Latin American Films in Oscar Race Espouse Progressive Causes

Sex in all its permutations dominates this year’s crop of Latin American submissions, whether it be intersex issues in Venezuela’s “Being Impossible,” Bolivia’s homophobia in “Tu Me Manques,” or a transgender’s person’s plight in Panama’s “Everybody Changes.”

Retablo,” set in a mountaintop hamlet in Peru, is Alvaro Delgado-Aparicio’s nuanced portrait of a young indigenous teen as he struggles with a revelation about his devoted father, exacerbated by the ultra-conservative, religious community they live in.

The Dominican Republic’s Jose Maria Cabral, representing his county for the third time with “The Projectionist,” also dwells on unsettling revelations about parents in the context of a road movie.

Colombian Alejandro Landes’ “Monos” is a breed apart although one of its child soldiers is androgynous in this haunting tropical mash-up of “Apocalypse Now” and “Lord of the Flies.”

Out of the 15 entries this year, four are by women, most of them delving into women’s struggle for dignity and emancipation, particularly in the chauvinistic, patriarchal society of Latin America.

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Mexican actress Lila Aviles’ directorial debut “The Chambermaid,” a Kino Lorber release, draws comparisons with Alfonso Cuaron’s 2019 Oscar-winning “Roma” as it also focuses on a servant.

In Ecuadorian Gabriela Calvache’s “La Mala Noche,” (“The Longest Night”), a heroin-addicted prostitute exposes a sex-slave ring, and a coda reminds audiences of the 21 million sex slaves in the world.

Costa Rican Antonella Sudasassi’s directorial debut “The Awakening of the Ants” turns on a young seamstress who quietly rebels against her husband’s, and on a macro level, society’s expectations of her.

“Being Impossible” by Venezuela’s Patricia Ortega explores the dilemma of an intersex character who resents the fact that her mother chose the gender when she was a baby.

Karim Ainouz represents Brazil for the first time with his Cannes Un Certain Regard winner, “Invisible Life.” While “Life” dwells on the misogynistic society of 1950s Brazil, the film is also a reflection on how little men have changed since, how machismo and misogyny continue to inform life in Brazil to this day.

Toxic masculinity and homophobia are pervading themes in Peru’s “Retablo” and “Tu Me Manques” by Rodrigo Bellott. “Retablo” goes beyond the father-son relationship and coming-of-age themes to explore the clash between alternative and traditional ways of life.

Panama’s Arturo Montenegro hopes that his film “Everybody Changes,” which centers on a family man who opts for a sex-change operation, will help the LGBTQ cause in his country, where it was given blanket media coverage and sparked much debate.

The films from Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Honduras and Cuba touch on their respective countries’ tumultuous pasts, of which many issues still reverberate in the present. In Chilean drama “Spider,” director Andres Wood reflects on a still-pervasive nationalist sentiment personified by his main character, an anti-Marxist.

Federico Veiroj’s “The Money Changer” (Uruguay) and Sebastian Borensztein’s “Heroic Losers” (Argentina), the latter, starring Ricardo Darin (“Wild Tales”), addresses the financial meltdowns that their respective countries have experienced. Honduras’ entry “Blood, Passion and Coffee” by Carlos Membreño, based on real events, centers on a coffee producing family who struggle to keep their farm afloat when the value of coffee plummets worldwide.

Cuba’s “The Translator” tells a little-known story about a Russian-language teacher in Havana, played by Rodrigo Santoro, who was enlisted to interpret for the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, thousands of whom were brought to Cuba for its outstanding medical services. Directed by the real translator’s sons Rodrigo and Sebastián Barriuso, the drama is told against the backdrop of the time the Soviet Union broke up and Cuba lost its financial aid.

But perhaps it is Landes, whose “Monos,” deliberately set in a nameless Latin American country and whose child soldiers — wearing uniforms inspired by different armies or rebel groups worldwide — have little care or understanding of the ideology driving their superiors, is the most universal of them all. “By not placing my film in any particular time or place, I sought to reveal the humanity in each character,” he notes.