‘Prayers for the Stolen’ Leads Latin American Hopefuls at Oscars
Art and Experience:
Latin America has submitted 15 contenders in the Academy Awards’ international feature category this time, not quite as big a haul as last year’s tally of 18.
Leading the hopefuls is Mexico’s “Prayers for the Stolen,” the fiction debut of Tatiana Huezo, one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch in 2022. Her tale follows three girls as they come of age in a remote village afflicted by the drug trade and human trafficking. The Cannes Un Certain Regard winner is now streaming on Netflix, which is putting all its promotional heft behind it. The film’s producers are Jim Stark (“Coffee and Cigarettes”) and Nicolas Celis, the latter a key producer of Mexico’s first-ever international feature Oscar winner, “Roma,” by Alfonso Cuarón.
Huezo’s 2016 documentary, “Tempestad,” represented Mexico at the 90th Academy Awards. Since 1957, when Mexico started participating in the Oscars, 10 of its entries have been nominated, culminating in “Roma’s” win in 2019.
Chile, winner of the big prize in 2018 with Sebastian Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman,” is banking on “White on White” by Theo Court, winner of more than 20 awards including the Silver Lion for director at Venice’s Horizons sidebar as well as the Fipresci Critics Award. It’s only Court’s second film and turns on a 19th-century photographer, played by Alfredo Castro, whose obsession with a child bride gets him into deep trouble.
Brazil, which has been submitting its films since 1960 and has garnered five nominations but no wins, sends trans drama by Aly Muritiba’s “Private Desert” winner of the BNL People’s Choice Award at Venice’s Giornate Degli Autori sidebar.
The crop of Latin American hopefuls includes countries that have rarely participated in the past. “Freda” by actor-singer-helmer Gessica Geneus is only the second film that Haiti has ever submitted to the Oscars. Geneus’s feature debut is all the more remarkable given the political turmoil and natural disasters buffeting the Creole-speaking territory. While set in 2018, it depicts some of the street unrest and chaos that led to the brazen assassination of its president last July.
Paraguayan docu “Nothing But the Sun” marks the second time for director Arami Ullon to represent her country. And it’s only the fifth film from Paraguay, with Ullon’s debut feature, “Cloudy Times” being the country’s inaugural submission to the Oscars in 2016. With dialogue in the languages of Spanish and Ayoreo, it tracks Mateo Sobode as he records other nomadic Ayoreo natives like himself who were forced to abandon their ancestral forest homes.
Women directors make up nearly half of the entries this period, an encouraging trend of recent years. The bulk of the entries are dramas, with the exception of one comedy from Uruguay, Diego Fernandez’s “The Broken Glass Theory.”
Several of the films by women deal with the inner turmoil of their characters as they straddle both fantasy and reality. Argentina’s “The Intruder,” an erotic thriller by Natalia Meta, follows a chorus singer-movie dubber who has a traumatic experience that rewires her perception of reality. It is inspired by C.E. Feiling’s cult novel “El Mal Menor,” and is streaming on HBO Max.
Internal struggles are also rife in Costa Rica’s “Clara Sola,” the feature debut of Nathalie Álvarez Mesén. The film follows Clara, an introverted 40-year-old who experiences a sexual and mystical awakening as she attempts to free herself from the repressive society that has tamped her down.
The Dominican Republic’s Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas represent their country again with “Holy Beasts,” starring their muse, Geraldine Chaplin, who also headlined their previous film that repped the Dominican Republic, “Sand Dollars,” in 2016. Chaplin plays a ’70s actress returning to the Caribbean to shoot a film based on the script by her late Dominican friend. The production devolves into chaos, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality.
Some stories directed by men also feature compelling, albeit conflicted, female leads, led by buzzy existential Colombian entry “Memoria” by Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the jury prizewinner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Tilda Swinton plays a Scottish orchid farmer dealing with exploding head syndrome in Colombia.
Panamanian Abner Benaim’s drama “Plaza Catedral” turns on a woman grappling with the past. Venezuela’s “The Inner Glow,” by brothers Andres Eduardo Rodriguez and Luis Alejandro Rodriguez, swept the country’s prominent Venezuelan Film Festival with 11 awards last year and deals with a woman’s struggle with terminal illness and her young son’s future care.
Amazon Prime streams Ecuador’s “Submersible” by Alfredo Leon, a harrowing drama set inside a narco submersible where its crew struggle to save the broken-down vessel and its precious, illicit cargo.
The plight of the working class is expounded on in Peru’s “Powerful Chief” by Henry Vallejo and Bolivia’s “The Great Movement” by Kiro Russo.