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SCREENING ROOM

Latino festival

October 05, 2006|Robert Abele

The 10th annual Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival starts today at the Egyptian Theater, and a sure-to-be talked-about offering is director Luis Estrada's new film, a dark, state-of-Mexico fairy tale called "Un Mundo Maravilloso" ("A Wonderful World").

Those familiar with Estrada's corruption satire "Herod's Law" -- which targeted the then-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and, some have said, helped remove it from power in 2000 -- may be surprised to see he's directed his aim at the new bosses, namely the National Action Party (PAN).

The world Estrada paints is one of rampant destitution and political whitewashing that allows an image-obsessed secretary of the economy (Pedro Armendariz Jr.) to boldly tell the world's financial markets that pro-business policies have eliminated poverty in his country.

But when a strangely jolly vagrant named Juan Perez (Damian Alcazar) gets mistaken for a suicidal protester, he becomes a pawn in the government's ruthless propaganda efforts.

Using a member of society's lowest rung to make jabs at the bigger picture has inspired comedies by Chaplin, Jean Renoir and Preston Sturges, to name a few, but Estrada doesn't go for too many laughs here, preferring to imagine an almost Kafkaesque odyssey of media manipulation and societal alienation.

The comic tone may be uneven, but on the whole it's effectively damning, sure to enrage liberals and conservatives alike, and boasting a beggars-banquet ending joke of which fellow countryman satirist Luis Bunuel would have surely approved.

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