RIDM 2016: Review of documentary film El Futuro Perfecto

In a scene from the hybrid documentary El Futuro Perfecto, Zhang Xiaobin, centre, and her fellow students in a Spanish language class prove that they understand the meaning of the word "ojos."
In a scene from the hybrid documentary El Futuro Perfecto, Zhang Xiaobin, centre, and her fellow students in a Spanish language class prove that they understand the meaning of the word “ojos.”

Xiaobin is a young woman of 17 who moves from China to Buenos Aires to join her parents.

Signing up for Spanish lessons allows her to make friends, expand her horizons and contemplate many possible futures.

Each student in the class is given a Spanish name (she gets Beatriz). They can play at new identities – a nurse from Barcelona, a business woman from Colombia, a lawyer from Montevideo.

They read questionable statements from their text book, “If I marry a rich man, I won’t have to work.” (Tsk, tsk!)

They practice mildly stilted dialogue exercises, inviting each other to meals or to the movies. Outside the classroom, Xiaobin uses those phrases when talking to Vijay, an immigrant programmer from India, and they really do go places together. They still act like they’re practicing, though. They order orange juice, and then decide to leave a few minutes later without even tasting it. “Should we go? “Let’s go.” The audience in the cinema laughs.

After the film, a friend said that the person who played Vijay was not a good actor. I’m not sure about that. I think he might have played his part exactly the way director Nele Wohlatz wanted him to.

The dialogues in their text books will sound familiar to anyone who’s ever taken a language class, but some of the overwrought things Vijay says sound like they’re from a melodramatic telenovela.

Kitty content: After a few dialogues about cats, kittens start to appear in the homes of some of the students.

El Futuro Perfecto is not a typical documentary at all. It’s some sort of hybrid thing – drama/documentary/improv, based on the real-life experience of star Zhang Xiaobin. Many parts are quite funny, too. I would have been happy to spend more time in the world of El Futuro Perfecto, but it’s only 65 minutes long. Maybe writer/director Wohlatz and her cast said every thing that they wanted to say within that time frame. If so, kudos to them for not dragging things out.

Learn more about El Futuro Perfecto or buy tickets on the web site of RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival.
El Futuro Perfecto, 65 minutes long, in Spanish and Mandarin with English subtitles.
Director: Nele Wohlatz
Cast: Zhang Xiaobin , Saroj Kumar Malik , Jiang Mian , Wang Dong Xi , Nahuel Pérez Biscayart
Producer: Cecilia Salim
Cinematography: Roman Kasseroller, Agustina San Martín
Sound: Nahuel Palenque
Editing: Ana Godoy
Production: Murillo Cine

El Futuro Perfecto
Sunday, Nov. 20 at 2:30 p.m., Cinémathèque Québécoise, Salle Principale, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E.

FNC 2016: Review of A Decent Woman


A Decent Woman was shot in Argentina. The original Spanish title is Los Decentes. It has also been shown under with the English title The Decent. It’s a satire.

Belen is a woman who does not say much. She observes, sometimes warily.

Belen (Iride Mockert) starts working for a rich woman and her spoiled son in a gated community outside Buenos Aires. (The residents inside those gates are wealthy, but in the surrounding area there are rundown streets littered with garbage.) Belen’s employer has a large house, but it presents a blank face to the world – it doesn’t look particularly comfortable or welcoming. It’s very bland, lacking personality, inside and out.

The property is on the far edge of the community and Belen soon notices that there is a nudist colony on the other side of the big hedge, and the (highly-)electrified fence. (She notices because she does everything at that house, buying groceries, washing floors, windows, dishes, doing laundry, cleaning the son’s sport shoes, and clipping that hedge. Belen’s employer, Diana (Andrea Strenitz) signs Belen up for cooking classes, too. (Among other things, they make cupcakes – a “very American recipe” according to the instructor.) When Diana can’t sleep, she wakes Belen to keep her company.

After days, maybe weeks, of watching the nudists, Belen lets her long hair down (literally), sheds her clothes and joins them. When they first see her, she is shyly recreating the pose from Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (the one with the big seashell).

They’re a very welcoming bunch and soon Belen is spending lots of time with them. Is this possible because Diana and her son, Juanchito, go away a lot for tennis tournaments, or could it be that Belen is just imagining herself having a different way of life with these people?

Much of the time, they are calm, quiet and relaxed, hanging out in or beside the water, dozing or reading. I won’t describe all of their activities, to avoid the accusation of “spoilers!” Let’s just say, this isn’t a “family-friendly” nudist club, and the place where the scenes were shot is actually a nudist swingers’ club, in the director’s own words.

