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A week of Latin films at the Galaxy Cinema 

LatinBeat Film Festival
Dec. 8-14
Galaxy Cinema, Village Square Shopping Center, 770 Cary Towne Blvd.
Schedule: www.mygalaxycinema.com or 463-9989
Ticket discounts available for advance tickets and multiple films

click to enlarge Nine Queens plays the LatinBeat Film Festival beginning this Friday. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

Art, miracles and other cons as seen through the eyes of nine groundbreaking Latin American filmmakers opens this Friday. The weeklong LatinBeat Festival at the Galaxy picks up more than one-third of the 26 films showcased this year at the New York festival, curated by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Showing all seven days are the taut but playful con thriller Nine Queens (Nueve Reinas, see this week's Best Bets) and a pairing of must-see music documentaries: the electrifying Brazil: The Tropicalist Revolution and Mi Mambo! about youthful salsa musicians in New York. The French-produced Brazil: The Tropicalist Revolution demystifies Brazilian music and politics by putting them into dazzling, sometimes dizzying, mutual context. It's an antidote to the notion that voiceover documentaries must be slow-paced and fuddy-duddy, and it is bound to strengthen the world's already raging crush on Caetano Veloso. The suave lyricist behind Tropicália is shown in recent interviews as well as flashbacks to the '60s with running buddy Gilberto Gil, now Brazil's Minister of Culture. The Tropicalist movement, which included Veloso, Gil, Val Costa and the group Os Mutantes, alienated both the political left and right in Brazil when they embraced the Beatles, pop art and a radical new aesthetic for Brazilian music. The film's pleasant frenzy of images, drawn from TV and stock footage and jiggered at the speed of samba, sets the cultural backdrop—from the political rallies and police brutality of 1968, back to the prosperous '50s, the jazzy beatnik era of bossa nova against which the Tropicalists rebelled. A sentimental ironist, Veloso smoothly envelops the movement's contradictions, opining in favor of free market capitalism at the same time he says "we were against Capital."

Mi Mambo! makes a nice companion, in which we see students at the Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts in East Harlem using their Caribbean culture to combat socioeconomic pressures. The school is unique in that it teaches salsa in a conservatory setting, giving kids the message not only that their culture has value, but that they can succeed in a world where guidance counselors still advise Latino kids toward vocational school. The film tracks several star pupils from master classes with the likes of Grammy-winning trombonist Jimmy Bosch to college careers at The New School and Yale.

Like Nine Queens, Rodrigo Fürth's Through Your Eyes (A Traves de tus Ojos, four showings) is a feature film driven by the psychological and economic realities of Argentina's financial crisis. Through Your Eyes follows Lito, the owner of a Buenos Aires ice factory who is also the doting husband to the superficial and demanding Nilda. Having obliviously spent themselves into debt, the pair fly to New York to seek care for Nilda's ailing kidneys. The foreigner-in-New-York tale waxes familiar, but leads Adriana Aizemberg and José Soriano bring off a surprisingly poignant marriage between two people whose alliance is a recipe for financial and moral ruin.

Also worth a spy is Revolucion: Five Visions, screened together with the Mexican short Asphalt Virgin (four showings). A beautifully filmed interview with five Cuban photographers, Nicole Catell's quintuple portrait is as much about the mechanically reproduced art of seeing as it is about Cuba and its revolution. Each photographer has his own generational history and visual style, from the Maplethorpe-esque bodies of René Piña to the romantic revolutionary icons of Fidel and Che by the late Raúl Corrales, to whom the film is dedicated. Asphalt Virgin documents a dubious episode of performance art in action: an apparition of the Virgin Mary in the blacktop of a Mexico City street. Other LatinBeat screenings include the Chilean feature For Rent, the Mexican migration documentary Al Otro Lado, and the Venezuelan political drama El Caracazo (three showings each).

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