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Latin American cinema shows global ambition at Berlin fest

Director Claudia Llosa (2nd R) poses with cast members Cillian Murphy (L-R), Jennifer Connelly and Melanie Laurent during a photocall to pro
Director Claudia Llosa (2nd R) poses with cast members Cillian Murphy (L-R), Jennifer Connelly and Melanie Laurent during a photocall to pro

By Michael Roddy and Sarah Marsh

BERLIN (Reuters) - A "New Age" healer whose estranged son is a falconer are the odd couple at the heart of an English-language movie by Peruvian director Claudia Llosa that marked a coming-of-age moment for Latin American cinema at the Berlin film festival on Wednesday.

In a year when space blockbuster "Gravity" is tipped to bring Oscar glory to Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, smaller international productions with strong Latin American artistic input are increasingly making their mark.

In 2009, Llosa won the festival's prize for best film, the Golden Bear, for her Spanish-language "The Milk of Sorrow".

This time her film is in English, reflecting a trend not only in Latin American movies, where the financing may come from American, European and other international sources. The casting, production values and even "mentoring" is also increasingly globalised.

The film was shot in Canada and billed as a French, Spanish and Canadian production, with an international cast including Irish actor Cillian Murphy as the falconer, the American actress Jennifer Connelly as his mother and French actress Melanie Laurent as a documentary journalist.

"The world is becoming smaller," Murphy said at a post-screening news conference. "Stories are universal and if you tell the story well, hopefully it appeals" to everyone.

Llosa, the niece of the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, said the only thing that had changed in her directing style was the language: "For me I didn't see a marked difference from the way we work in Peru."

"It generally was an open process, the actors opened their hearts to me ... and the very fact that I could sit with them and tell them the story was like a dream come true," she said.

EVOLUTION IN LATAM CINEMA

The changes in Latin American cinema were underscored at Berlin by the involvement of veteran American director Martin Scorsese as executive producer of a sophisticated Spanish-language Argentine competition entry, director Celina Murga's "La Tercera Orilla" (The Third Side of the River").

"There is a certain evolution of Latin America during the last 10 years, things have changed," Juan Villegas, the film's producer, said.

With the increasing international involvement in the continent's cinema, "festivals are showing more movies from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina", he added.

The film, which has yet to screen in Argentina, is highly critical of the country's macho culture, showing a well-off doctor who is essentially a polygamist, living with two families, and the impact of that on his eldest son Nicolas.

Set in the provinces, it shows the teenager burdened by the responsibility he takes on for his siblings and mother, as his father Jorge always returns to his other family at night.

Nicolas becomes suffocated by his authoritarian father, who wants him to follow in his footsteps, become a doctor and look after the ranch. When Jorge takes him to a grim strip club and urges him to fondle one of the women, he sits in silence, waiting until he can leave.

"This movie is all about a macho society, a conservative society - especially in (Argentina) the father you see in this movie is rather typical," Murga said. "He is ... the male hero who wants to force his son to be in a real man's world."

She said that Scorsese, whose films include testosterone-fuelled titles like "Raging Bull" and "The Wolf of Wall Street", had provided her with a male perspective.

"It was very helpful to get this male angle on the world," she said. "It was of course also a challenge for me to work with him, I wanted to pick up certain aspects of his work and further develop these."

Another Argentine film screened earlier in the week, "Historia del Miedo" (History of Fear) by young director Benjamin Naishtat, portrays a gated community in the suburbs of Buenos Aires where the wealthy inhabitants are in a permanent state of paranoia.

The film is like a parody of a thriller, where very little action takes place but even a blackout - which is common in Argentina - is enough to create utter hysteria.

The Brazilian competition entry "Praia do Futura" also has an international feel, portraying a budding gay relationship between a German dirtbiker, played by German actor Clemens Schick, and a Brazilian lifeguard played by Brazilian Wagner Moura.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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