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5 films to watch at Lincoln Center's 'Neighboring Scenes' series

The venue's new series on Latin American cinema starts on Jan. 7.

“Neighboring Scenes: New Latin American Cinema," a film series co-presented with Cinema Tropical, unspools at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, January 7-10. The mini-festival, which presents a dozen shorts and features, includes sneak previews of two extremely worthwhile Oscar submissions, “Ixcanul” and “The Club,” from Guatemala and Chile, respectively. Here are some other highlights:

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‘Aspirantes/Hopefuls’
Four Globes
Soccer is key to Latin American life, and for Junior (Aricienes Barroso), the protagonist of Brazilian writer/director Ives Rosenfeld’s lowkey but affecting character study, Hopefuls, soccer may be his entree to a better life. This engrossing drama has the anxious Junior grappling with a pregnant girlfriend (Julia Bernat), a bad home situation, a menial job, and a best friend, Bento (Sergio Malheiros), who is his rival on the field. This is a powerful story about machismo and dreams, and the scenes on the soccer pitch are pure poetry. Jan. 10, 7:00 p.m.

‘Bleak Street’
Four Globes
This fantastic true crime melodrama, filmed in lurid black-and-white, depicts the hardscrabble lives of aging prostitutes Adela (Nora Velazquez) and Dora (Patricia Reyes Spindola). As the ladies suffer professional and personal indignities, they scheme to drug and rob always-masked twin dwarf lucha wrestlers known as Death and AK-47 (Juan Francisco Longoria and Guillermo Lopez). Alas, their plans go awry. Director Arturo Ripstein deftly captures the sad humanity and tangible despair of these tough and tender fringe characters in this cynical, compelling film. Jan. 10, 3:00 p.m.

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‘The Gold Bug, or Victoria’s Revenge’
Four Globes

Comic reversals of fortune abound in this madcap film about Rafael (Rafael Spregelburd), an actor who finds an old treasure map. He soon hijacks a Swedish-Argentine film about a 19th century feminist into a documentary about a male radical from Northern Argentina so he can hunt for the gold. Before long, it’s men vs. women, and Argentines against Europeans. If some of the literary, film, and political references are obscure, the fun voiceover narratives and cinematic gimmicks — along with the surprise ending — make “The Gold Bug” highly satisfying. Jan. 7, 9:00 p.m.

‘Mar’
Three Globes
This minimalist Chilean drama chronicles the experiences of a couple, Martin (Lisandro Rodriguez) and Eli (Vanina Montes), during a seaside vacation. One long, awkward silence is broken when Eli admits, “I don’t want to be here.” But as they go to the beach (where he gets sunstroke), socialize with friends, and deal with his mother (Andrea Strenitz) who arrives and causes trouble, “Mar” becomes a palpably tense film about restless people searching for calm and happiness. Jan. 9, 6:30 p.m.

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‘A Monster with a Thousand Heads’
Five Globes

The title sounds like a horror film, and the gripping Mexican film, “A Monster with a Thousand Heads” is — kind of. Sonia’s dying husband has a medical emergency. While he is entitled to treatment, the insurance company has rejected their application, prompting the armed Sonia to track down those responsible. Her plan may spiral out of control, but Rodrigo Pla directs this nifty little thriller with shrewd control. He interjects courtroom testimony voiceovers and shoots scenes through glass to mirror the multiple layers of red tape Sonia cuts through over the course of this short, sharp film. Jan. 9, 8:30 p.m.

"Neighoring Scenes: New Latin American Cinema" runs at Film Society Lincoln Center from Jan. 7 through the 10th. Visit the site for more information.

Follow Gary M. Kramer on Twitter @garymkramer
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