Living in Buenos Aires, there are a few things you can absolutely count on with the start of every new year: price hikes for public transportation, an increasingly prevalent feeling of dread, and the arrival of the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema (or BAFICI for short).
Every April, the city dons its black turtleneck sweater and thick-rimmed glasses to celebrate the cinematic art form in its most unusual and esoteric presentations. That is to say, this isn’t exactly a celebration of the latest big-budget Marvel crossover event, but instead a spotlight on the more off-beat, interesting art that happens in the fringes of cinema all around the world; a smorgasboard of diverse, creative voices from all corners of the globe, making movies that are quirky, thought-provoking, strange, or otherwise unconstrained by corporate interests.
As the largest and most important independent film festival in Latin America, BAFICI is committed to a plurality of voices and perspectives. If you ever wanted to see what would happen if, say, a Dutch twenty-something decided to make an animated movie about a donkey that was also the antichrist, this is where you’d likely find it (no, seriously, I watched that movie, it was great). This isn’t to say it’s all silly ridiculousness – there are a lot of very beautiful, contemplative films on display as well. And that’s the beauty of BAFICI: there’s something here for everyone.
On a personal note, I’ve been attending the festival for over 10 years now, and it’s always my favorite part of the year. There’s just something about diving head-first into each screening, not quite sure of exactly what you’re going to find, and coming away with a new favorite movie that moved you deeply or even just a fascinating oddity that you wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to. As much as we can try to give you recommendations, I’ve found that the best course of action during BAFICI is to give the line-up a quick glance, pick a few titles that jump out at you, and just jump into the screening without knowing much about the film. The uncertainty of discovery is half the fun.
This year, the festival kicks off on April 3rd, but tickets can be purchased online starting on March 27th. It is also changing its headquarters: no longer will we stand in awkward lines at the Village Recoleta shopping mall; instead, the two theaters at Multiplex Belgrano will serve as the festival’s base of operations. Of course, there are dozens of other theaters participating in the festival throughout the city. There will also be free screenings, activities, workshops and Q&As, and outdoor activities, all of which can be found on the official festival website.
Having said that, let’s take a look at a few quick picks from among the hundreds of films being screened at BAFICI 2019. Click through the movie title to see more information, including screening times.
We’re kicking things off with the film that actually opens this festival. Sebastián De Caro’s new film Claudia, starring Dolores Fonzi as an obsessive event planner whose work is taking over her life. A handsomely shot comedy that’s rich with cinematic references, the film is screening for free at the festival’s inaugural event.
By this point, you’re probably familiar with comedian Bo Burnham’s work. If you’re not, please do yourself a favor and look up his comedy specials What and Make Happy – they are masterpieces of the genre. The one-time Vine star brought his talents to filmmaking and released the touching, genuinely affecting coming-of-age story Eighth Grade, which garnered critical acclaim as well as an Academy Award nomination for its young star. The film is finally premiering in Argentina as part of BAFICI, and that is a wonderful thing.
One of my favorite sub genre of film is that which examines a profession that is otherwise overlooked in popular media. In Emiliano Serra’s Cartero, which is premiering as part of the official Latin American competition, we have a look at the daily life of a mailman in Buenos Aires as he traverses a path that is fraught with a surprising amount of peril. With original music by Gustavo Santaolalla, this film promises to be a gripping cinematic experience.
There are many things one can say about Danish auteur Lars von Trier, not the least of which is that he’s a bit of a provocateur. His new film The House That Jack Built focuses on Jack, a homicidal psychopath who has a bit of a soft spot for art. Starring Uma Thurman and Matt Dillon, this darkly humorous film is a study on the power of iconography as well as a bit of self-reflection for von Triers, who uses it to examine the more jagged contours of his own filmography.
Liliana Paolinelli returns with her fourth feature film, an elegant and charming mix between a coming of age story, a romantic comedy, and a human drama. It tells the story of Iris, who suspects that her friend’s daughter has a crush on her, something that seems like a silly thought at first but eventually consumes her life and even has negative consequences on her current relationship. An interesting, incisive look at how humans relate to each other, and the way our interactions hold more power than we might first imagine.
Acclaimed director, and helmer of an inordinate amount of Hobbit films, Peter Jackson returns with a movie that’s certainly more grounded in real life than his epic fantasies, examining the ravages of war and all that is left in its wake. In this case, it feels weird to describe They Shall Not Grow Old as a traditional film, as it eschews so many of the conventions established by films that mine similar thematic spaces. Instead, it is almost an experimental exercise in empathy, using unusual cinematic techniques such as re-coloring archive footage to bring these stories to life.
María Onis brings us a decidedly offbeat story about a pair of filmmakers who are working on a documentary about a native community, and find themselves wondering whether their work has any meaning or value whatsoever. This sounds like it could make for a depressing movie, but these two bond over their shared uselessness, which honestly makes this poignant film, ostensibly about love and the creative process, a millennial love story if I ever saw one.
The Scoundels finds Taiwanese director Hung Tzu-Hsuan at the peak of his powers as an action filmmaker, as this explosively kinetic feature with a noir aesthetic delivers the visceral thrills. An action film that opts out of cartoonishly superhuman feats and instead doubles-down on action realism, with punches that carry actual weight and look like they hurt. It helps that those action sequences accompany a genuinely gripping mob story, so the set-pieces are more than just flashy thrill rides.
The new film by director Alex Ross Perry seems to be, at first glance, a bit of a departure from his regular hyper-literate introspective drama work, but that may just have to do with the fact that its story centers around a fading, destructive grunge star from the 90s (no, it’s not based on Courtney Love). Still, the film isn’t Josie and the Pussycats; instead, it’s a character study that also takes a look at the relationship between art and artist. With a cast featuring Elisabeth Moss and Cara Delevingne, it’s more than worth checking out.
Remember: this is just a tiny selection from the vast, diverse catalog of films available at BAFICI this year. Make sure to check out the schedule and do some exploring yourself!