its official Instagram account for more details.
Depending on how long you’ve lived in Argentina – and how deep into the rabbit hole of web-based Argentine animation you’ve found yourself falling into – you may have come across the work of Ayar Blasco. An animator and filmmaker who’s become notable after creating the web series Mercano El Marciano, his quirky, off-the-wall humor tends to be an instant favorite for anyone who comes across his work. His newest film, Lava, is his most ambitious yet; a delightfully psychedelic sci-fi/horror/comedy hybrid which goes some bizarre and unexpected places, this movie is equal parts mesmerizing and laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Lava is one of those films that is best experienced with completely fresh eyes, knowing as little as possible about the plot, so we won’t go into much more detail than you can find in the trailer above: Earth is under attack by a malevolent force from another world, which takes advantage of the ubiquity of phone, computer, and TV screens to put humans into a trance-like state. It is up to a tattoo artist to figure out who they are, what they want, and how humans can stop them. There are huge belly-laughs and incredibly strange twists along the way, which is why we encourage you to check this movie out.
Follow the director’s Instagram to find out news on where you can watch it.
Bajo Mi Piel Morena
José Celestino Campusano has long established himself as one of the most important and relevant voices of contemporary Argentine cinema, and his new film Bajo Mi Piel Morena continues his exploration of the inner lives of characters who have been pushed to the fringes of society. In this case, he examines the everyday struggles of a group of trans women as they attempt to navigate their lives in a society that seems to resent their very existence. Morena is a factory worker who cares for her ailing mother; Claudia is a school teacher who becomes embroiled in a feud with a bigoted family; Myriam is a sex worker who becomes entangled with the police. Their lives intersect with each other’s fleetingly, as they meet commiserate on the various situations they find themselves in, but the connective tissue between their stories is more thematic than plot.
One thing I was fascinated to learn after sticking around for the Q&A portion of the screening is that all of these actresses are essentially playing versions of themselves, as their lives and experiences shaped the screenplay. This contributes to the raw, unadorned honesty of the film, which is often heartbreaking as it captures the ordeal these women have to face for simply asserting their humanity. It is to Campusano’s credit that the film never feels like it’s trying to make some grand societal statement (though it could be argued that it is); instead, it’s a series of artfully told stories about people trying to find happiness and stability in an often hostile world.
Follow Campusano’s Instagram for more information on where to watch.
There are some films that depict such darkness and hit so hard that you’re hesitant to even recommend them. After all, you never want to be a contributing factor to someone’s emotional breakdown. But if you’re in a good state of mind (or you’re simply not one to be too affected by what you see on a screen), then delving into the darkness of Delfina Castagnino’s cryptic, claustrophobic and incredibly fascinating film Angélica can be a very rewarding experience. It was the winner of the Argentine competition.
This drama-cum-psychological-thriller brings you deep, deep, deep into the mind of a woman whose life is rapidly falling apart. Angélica, the titular character, is a woman in her 40s who is on the verge of losing her mind as she suffers from the loss of her mother, which brings old traumas to the forefront. Suffering from mental illness and oppressive loneliness, she is haunted by ghosts, memories, and grief, in a way that is completely overpowering. The film does an incredible job at bringing the audience into this state of mind, and as Angélica makes the decision to tear down her old family home, so does the audience see her life crumble into debris. A punishing, unrelentingly dark film that does what great cinema should do: make you feel things.
You can follow the film’s production company on Facebook to find out where you can watch it next.
De La Noche a La Mañana
Manuel Ferrari’s De La Noche a La Mañana is a bittersweet comedy about failure. It’s one of those films that, on paper, shouldn’t really work, but whose execution really elevates the material. It follows Ignacio, an architect in his late 30s whose life is turned upside down with the revelation that his girlfriend is pregnant with his child. He takes off to Chile, where he’s invited to speak at a seminar. Of course, nothing goes as expected; his money is stolen, the seminar’s venue is in the midst of a hostile takeover, and Ignacio doesn’t really have much to do other than roam around this neighboring country and thinking about his life. All the while, Chile is struck by a series of earthquakes.
It takes a similar approach to Kafkaesque comedy as Martin Scorsese’s 1980s masterpiece After Hours and, though largely listless and languid in his characterization, there is something inherently likeable (or maybe just relatable?) about this shiftless schlub as he grapples with one curveball after another.
Follow the film’s production company on Facebook to find out where it will be playing.
Los Que Vuelven
We end our list with an all-out horror film by director Laura Casabé. A gorgeously-shot parable about colonization and greed, Los Que Vuelven mixes the atmospheric approach of modern “arthouse horror” with a more brutal, visceral, traditionally horrific take on the genre. It’s a period piece set in the 1920s and tells the story of Julia, the wife of a powerful businessman. They live together in the jungles of Paraguay, where they live off of the exploitation of Guaraní workers to further their business. Laura loses her baby, and decides to turn to the dark powers of La Iguazú to bring him back from the dead. Of course, this unleashes a terrible evil that will haunt Laura, her husband, and everybody in their circle.
A visually sumptuous film with a fascinating approach to structure (the story is told in three chapters which gradually reveal more of the backstory by focusing on different storytelling angles), Los Que Vuelven is a disturbing look at greed run amok.
Follow the film’s official Instagram to find out where you can watch it.