By Robert Koehler
The juries have spoken, and—what else is new with festival juries?–I’m trying to wrap my head around some of the results. First, a big day for directors Maria Novaro for The Good Herbs and Nicolas Pereda for Perpetuum Mobile. The Mexican results went almost exactly as I predicted: Perpetuum Mobile for best picture; Carlos Carrera for director; The Good Herbs for actress (Ursula Pruneda), screenplay, cinematography (Gerardo Barroso); best first-or-second film and a share best actor prize to Ruben Imaz’ Cephalopod, the other genuinely indie film in the section (along with the Pereda) and Imaz’ follow-up to Familia Tortuga.
The festival’s oddest award, and one that should be immediately junked if it wants to retain respectability, is a jury recommendation to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to nominate both Perpetuum Mobile (which will happen only after major planets collide) and The Good Herbs (nearly as unlikely) in its next round of foreign film nominations. Except for the Golden Globes nonsense and a highly debatable nod to Carrera (and the usually fine Damian Alcazar, who overacts up a storm in De la infancia) this was, overall, a solid selection overall.
Meanwhile, the Ibero-American jury was clearly smoking something. I’m sorry, but any group that gives a prize to Gaviria’s dysfunctional, laughably bad Portraits in a Sea of Lies and to Sebastian Cordero’s dreadful Rabia is in serious need of questioning. It doesn’t stop there: The jury gave a special jury prize, a sort-of runner-up to best film, to Juan Carlos Valdivia’s ridiculously overwrought family melodrama, Southern District, which is nothing but an exercise in camera movements (as I more or less termed it in my Variety review); to Cordero for best director; to Florence Jauguey’s creaky and crudely made boxing melodrama La Yuma (if you can’t see by now, the jury clearly has a thing for melodrama) for best debut; to four bad-to-awful lead performances in Rabia, Zona Sur, Portraits and La Yuma; and perhaps most shocking of all, to Valdivia for his tendentious script.
This has to be understood in a context; that is, consider what the jury ignored and opposed. It ignored and opposed Javier Rebollo’s masterful Woman Without Piano, and, for good measure, Carmen Machi’s unforgettable lead performance. It ignored and opposed Esmir Filho’s fascinating and genuinely resonant The Famous and the Dead (a film, notably, awarded by other juries, including FIPRESCI). It ignored and opposed Natalia Smirnoff’s confident and thoughtfully directed debut, Puzzle (which, in retrospect, received a bum rap in the Berlinale) with another brilliant performance by Maria (The Headless Woman) Onetto. It ignored and opposed Fabian Hoffman’s uneven but decently made I Miss You, which, though hardly world-beating stuff, is miles and miles ahead of junk like Rabia, Portraits and Southern District.
Juries should point ahead, and function in a sense as antennae for the future of cinema. This jury reinforces utterly backward notions, and its selection should be called for what it is: a rear-guard action.