Abner Benaim's Chance was beating out James Cameron's Avatar at the box office in its third week of release in its native Panama . . . and deservedly.
This hard-hitting, anti-bourgeois comedy opens with the dapper Fernando González-Dubois (Francisco Gattorno) running for political office. Interviewed on a TV news show, he avers, "I am a man of the people. My job is to work for the well-being of my country."
His "heartfelt" words start ringing empty when the camera starts exploring his home life. His wife Gloria (Isabella Santodomingo) splits her time between getting breast implants, taking classes, and shopping. His twin teen daughters are into group sex and demeaning the help.
And his neglected young son Daniel (Juan David Valdez Lauri) pees all over the toilet seat and thinks nothing of picking his nose in the kitchen.
Worse, Paquita (Aida Morales) and Toña (Rosa Isabel Lorenzo), the family's two servants, are not only browbeaten on an hourly basis, they haven't been paid their salaries in over seven weeks. Unable to send money home to her needy relatives, Pacquita gets desperate and, although afraid she'll get fired, asks for her wages.
For her bravery, all she gets is a brush off. We'll deal with this Monday, Fernando coldly responds. After all, his family is heading to Miami for the weekend of bemusement. Or at least that what he thinks. He and his kin will never get out the door.
THE MAIDS ARE IN REBELLION.
Using a pistol and a sword they've found on the premises, Paquita and Toña tie up their employers and insist on receiving $100,000 or else. The duo's not taken seriously until they chip Fernando's teeth with a billard ball, break a few of Gloria's Fabergé eggs, and restore the twins' noses to their original shapes with a hammer. Daniel joyfully looks on as if he were watching a cowboys and Indians TV show. This is all done very comically, but the painful truth is clearly seeping in.
After all, the richest 20 percent of Panamanians control 50% of the country's wealth. 48% percent of the country lives in poverty, and 9.8% percent cope with extreme poverty. Additionally, according to the Encyclopedia of the Nations, "regulations on the minimum wage, social security provisions, and working conditions are rarely enforced by the government which means that many workers are unable to earn even the minimum wage."
If economic servitude were not enough, Paquita points out that after working for the family for ten years, it doesn't know her last name or how many children she has or anything personal. But by the end of the feature, the González-Duboises will know a bit more, especially Gloria who has a bout of self-revelation: "My husband's a bum, and now also a fag. I'm in my forties . . . I have no money . . . I still depend on my parents . . . my daughters are sluts . . .and Daniel, my poor little Daniel . . . he's going to need an army of therapists to get all that shit out of his head."
This consistently entertaining film -- a thoughtful, intelligent demonstration that a political allegory can be extremely funny -- is currently being screened by the 18th Annual African Diaspora International Film Festival, which runs until December 14th. This superb cultural extravaganza has the goal of "accentuating diversity in its annual celebration of films about the human experience of people of color." And it succeeds.
The rest of the fest's attractions promise to be just as engaging while also supplying a savage bite. So if you care about the best in world cinema, without further ado, strut your stuff over to the NYADIFF for the next two remaining weeks. - Brandon Judell
Chance will be screened Dec. 5 @ 6:30 p.m. and Dec. 8 @ 6:20 at the Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, NYC.
Mr. Judell is featured in the forthcoming documentary Activist: The Times of Vito Russo and has been edited out of Rosa von Praunheim's New York Memories. In the fall, he'll be teaching "American Jewish Theater" and "Theater into Film" at The City College of New York. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi).