Two naked women fight over a sweater in Stephen Keep Mills’s “Liminal,” but not because they’re chilly. Joy (Tonya Cornalisse) viciously chastises Ina (Alejandra Gollas) for wearing a too-shear, form-fitting sweater, to which Ina replies, “You don’t dress me, motherfucker!” It sounds funny, but it isn’t. The shockingly violent 15-minute short instead appears to be either a commentary on the double standards of sexual propriety, a statement about the adoption of traditional gender roles in same-sex relationships, or some kind of sociological test to determine whether you can follow the complexities of an adult conversation while staring at boobies and hoohas. Speaking as a 26-year-old heterosexual dude, the answer to the latter is “sort of,” but only after nipple-desensitization sets in at around the five-minute mark.
The film’s as good a starting place as any for discussing the wide range of films screening at this year’s San Antonio Film Festival. Compare, for example, the fully frontal screaming match in “Liminal” to Eric Fonseca’s gloomy but family-friendly “Funeral March for a Marionette,” which sets Charles Gounod’s composition to a stop-motion puppet burial service. Fonseca’s use of stuffed animals, pop-up books, and other familiar objects recalls Jan Svankmajer’s Alice while taking a few visual cues from The Nightmare Before Christmas. The punchline ending is unnecessary, but Fonseca’s sense of rhythm and attention to detail make for a compelling few minutes.
“La Memoria de Amor,” a film produced by students at the North East School of the Arts, on the other hand, is an extremely pretty student film, but unmistakably a student film. The Spanish-language short intercuts scenes of a man wandering around with moments from a therapy session in which he describes losing his son in a drunk-driving accident. It’s the film equivalent of a blue-ribbon science-fair volcano: All the parts work right and it’ll look good on a college application, but there’s no real reason to see this particular one unless your kid made it.
Feature-length Cruzando, however, should be required viewing for anyone considering making a modern-day immigration film. Written and directed by Mando Alvarado and Michael Ray Escamilla, this locally shot serio-comedy manages to vividly illustrate the plight of illegal immigrants and Mexico’s working poor while making jack-off jokes and dressing protagonist Manuel (Escamilla) like a giant chorizo. The not-at-all funny sounding Cruzando begins with Manuel abandoning his about to pop pregnant (Maria Helan) wife in a northern Mexican border town in order to watch the execution of his estranged father in Huntsville, but gets much weirder and more humorous from there. Manuel, an unemployed porn-booth jizz mopper, is accompanied by Diego (Alvarado), a would-be documentarian who mostly films insect porn, and a luchador-turned-coyote known as the Matador. Their misadventures begin to fizzle by the third act, but the resolution offers unexpected heart, and the journey’s worth watching if only because Alvarado and Escamilla take a different route.
Pablo Véliz’s The Boys of Ghost Town, set in Houston but filmed in SA, follows a pretty standard gangster flick template, though its somewhat clichéd script and occasionally flawed secondary performances are redeemed to some extent by Véliz’s high-concept direction and an intense performance from star/screenwriter Manuel Garcia. (Read “Dope boys,” April 1, 2009 for the Current’s interview with Véliz and Garcia). •
Tickets are $10 for daytime film screenings, $15 at night. Go to safilm.com for a full schedule.