'Arte Latino': intense, revealing dramas

SUNDANCE CHANNEL SHOWCASES QUIET,YET MOVING TALES FROM LATIN AMERICA.

As cable TV continues to blossom, one of the great things we can expect from it is a broadening of our cinematic horizons. A beautiful, small film from abroad that may not have had any exposure in the United States outside of film festivals, now can be seen by millions. There are worthy visions out there that slip through the cracks of commercialism.

The Sundance Channel offers us "Arte Latino" for two weeks this month, Aug. 6 to 12, and Aug. 20 to 26, with many a dazzling story to tell. Most of the tales are quiet by American standards - the editing is slower, less MTV-like, and the films don't court special effects. But the human dramas can be intense and revealing of the cultures from which they come.

Take The Water Carrier (Aug. 8, 13, 17, 21, and 26, check local listings) by director Patricia Cordoso. Her poignant tale about a blind laborer whose sight is restored by a local doctor is set against the mountains of Colombia and shot with a sense of the grandeur of nature and the nobility of the human spirit.

When Bernabe first sees his wife of 35 years, he is overwhelmed by her beauty and by that of his little granddaughter. But Bernabe soon discovers that he cannot work as a water carrier with his eyes open. Grateful as he is for his sight, he finds that he knows his way around only with his eyes closed.

The delicate balance Bernabe strikes between his desire to see his loved ones and his need to work moves us because it speaks of ingenuity, humor, and a serene practicality that turn every ironic twist of life into something useful. He does his best with what he has, and he does not complain.

The film is based on a true story. "There are things that are more important in life - like love - than even our [faculties]," said director Cordoso in a recent interview. "And Bernabe realizes that.... I was raised in an agnostic family, but when I made this film I came to believe that there has to be something spiritual about life...."

Writer-director Martin Rejtman's quirky humor deadpans through life in Buenos Aires in Silvia Prieto (Aug. 25, 29, and 31, check local listings), where every oddball incident seems plausible, however improbable.

Silvia is an ordinary woman, recently divorced (we never find out why), who is making her way as a waitress in a coffee bar. She takes her first wages and flies to Italy for a weekend, doing nothing much but sitting around the plaza.

When she returns home, she watches her wedding video with her ex and his new fiance; and the women become friends. Silvia meets a down-and-out poet, and nothing much comes of it. Relationships form and dissolve without anguish.

One couple is getting married because they met on a game show, and the TV show is paying for the wedding. Meanwhile Silvia discovers another Silvia Prieto in the phone book and has a mild identity crisis.

All these 20-somethings get along just fine, nothing bothers them, and nothing interests them, either. Talk about a lost generation.

The amusing goofiness of the circumstances, the ability to articulate absurdity so wittily (with lots of potshots at TV) is Rejtman's gift. He doesn't despise his characters, but he reveals how directionless they are.

Also from Argentina comes a very different kind of film, aptly named Hidden River (Aug. 11, 14, 17, 20, and 23). The haunting story concerns a woman who suspects her husband of infidelity, but when she travels to a small country village to find a mysterious child, what she finds is a secret-within-a-secret. And as soon as she finds the answer to one question, another unfolds. The poignant quest turns into an inner journey of awakening.

This film by Mercedes Garca Guevara is a marvelously sensitive first effort. Reached by phone in Argentina, she says, "A friend of mine says it has a 'suspended atmosphere.' I think that's true.... When I was writing the script I read a lot of fairy tales and mythology also. Ana [the protagonist] is opening to a new reality. Every element is trying to stop her from her journey. Her mother tells her not to go; she gets a rotten car that breaks down, and so on; and all those things happen to make her turn back. But she keeps going."

The simplicity of the storytelling is deceptive - the heroine really enters a labyrinth, coming to the center at last.

The soulful quality of these films ignites our own desire to know more - to appreciate fully the human beings who are our near neighbors. And they're now available on TV.

Elsewhere on cable, Deliberate Intent (FX, Sunday, Aug. 6, 8-10 p.m.) is a legal thriller that tells the true story of the battle to suppress a book that incited three murders. As important as it is to American freedoms, the First Amendment did not excuse "Hit Man," according to the courts. Several high-profile lawsuits are basing their arguments on the legal precedent of Rice v. Paladin Enterprises. The FX channel's first original movie is an engaging, particularly timely film. Timothy Hutton stars.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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