The nudists do play loud music at night. It’s so loud that Diana’s windows vibrate and she can’t sleep. Other neighbours are upset about them, too, and they start a petition against the enclave.

Up until this point in A Decent Woman, I had no serious complaints. It had been moving at a  languid pace, possibly too slowly for some people, but I could handle it. (I did not notice anyone leaving, either.)

But. . . call me a coward or whatever, I did not like the abruptness nor the content of the ending. One or two people laughed. Was it serious laughter or nervous laughter? I wonder. I prefer to think that director Lukas Valenta Rinner did not know how to end the film, or that the ending is a dream that Belen has. (Yes, I know, dream sequences are a corny cliché.)

One person near me said “If I had known it would be like that, I would not have come.”

* * *


(I went to A Decent Woman  because I thought that I had read several rave reviews about it, in reports from other festivals like Sarajevo and TIFF. Maybe I got it mixed up with something else.

The FNC catalogue and web site say that director Lukas Valenta Rinner also made Parabellum, which explains a lot. My brain must have skipped right over that. (Did you see it?) If you intend to see A Decent Woman, it might be better not to read about Parabellum beforehand.

As for not knowing how to end it, Parabellum won a prize at the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea. A few months later, the Jeonju Cinema Project offered Valenta Rinner money to make his next film, but that meant he only had six months to write, film and edit a work-in-progress version to show at the next edition of the festival.

On the other hand, in an interview with Cineuropa, Valenta Rinner indicates the abrupt ending was a “deliberate narrative decision,” to provide catharsis. And now that I think about it, abrupt changes of tone happen all the time in Korean cinema.

Lukas Valenta Rinner is an Austrian who went to film school in Argentina and still lives there. He has stated that his film is a comment on inequality and social tensions in Argentina. I’ve watched many films from Argentina, but I’ve never been there, so what do I know?

Final verdict: Mixed feelings. Can’t say I’m happy that I went, but I don’t feel ripped off either. I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody, but I imagine there are people within my extended circle who would like it.

Los Decentes (A Decent Woman)

Country: Austria, Republic of Korea, Argentina

Year: 2016

Genre: Fiction

Directed by: Lukas Valenta Rinner

Length: 104 minutes

Screenplay: Lukas Valenta Rinner, Ana Godoy, Martin Shanly, Ariel Gurevich

Cast: Iride Mockert, Martin Shanly, Andrea Strenitz, Mariano Sayavedra

I saw A Decent Woman at the  in Montreal. The festival will show the film again on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016 at 18h (6 p.m.)

For shame! Newpaper in Argentina suggests it’s time to forget about the ‘Dirty War’

Employees of the newspaper La Nacion in Buenos Aires, Argentina, want everyone to know that they do not agree with an editorial printed on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, that suggested it was time to stop prosecuting people who committed murder and other human rights abuses during Argentina's Dirty War, between 1976 and 1983. (La Nacion photo)
Employees of the newspaper La Nacion in Buenos Aires, Argentina, want everyone to know that they do not agree with an editorial printed on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, that suggested it was time to stop prosecuting people who committed murder and other human rights abuses during Argentina’s Dirty War, between 1976 and 1983. (La Nacion photo)

Here in Canada, many people were outraged when the Postmedia newspaper chain forced all of its papers to run pre-election editorials in favour of the Conservative party, even when local employees did not agree with the stance.
Something infinitely worse has happened in Argentina. The Washington Post reports that, on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, one day after the right-of-centre candidate Mauricio Macri was elected president, the newspaper La Nacion printed an editorial saying it’s time to forget about “vengeance” against the perpetrators of Argentina’s “Dirty War.” “One day after citizens voted for a new government, the desire for revenge should be buried once and for all.” Of course, the trials are about justice, not revenge. The unnamed writer seemed to think that the guilty should be able to escape punishment based on their advanced age alone.

Horrified journalists at the paper distanced themselves from the editorial; they posed in the newsroom with signs saying that they condemned it. La Nacion printed the photo and an article about the disagreement.
Between 1976 and 1983, up to 30,000 people were jailed, tortured and “disappeared” by the military junta in Argentina. The victims were men, women and children. Some were thrown from air force planes into the ocean while still alive.Sometimes pregnant women were allowed to give birth before being killed, as many as 500 children were given to military families, told nothing about their real parents or what had happened to them. Some only learned the truth as adults, thanks to the persistance of the grandmothers who kept looking for them. A New York Times article in 2011, about a woman who was raised by the man who killed her parents, said 105 children had been found so far. In September of this year, the BBC reported that another child of the disappeared had been indentified.

