Thursday, June 28, 2007

Copa America Film Festival, Group A

June 26, 2007: The Copa America started with Peru beating Uruguay 3-0 and the hosts Venezuela managing a surprise 2-2 tie with Bolivia. It is also time to compare the 11 films I have seen from the countries taking part in the tournament. I still have not found a film from Paraguay and my deadline is running out. Rules and format of the film competition are outlined in a previous entry .


I was first introduced to Uruguay through soccer. When my interest in the game was developing, I quickly learned two things:

-- Uruguay won the first ever soccer World Cup beating Argentina in an exciting 4-2 game.

-- Uruguay won their second trophy in 1950 by beating Brazil 2-1 against all odds in front of 200,000 people packed in the Maracanã stadium.

Besides the two World Cups, Uruguay's only major achievement in the international game came by winning the 1928 Olympic gold medal. But when it comes to Copa America, Uruguay is the all time joint-top winner along with Argentina with 14 titles. However, their last title came in 1995 and it seems unlikely that the soccer team will achieve much in the near future given current problems.

The best soccer related contribution that Uruguay have made in the last decade is due to their genius author Eduardo Galeano. His book, Soccer in Sun and Shadow is one of the best books ever written about the global game. In the book, Galeano also cleverly combines political pieces of history while talking about the game's beauty. And then there is a single stroke of wit by the Uruguayan author -- starting from the 1966 tournament upto the 2002 tournament, he causally slips this line in his historical look at global events happening the same time as the soccer tournament: "Well-informed sources in Miami announced the imminent fall of Fidel Castro, it was a matter of hours."

This is the only identical line repeated in about 10 chapters of the book. It is not a very subtle inclusion but the fact that Galeano does not expand on this line any further and just repeats it as is makes for a hilarious take on the stupidity of the entire situation. Dry humour? Perhaps but absolutely funny.

Interestingly, it is a similar kind of dry wit that makes the Uruguayan film Whisky such a pleasure to watch. I had never watched any film from Uruguay before but the movie's deadpan humour was very familiar -- I really felt that I was watching another film from the Finnish film-maker Aki Kaurismäki. In Whisky, Jacobo plays an ordinary man who owns a sock factory. He follows the same dull routine everyday and is made fun of on his daily walk to work -- his local newspaper store owner never misses a chance to taunt Jacobo's soccer team's poor performance. When his slightly successful brother (Herman) from Brazil is coming for a visit, Jacobo has to show that his life is better than it seems. He asks once of his co-workers, Marta to play his wife. Herman also owns a sock factory in Brazil and uses modern machinery to earn more profits. Yet, both brothers are jealous of each other for various reasons and continue their invisible rivalry at all times. Despite not seeing each other for years, the two have nothing to talk about. So in order to pass the time, Jacobo takes Herman to a local soccer game. And when Herman once again starts giving business advice to his brother, the normally quiet Jacobo takes out his frustration by abusing the referee.

It was a real treat to see this movie. It achieves humour in the same style as Kaurismäki & Jim Jarmusch. As it stands, the Uruguay's soccer team might not do anything in Copa America. But this film is a strong candidate to win the Copa America Film Festival.


History will show that Peru did make some waves in the World Cup for both the right and wrong reasons. The skills of Teófilo Cubillas certainly made Peru a team worth watching. But it is Peru's 6-0 loss to Argentina in the 1978 World Cup that has tainted their reputation. Argentina needed to beat Peru by four goals to reach the World Cup final and they scored the 6 goals with little opposition from the Peruvians. The game is a certain candidate for an example of match-fixing and also might point to the threat posed by Argentina's dictatorship in 1978 who wanted to use the soccer win to hide their crimes.

The current Peruvian team does have some talented players plying their trade in Europe. And it is the skills of these players that enabled Peru to dismantle Uruguay in the opening game of this year's Copa.

Días de Santiago is the second Peruvian film that I have seen & like the previous City of M its story centers around poverty and unemployment. In the intense & powerful Días de Santiago, we see a young discharged Army person struggling to find a job. Santiago fought and killed for his country but he is appalled to see the corruption around him. He is even more upset that his service counts for nothing and can't help him find work. While his ex-military friends plan a bank robbery to earn money, Santiago opts to make honest money by driving a taxi.

The film is shot in both colour and black & white. Initially, all of Santiago's inner monologues & thoughts are shown in black and white; the harsh reality around him is shown in all its colorful glory. However, as the movie progresses, Santiago's inner thoughts start to confuse with reality. It gets to a point that Santiago is speaking his mind freely to people without filtering his words for any political correctness. Right from the film's start, we know that Santiago is on edge; he is waiting to burst and destroy everything around him. His troubled and abusive family does not help in calming his nerves either. And then he snaps. But can he differentiate between thought and action?


A month ago I had not seen any films from Bolivia. And now, I have seen three. Two from Rodrigo Bellott (Dependencia sexual & Who Killed the While Llama?) & American Visa. But it is Bellott's 2003 film that was my first choice for the Bolivian entry.

Sexual Dependency is an interesting look at 5 stories about teenage/youth sexual experiences in Bolivia and the USA. The stories are linked nicely in a surprizing manner. The film's opening scene focuses on an underwear billboard at a street intersection. The billboard poster, with one male model and two blondes, paints to an image of perfection. We then see separate teenagers who run into each other at that intersection and are gradually introduced to each of their lives. Each of them has a sexual experience that is not pleasant at all, whether it is a painful first time, a rape or abuse. The film tries to explore a modern generation's complications and confusions. We also see how a Bolivian stud gets completely lost in an alien and hostile American city. Each youngster realizes something about themselves and undergoes plenty of grief, all in the name of sex. And then when everything is shockingly reveled, we truly see how hollow that billboard was at the start of the film.

The film employs experimental camera angles, with split screens being the most common one. Unfortunately, the split camera angles does not add much in most scenes and seems like a distraction.


Venezuela are the hosts for this year's Copa but no one is expecting them to do anything. In fact, they have only won one previous game in the Copa America's history and that was against Bolivia. They nearly managed a win on June 26, but Bolivia scored a late goal to tie the game up 2-2.

When it comes to movies, the previous Venezuelan films I have seen have only focused on the country's drug and crime situation. So it was refreshing to see a tender story in Oriana.

At the start of the film, we see forbidden love forming but a young rich girl and a servant boy. But with a click of the camera, that story vanishes. The movie then picks up a few decades in the future, when a grown up woman (Marie) returns to her family's abandoned estate in Venezuela. There she starts to uncover the story of her dead aunt and a hidden secret. The film is tenderly paced and grew on me as it went along. The emotional ending is not unexpected but has a haunting effect.

Final Group A Standings:

Uruguay wins the group and advances along with the Peruvian film. The Venezuelan entry is eliminated. But the Bolivian film has a very good chance to take one of the two third best spots.


Heidi B said...

I added Whisky to my list of movies to see.

Sachin G. said...

Hope you like it. It was a real surprize for me.

Heidi B said...

Good surprise I hope.