Skateboarding lovers turned black-market blood peddlers. Sisters becoming rivals on a high-heeled path to beauty-queen stardom. Jungle-dwellers lured by megaphone into the light…

Launching next week, the 2016 edition of the inaugural Cine Latino Film Festival looks to plunge audiences into a silver-screen joyride of love, music, comedy, dance and tragedy, all delivered with a typically dark streak of Latin-American humour.

This year’s program is marked by versatility and boasts some of the best new films coming out of Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Colombia and Guatemala.

Here are six must-sees.

3 Beauties (Venezuela)
Venezuela is the reigning home of beauty queens, having delivered a whopping seven Miss Universes and six Miss Worlds. But behind the Vaseline-pearled smiles and stage lights there’s a sinister side to the pageantry circuit. It’s this darkness that journalist Carlos Caridad Montero looks to capture in his feature-film debut, telling the story of Perla, a former beauty queen turned “momager” from hell. On a quest to turn her two young daughters into the ultimate glamour girls, she places the sisters on a rigorous routine of dieting, cat-walking and costume parading. The result is a dark satire on the excesses of the Venezuelan beauty industry.

The Womb (Peru)
Peruvian cinema is largely defined by social and political drama, but The Womb proved a game changer, becoming one of the country’s biggest box-office successes upon its domestic release in 2014. Set in Lima, it’s a horror story about a mansion-dwelling widow who masterminds her young female servant – or “incubator” – to fall pregnant to the property’s handy-man. Possession of the baby then turns into a bloody power struggle between the two women. The film has been praised for its editing and score, with Daniel Rodriguez nominated for a Best New Director award at the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Sex Life of Plants (Chile)
Barbara is a thirty-something career woman who wants to bear children with the love of her life, Guille. One day, during a hike, Guille suffers a head trauma, resulting in a brain injury that changes his personality. Sex Life of Plants asks the question: what happens to love when passion and memory begins to dissolve? Sebastián Brahm earned a special mention in the New Directors Award at last year’s San Sebastian Film Festival. During filming, he provided actress Francisca Lewin (Barbara) with only sections of the script to coax out a performance that felt candid and genuine.

Neruda (Chile)
Mexican star Gael García Bernal reunites with multi-award-winning director Pablo Larraín (the two worked together previously on the 2012 feature No) for this reimagining of the life of Nobel Prize-winning Chilean, Pablo Neruda. Bernal plays a dedicated but fascist police officer who goes in search of Neruda (Luis Gnecco) after the poet goes into political exile in 1948. This “constructed biopic” is the sixth film from Larraín and continues the director’s tendency to cast characters as unlikely heroes in stories that smudge truth with fantasy.

Solos (Peru)
Armed with a megaphone and a pop-up screen, four wannabe filmmakers trek through the Peruvian jungle, inviting villagers to attend impromptu film screenings. Along the way the way they talk to locals about their experiences watching films and attempt to come to terms with their own various personal crises. Interestingly, you don’t get to see the film the quartet is peddling. Instead, Solos is a movie about a movie, with cinematography from the acclaimed Inti Briones (The Loneliest Planet, The Summer of Flying Fish), a mostly improvised script and a supporting cast largely made up of real people.

Happy Times (Mexico)
This anti-romantic comedy follows mild-natured cartoonist, Max, who enlists a specialist agency to help him get rid of an overbearing girlfriend after his failed attempts to break things off with her. Of course, it’s only after signing the contract that Max realises there’s no perfect solution for break-ups. For his debut feature film Mexican director Luis Javier M. Henaine drew from a background in TV commercials and music videos to create a film lush with music and pop-cultural throwbacks. The result has won a slew of awards internationally.

The Cine Latino Film Festival dates are:

Sydney
August 9 to 24

Adelaide
August 11 to 24

Brisbane
August 12 to 24

Melbourne
August 17 to 31

cinelatinofilmfestival.com.au

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