THE TORONTO INTERNATIONAL LATIN FILM FESTIVAL from Saturday (October 13) to October 20 at the Royal Cinema. All films subtitled. 416-364-3131. For complete lineup, MARIA BETHANIA, TOUCHSTONE FROM ARUANDA (Andrucha Waddington, Brazil). 60 minutes. Saturday (October 13), 7 pm, October 20, 7 pm. Rating: NNN
Before breaking out on the inter national art house circuit with last year's House Of Sand, director Andrucha Waddington made dozens of music videos. So capturing one of his country's most beloved musicians in a verité-style documentary seems like a good fit.
Maria Bethânia is a passionate, deep-voiced, full-throated singer who makes an instant emotional connection with an audience. We see that first-hand in the opening shots of her preparating and then bursting onto the stage of an outdoor stadium full of fans. Her enormous smile alone could light up S--o Paulo.
What follows, however, is unusual. Waddington takes us backstage, of course, but he also interviews the singer's mother, who reminisces about her daughter's talent, and then shows Bethânia and her equally famous brother, Caetano Veloso, driving to visit their mother at her home in Bahia. Weren't we just talking with her?
The film, despite some unfortunate poetry readings, comes alive during the last 20 minutes, when Bethânia, Veloso and their adorable wrinkled old mom sing songs from memory and occasionally knock back a scotch.
Bethânia herself remains elusive (this is no A&E Biography), but you do feel that music isn't just her job, but a calling. Her memories of life and family are intimately connected to these melancholy songs.
SONS OF THE WAR (Alexandre Fuchs, U.S.). 81 minutes. Wednesday (October 17), 7 pm. Rating: NNNN
As one of the cynical authorities says in this insightful and disturbing film, gang violence is always a popular issue in U.S. elections. This doc will make you think differently about the subject.
Director Alexandre Fuchs gives us a condensed history of the Mara Salvatrucha, better known as the MS-13, whose membership (estimated at 100,000) is rising, spread throughout the U. S. and Central America.
The group was formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s, as refugees from El Salvador, many of whom were brought up in an atmosphere of violence and murder, learned how to protect themselves from rival gangs.
Fuchs, with access to the group's founders, some current and former members as well as FBI agents, cops and anthropologists, follows the trail of blood from the streets of L.A. to overcrowded prisons and deportations to El Salvador. It's a complicated problem that involves poverty and race not issues that governments are traditionally good at tackling.
Hard-to-watch scenes include a prison beating and a gang induction ceremony during which fellow MS-13 members kick and pummel a new member for exactly 13 seconds. Violence breeds violence.
No one in the film is naive enough to suggest an easy solution. But exposing where and how the problem came about at least shows us what we're dealing with.