Regarding the premiere of the new films by directors Sebastián Silva and Pablo Larraín, Christian Sida briefly reviews their first films and their connection to VLAFF
There are two Chilean films that have been released recently, which made me remember part of the trajectory and programming of VLAFF.
The first is the new film by the now multi-award-winning Chilean director Pablo Larraín, who premiered EL CONDE (2023) at this year’s Venice Film Festival. In the English-speaking world he became known for JACKIE (2016)—yes, Kennedy—with Natalie Portman and later SPENCER (2021) with Kristen Stewart. For me, his films in English are less fortunate, but fortunately Larraín frequently makes films in Chile; with EL CONDE he returns to his main topic of interest, the Chilean dictatorship. In the film, he turns Pinochet into a vampire. It is fun with a lot of political references carried to the screen with the guaranteed manufacturing of the Larraín cinema family. And I say that, because it is with his brother, Juan de Dios, with whom Pablo is the founder of FABULA, his very prolific film production company of quality cinema. Founded in 2004, FABULA has produced films such as A FANTASTIC WOMAN (2017) by Sebastián Leilo or THE ETERNAL MEMORY (2023) by Maite Alberdi, both Oscar nominees.
I remember then when in 2008 at the Havana Film Festival, the VLAFF Programming Team saw TONY MANERO, the first known film by Pablo Larraín (his debut film is FUGA (2006), which never had a big release), at the Chaplin Cinema—the festival’s headquarters in the Cuban capital—in a packed room, as is usually the case at Havana Film Festival.
I did not know what the film was about when I went to see it, Larraín was not well-known; I only knew that its premiere was at the Fortnight in Cannes months earlier (social media didn’t exist like it does today). Being such a crude film, many people deserted the theatre, which usually happens in Havana. TONY MANERO is of a singular and grotesque power located in the Chilean dictatorship, in urban Santiago where Larraín focuses on a theatre group of which the actor ALFREDO CASTRO is a part of (a core piece in Larraín’s cinema and who from there went on to have a great Latin American film career). In the film, Castro seeks to be Tony Manero—John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever—in the program with the highest audience on Chilean television, and he will do whatever it takes to achieve it, including shitting on the clothes of the enemy. That year, TONY MANERO won the biggest prize at the Havana Film Festival, months later we screened it at VLAFF 2009. Much of Pablo Larraín’s work is available on streaming platforms. I would suggest following the duo he makes with Alfredo Castro: films like POST MORTEM (2011), or THE CLUB (2015), presented at their time at VLAFF, are very worthwhile to get to know Pablo Larraín’s work, an important and prominent filmmaker in the global scene nowadays.
EL CONDE is available on Netflix.
Sebastián Silva is another Chilean director who just released a film, ROTTING IN THE SUN (2023), and who in the last decade has been prolific and very well received. In addition to sharing the time of their careers, Silva has a debut film that is less successful than his second film, just like Larraín. Silva’s first film is LIFE KILLS ME (2007), but it was with THE MAID (2009)—with which he won the top prize at Sundance 2009—that he became known and since then, Sebastián Silva has been pure guarantee.
Just like Larraín, Silva has a core piece in his cinema. In his case, it is the actress CATALINA SAAVEDRA, who is also now a very recognized actress in the region. In THE MAID (presented at VLAFF in 2010) Silva treats the relationship between domestic workers and the upper class in Chile with intelligence and humour, a story that could also be Mexican or Brazilian.
After THE MAID, Silva premiered OLD CATS (2010) which also screened at VLAFF and was very well received. From there Sebastián Silva switched to English, where he made CRYSTAL FAIRY AND THE MAGICAL CACTUS (2013) with Michael Cera, a comedy with hallucinogens. His cinema, above all, has found a good space in the indie scene in the United States, almost all of his films have premiered and were well-received at Sundance. ROTTING IN THE SUN, his new film starring influencer Jordan Firstman, Catalina Saavedra and Sebastián Silva himself, is set in Mexico City, in the Roma neighborhood where gentrification flourishes, and it is a fun portrait of the gay world with ketamine, influencers and a mystery to solve. There are many comments on social media about the large number of penises that appear in the film, I wouldn’t count them but it is something to note.
Silva is also a painter and we can see his work in the film. This is not the first time that the actor-director appears in his own films. In NASTY BABY, set in New York and released in 2015, Silva is in a gay, interracial relationship, and wants to have a child with his boyfriend’s best friend.
ROTTING IN THE SUN is available on MUBI.
Two very different Chilean directors from the same era—both prolific and renowned but in different circuits—who touch on different themes with contrasting cinematographic styles. – Christian Sida
Read this article in Spanish here.