Investigations into the kidnappings and murders began in 1983 with the return to civilian rule; nine junta leaders were tried, convicted and sentenced in 1985. A law passed in 1986 was aimed at stopping further trials, when that didn’t work, a 1987 law gave immunity to all but the highest ranking military officers. Trials stopped in 1987, then, in 1989 and 1990, President Carlos Menem freed approximately 1,200 officers who had been imprisoned.

In 2001 the Federal Court in Buenos Aires found the amnesty laws invalid, and trials began again. Congress annulled the laws in 2003, and the Argentine Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional in 2005. In 2007 a judge ruled that the pardons were unconstitutional as well.

I was writing a review of the documentary Drone when I noticed the Washington Post story – maybe some day people will be prosecuted for using them, too. Chile had its own “Dirty War” though apparently it did not steal children. On Saturday, at the RIDM film festival, I watched the Chilean film Le bouton de nacre, which is partly about the disappeared of that country. The segment was horrific; I can’t imagine anyone feeling forgiving after watching it.

FNC 2015 Review: Eco thriller La Tierra Roja looks at the evils of big business in Argentina

Ana (Eugenia Ram’rez Miori, in the orange skirt) and Pierre (Geert Van Rampelberg, in the black T-shirt) take part in a march against the use of toxic chemicals and the oppression of workers, in the film La Tierra Roja. It's a co-production between Belgium and Argentina that's being shown as part of the Festival du nouveau cinema.
Ana (Eugenia Ram’rez Miori, in the orange skirt) and Pierre (Geert Van Rampelberg, in the black T-shirt) take part in a march against the use of toxic chemicals and the oppression of workers, in the film La Tierra Roja. It’s a co-production between Belgium and Argentina that’s being shown as part of the Festival du nouveau cinema.

La Tierra Roja is a Belgium-Argentina co-production, shot in Argentina’s Misiones province. It’s fiction, but based on fact. Viewers in Argentina probably see it as a “ripped from the headlines” type of film.

Pierre works for a multinational company that cuts down trees and runs a sawmill and paper plant in northeast Argentina. In his spare time, he coaches a rugby team, and carries on an affair with Ana, a school teacher, who also works a small local medical centre. Pierre finds himself in an awkward position after Ana alerts him to the fact that his company’s use of herbicides is causing cancer, miscarriages, birth defects, learning disabilities and other problems among the workers and their families. The fish hauled from the river have strange bumps on their heads.

The government supports the company with subsidies; the governor will not even meet with Dr. Balza, who has been documenting all the health problems in the area.

When Dr. Balza presents the results of his research at an information meeting for the locals, Pierre’s superiors do what such people usually do – they claim that the man is lying, the chemicals are safe, and hey, what about all these wonderful jobs they are providing? (Even if they are dangerous and dirty.) Where have we heard this before? One worker points out that the company is employing 1,000 but poisoning one million. (Is that the price of progress?) After the doctor is murdered, Pierre realizes that he must take a stand.

While the good-guy/bad-guy situation is presented in a black-and-white manner (and quite justifiably so) the environemnt is quite colourful. The earth is indeed red in La Tierra Roja, in sharp contrast to the lush green forest. Ana’s house is a bright pink, and a local bar is purple. She wears an orange dress when she rides her horse to school.

La Tierra Roja is fiction, but I have seen my share of documentaries exploring similar situations in many countries of the world. We used to have a Human Rights Film Festival here in Montreal; we don’t have one any longer, but the Cinema Politica film series at Concordia University exposes problems like this on a regular basis.

La Tierra Roja has a Facebook page at   www.facebook.com/LaTierraRojaFilm/  It seems that the film was shown to residents of El Soberbio in Misiones just a few days ago. Read more about the film and other ecological problems in Argentina on that page.

La Tierra Roja
Argentina, Belgium | 104 minutes | 2015
Original version in Spanish, with English subtitles
Directed by Diego Martínez Vignatti, with Geert Van Rampelberg, Eugenia Ramírez Miori, Jorge Aranda, Alexandros Potamianos

Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, 17:00
Program #237
Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin, Salle 10, 350 Emery St. (Berri-UQAM metro)
Visit the FNC web site for more info about La Tierra Roja

The Festival du nouveau cinéma runs from Oct. 7- Oct. 18, 2015.