November 8-14, 2006

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Crucial Cinema

International Latino Film Festival brings the world to our doors

By Richard von Busack

The author Jorge Luis Borges once likened the Falklands War to "two bald men fighting over a comb." The far more obscure--and perhaps even more pointless--prelude to that war was a border incident between Chile and Argentina in the Beagle Channel in 1978. Alex Bowen's Mi Mejor Enemigo (titled in English My Best Enemy) playing at the 10th International Latino Film Festival, is a story of that earlier crisis over Picon, Lennox and Nueva islands.

In this history of a campaign that failed, five Chilean soldiers and a squad leader, pumped to the gills with patriotic rhetoric, are sent from the north into a featureless, windswept pampa in Pantagonia to guard the border--or where the border would be, if there was something to mark it. They entrench themselves in the middle of nowhere, and wait; one of the privates gives himself a serious knife wound while hunting a rabbit, and that becomes infected. Water is low, and first the compass and then the radio break. Finally, a squad of Argentinean soldiers arrive and dig in about a hundred yards away.

Maybe good borders make good neighbors, but the folly of this conflict becomes apparent to both sides. The soldiers fraternize, trading maté tea for cigarettes. Since the dispute between these two nations probably ought to have been settled on a soccer field, it's maybe inevitable when one group of soldiers create a makeshift ball. But then the crisis heats up in Buenos Aires and Santiago, and the troops are back on alert.

My Best Enemy's landscape is very much like Terrence Malick's plains in Days of Heaven, and there's an edge of Malick's own transcendentalism in the way Bowen pauses to admire the starkness of this remote region of the earth. Still, there's something rougher in Bowen that gives teeth to this antiwar parable. War films rarely get at the element of humiliation in war: the situation of being forced to do something disgusting and antithetical to the average human being--that is, to kill strangers who have never harmed you.

My Best Enemy helps to kick off the 10th annual International Latino Film Festival's North Bay portion by screening on Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 8:15pm at the CineArts Sequoia. The festival continues through Nov. 19. Other events include: Nov. 9 at 10pm, To the Other Side outreach program; free. Lark Theater. At 6:30pm, The Owner of the Story; at 8:30pm, The Last Gaze. CineArts. Nov. 10 at 6:30pm, Camaron: When Flamenco Became Legend followed by reception with live music, paella and auction. $35-$45. Angelico Hall, Dominican University. Nov. 11 at 5pm, Caravan; at 7:15pm, Romeo and Juliet; at 9:15pm, American Visa. Lark Theater. Nov. 12 at 2pm, Sixty Years from the End of the Holocaust; at 4:30pm, Like a Fish out of Water; at 6:45pm, Love and Suicide followed by Noche Cubana party with live music, Cuban food and mojitos. $20-$30. Lark Theater. Marin County venues include CineArts at Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton St., Mill Valley; Angelico Hall, Dominican University, 50 Acacia Ave., San Rafael; Lark Theater, 549 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur.

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