Cesar, the concierge of an apartment block, is pathologically depressed. The only thing that brings him enjoyment in his empty life is destroying other people’s happiness. When this twisted man becomes fixated with the beautiful, ever-smiling Clara, he goes to extreme lengths to force her into a complete mental breakdown.
This dark premise is explored to eerie effect in “Mientras Duermes” (Sleep Tight) , Spanish director Jaume Balaguero’s award-winning 2011 horror film. In keeping with the Halloween opening date, Balaguero’s acclaimed psychological thriller will get the fourth edition of “Otras Miradas” (Other Views), the Ibero-American Film Festival, off to a spine-tingling start Thursday at the Metropolis Empire Sofil. 
The festival, organized by the Spanish Embassy and the Cervantes Institute, in conjunction with a slew of South American embassies and consulates, includes a total of 11 films – a mere half of the total shown during last year’s festival – screening over nine days. Alongside features from Spain and Portugal, films from Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay, Peru, Chile and Venezuela have been selected.
In the wake of the creepy “Mientras Duermes,” Friday’s screening of Argentinean director Gabriel Nesci’s “Dias del Vinilo” (Vinyl Days) will lighten the mood. This comedy, set in Buenos Aires, follows four male friends in their thirties, their obsession with British bands on vinyl and their relationships with women. When one writes a movie script – with which he hopes to win back his ex – it gets lost, only to end up in the hands of another woman.
Screening Saturday at 8 p.m., the Brazilian comedy “Vendo ou Alugo,” (For Sale or Rent) directed by Betse De Paula, explores what happens when four generations of women living together are forced to sell their home due to financial difficulties. Unable to find anyone willing to buy or rent the place, due to its proximity to the slums, the family becomes desperate to snare a tenant. During a viewing, a shootout begins trapping everyone in the house.
Following it at 10 p.m., “El Cad?ver Exquisito” (The Exquisite Cadaver), directed by El Salvador’s Victor Ruano, blends fiction, documentary and experimental filmmaking techniques to explore a region caught between tradition and modernity. Rituals and myths combine with the everyday in a surreal fusion of the essential and the banal.
Mexican director Laura Gardos Velo’s “A?os Después,” (Years Later) screening Sunday at 8 p.m., is a drama exploring what happens when Andres, who lives in Mexico City, discovers that his grandfather – who he believed dead – is alive and well in a small village in Spain. Abandoning everything, Andres flies to Spain, the country his mother fled during Franco’s reign of terror, triggering a family reunion that forces the protagonists to face their past.
Vicente Alves do O’s “Florbela,” screening Sunday at 10 p.m., comprises the Portuguese portion of the festival. Set in 1920, it follows Florbela Espanca, a famous poet about to embark on her third marriage. Determined to make this one work, she attempts to play the role of traditional housewife, but ends up running off to join her brother in Lisbon, where they become caught up in the city’s seedy bohemian side.
Monday’s screening is an older work, Mike Newel’s “El Amor en los Tiempos del C?lera” (Love in the Time of Cholera), starring Javier Bardem. Based on Gabriel Garc?a M?rquez’s classic novel, it embarks viewers on a magical 50-year love story, set amid the beauty of Cartagena, Columbia.
Cesar Charlone’s “Artigas la Redota” screens Tuesday. Set in 1884, it recounts the drama that unfolds when famous Uruguayan artist Juan Manuel Blanes is commissioned to paint a portrait of fugitive leader José Artigas. The only drawing in existence was done when Artigas was very old, so Blanes tries to surmise what he looked like based on his life, resorting to the notes of a spy who had tried to assassinate the leader 70 years earlier.
Political thriller “Mariposa Negra” (Black Butterfly), directed by Peru’s Francisco J. Lombardi, will be screened Wednesday and details the disturbing tale of Gabriela, an upstanding young school teacher engaged to a judge dedicated to exposing corruption. When her fiance is brutally murdered, Gabriela embarks on a quest for revenge, aided by a cynical young journalist. Her search takes her deep into the heart of Peru’s political underworld.
Chilian director Nicol?s L?pez’s “Qué pena tu vida” (F My Life) injects some comedy into proceedings Thursday Nov. 7, telling the unfortunate story of 29-year-old Javier, who loses both his job and his girlfriend, Sofia. In the digital age there is no escaping his ex, so Javier decides his only option is to drink, party – and try to get her back.
The festival winds up Friday Nov. 8 with a Venezuelan offering, Marite Ugas’ “El Chico que Miente” (The Kid Who Lies). After his hometown is torn apart by a mudslide, a 13-year-old boy sets out on a journey along the coast of Venezuela, telling those he meets fabricated tales of the disaster. In some stories his mother saves him at the cost of her own life, in others it is his father who is killed. Gradually the truth begins to become clear and the boy starts to put his life back together.
“Otras Miradas: 4th Edition of the Ibero-American Film Festival” runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 8 at Metropolis Empire Sofil . Films are screened in the original language with English subtitles. Tickets costs LL6,000 per film or LL30,000 for a festival pass. For more information, please call 01-204-080.
By India Stoughton
Will you be getting your Spanish cinema on this weekend in Beirut? Please share which film you'll be hitting up in the comment box below!