Argentine Cinema in Mar del Plata

in 19th Mar del Plata International Film Festival

by Dennis West

At this year’s Mar del Plata International Film Festival, Argentine cinema frequently occupied center stage. The President of Argentina, Nestor Kirchner, visited the festival and attracted considerable attention when he announced measures intended to strengthen the nation’s film industry. Kirchner referred to the unequal competition of Argentine and Hollywood movies in the commercial marketplace as a struggle between David and Goliath. The President also awarded Argentine director Fernando Ezequiel “Pino” Solanas a prize in recognition of his distinguished career in the cinema. In addition, the festival organized a major tribute honoring Argentine cineaste Fernando Birri, the great pioneer of the Latin American Nuevo Cine Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Both Birri and Solanas attended the festival and accepted their awards in person. Argentine director Hector Olivera was also in attendance, and his classic historical feature “La Patagonia rebelde” (1974) was screened in honor of its 30th anniversary. This controversial film, which captured the Silver Bear in Berlin in 1974, is a realistic recounting of a strike of rural workers in Argentina’s remote southern region of Patagonia in the early 1920s. “La patagonia rebelde” was controversial in its day for clearly showing how the Argentine military brutally repressed the strike and executed the labor leaders.

Solanas’ two hour documentary film, “Memoria del saqueo”, had its premiere during the festival; and then it opened commercially in Argentine cinemas a few days later. Solanas directed the film, and also served as screenwriter, producer, narrator, co-editor, and co-cinematographer. Because of its political, ideological, and didactic nature, the film was very controversial. With “Memoria del saqueo”, Solanas continues his examination of the Argentine socioeconomic and political scene that he initiated in his now classic documentary “La hora de los hornos” (1966-1968). “Memoria del saqueo”, a film-essay, examines the last three decades of Argentine history and raises key socioeconomic questions, such as the role of international banks, the privatization of the public sector, and the status of social services. Solanas strives to suggest that Argentina has been profoundly sacked by powerful international economic interests. “Memoria del saqueo” does not share the brilliant stylistic experimentation that characterized “La hora de los hornos”; but, like its predecessor, it presents its politics in a provocative manner designed to stimulate discussion and debate. The documentary should prove particularly interesting to Argentines since Solanas is not only a distinguished filmmaker, he is also a well known political figure who, in the 1990s, was severly wounded by machine-gun fire in an apparent assassination attempt.

Another provocative Argentine documentary feature shown was director Mariana Arruti’s exposé “Trelew”, which documents the well known case of an attempted jail break by political prisoners in 1972 from a remote prison in the south of the country. Arruti’s documentary approach is conventional, but the feature will stand on its own as a historical document recording a massacre of political prisoners by Argentine security forces, which, to date and according to the director, has not been sufficiently investigated. The documentary ends with titles claiming that no Argentine military or political authorities have ever been charged with a crime in this notorious case.

Argentine fiction features appeared in various programs in the festival; two competed in the Official Selection. The most important of the competing fiction features was “Buena Vida Delivery”, directed and co-scripted by Leonardo di Cesare. This bittersweet, off-beat, and somewhat dark comedy captured the Official Jury’s Astor de Oro, the top prize for the best feature. The film is stylistically conventional, but it is very interesting for its themes: housing problems, and the need to work and the desire to work in an Argentina that is suffering economically – today’s Argentina. A strength of the film is that the characters are not black-and-white creations – most show emotional and psychological subtlety. This “domestic comedy” has a realist tone that threatens to turn into the grotesque or absurd at times as a young man’s modest home is turned against his will and before his very eyes into a “churro” (a type of pastry) factory by determined and hard-working squatters he barely knows. The film suggests that laughter can be good medicine in an economic crisis-even if it is nervous laughter.