[Lead image: Still from director Lorenzo Vigas’ “The Box” — Courtesy SFFilm]

The 65th Annual San Francisco Film Festival, back in theaters for the first time in three years, is showcasing films from across Central and South America in their Cine Latino competition

The films included in the competition are diverse in geography, scope and perspective, yet common themes emerge. Workplace conflict is palpable — and dangerous — in films like Lorenzo Vigas’s “The Box,” shot mostly in the Chihuahuan state of Mexico, and Mando Nieto’s third feature “The Employer and the Employee,” which takes place on an Uruguayan farm near the Brazilian border. 

Still from director Mando Nieto’s third feature film “The Employer and the Employee” — Courtesy SFFilm.

Despite the open landscapes, a sense of entrapment looms in “The Box,” whether literal (main character Hatzin stuck in a bus restroom; his father’s ashes trapped in a large metal container) or metaphorical (stuck in the past; trapped in a toxic work environment). Hatzin Navarette delivers a masterful performance as Hatzin, his inscrutable and brooding face providing a constant sense of doom. 

Luisa, the main character in Javier Andrade’s second feature film “Lo Invisible,” is confined instead by mental anguish. She suffers from an intense bout of postpartum depression, and despite the luxurious lifestyle she leads among the Ecuadorian uppercrust, she is unable to connect with anyone other than the nanny who took care of her as a girl (and still massages her feet). As her anguish builds, Luisa engages in destructive behaviors that threaten to push everyone away from her. The film speaks to the invisibility that women often endure as they age and become mothers. 

Still from director Javier Andrade’s second feature film “Lo Invisible” — Courtesy SFFilm.

When the world feels stifling and claustrophobic, there’s always the possibility of escape. Gabriel Martins’s charming film “Mars One” highlights the dreams of Deivinho, a young boy who fantasizes about colonizing Mars. Main character Daniel in Aly Muritiba’s film “Private Desert” flees his ailing policeman father by going on a road trip in search of a girl he knows only from a screen. Winner of the BNL People’s Choice Award at the Venice Film Festival, “Private Desert” interrogates the toxic trappings of masculinity. 

Still from director Gabriel Martin’s film “Mars One” — Courtesy SFFilm.
Still from director Aly Muritiba’s third feature film “Private Desert” — Courtesy SFFilm.

Yet the films in competition are filled with hope as well as despair. Catalina Razzini’s “Sun and Daughter” beautifully captures a young girl’s dream — and an absolutely adorable llama — as she scripts about a rendezvous with her father. 

Rounding out the competition is “The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future,” a film that defies categorization. Francisca Alegría’a first feature is an ecological tale with a supernatural component, as a matriarch — dead by suicide — emerges from a local river with poisoned fish to haunt her family. Alegría beautifully weaves in queer identity, maternal longing, and generational conflict into the narrative. The dairy in the film, inspired by the director’s experience on her grandparent’s farm, includes cows that are mesmerizing on screen. 

“I did nothing,” Alegría said after the screening at the Roxie Theater. “The cows are the most natural actors.” 

The winner of the competition highlighting Latin American films will be announced April 30 in a virtual award ceremony, and the winning film will have an encore screening at the Roxie Theater in the Mission on Sunday, May 1 at 4:30 pm.