Critics as Stars

in 5th Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema

by Carlos Alberto Mattos

The Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival (Bafici) is somewhat of a paradise for film critics. It’s not only curated and directed by critics, but it also stresses the role of the critique in its selection, catalogue etc. The concept of “independent film”, so broad as to include films by Spike Lee, Alexander Sokurov or that eccentric filmmaker you’d never heard about him before, is more a statement than a tangible criteria: for Eduardo Antin and his fellow critics, independent films are all films with a strong, visible aesthetic or formal personality and which were not produced by any big studio or film company.

These characteristics – or qualities – are underlined in each written synopsis or oral introduction to a film in the festival. This doesn’t mean that you won’t find some disjointed scripts, awkward mises-en-scène or daring but frustrated experiments. This is not the point at the Bafici. Critics from different countries come to Buenos Aires not for the last stroke of perfection, but for a fresh look, a personal revelation, a glimpse into the possible future of cinema.

With an audience of more than 200.000 people (a growth of 35% over 2002), this is not a festival for critics only. Buenos Aires may be the spot where the utopia of a perfect harmony of tastes between critics and massive audience takes place.

On the pages of the daily paper published by the festival, some critics attending the event gave long and consistent interviews, as if they were stars – which, at the Bafici, in fact they are, as much as the filmmakers. Four critics were invited as curators of different sections of the festival this year. Simon Field presented “Great Britain: Eccentrics and Visionaires”. Adrian Martin brought to Buenos Aires “A Secret History of Australian Cinema (1970-2000)”. Bernard Bénoliel curated “The Speeds of Cinema”. Tony Rayns chose the titles in “New Queer Cinema from China”.

And of course there were the films made by critics. I was able to see three of them: “Lesbianas de Buenos Aires” (“Lesbians of Buenos Aires”), by Santiago Garcia, “Yo no sé que me han hecho tus ojos” (“I Wonder What Your Eyes Did to Me”), by Sergio Wolf (and Lorena Muñoz), and the short “The Tour”, by Deborah Young.

Sergio Garcia is a film professor and a critic in the Argentine magazine El Amante/Cine. He has made some shorts on the theme of lesbians before selecting half a dozen women for this frank and unaffected feature documentary. Their testimonials cover a wide range of subjects, as the urge for maternity, familiar acceptance and rejection, political militance, football and tortillas. The “tortas” (as they are called in the local slang) speak openly and warmly about their wishes, preferences, habits, occupations. One of them goes to the kitchen and shows the making of a special tortilla, proving that irony and fairplay have a lot to win over prejudices and fear.

Garcia makes its way to the very heart of his “characters”, creating rare moments of exhilaration and emotional confrontation. “Lesbianas de Buenos Aires” ends up being a courageous piece of disclosure in a society marked by the macho-culture and the rigid gender rules of tango. It would have been even better if the director had not emphasized so much the role of soccer as a way of social inclusion and emotional sublimation.. Monica, who gives the main testimonials and is a passionate fan of this sport, takes about one third of the documentary along to soccer fields and a stadium. That makes the film loose its balance and stress a current stereotype about the masculinization of lesbians. Some of the female spectators who attended the release of the film in the festival reacted with anger to this point.

Also risky was the choice of not bringing to the screen the world in which those women lead their daily lives and the persons they interact with. Hence results the impression that the lesbians of Buenos Aires live within a ghetto. Something Sergio Garcia was eager to prove the opposite.

“Yo no sé que me han hecho tus ojos”, awarded by the Fipresci jury as the best Latin American film in the whole festival, is also a documentary. But the universe of fiction is almost indistinguishable, since it deals with legendary stories from Argentinean music and cinema. Lorena Muñoz and Sergio Wolf managed to combine cinephilic passion and investigative skills in the search for the elusive tango singer Ada Falcón. A beautiful and gifted star in the 1930’s, Ada decided to break all ties with the mundane world, hand out her fortune to the poor and become a nun in 1942.

For six decades she has succeeded in being forgotten. Sergio Wolf says he’s been “possessed” by her story and made a film to share this possession with others. Born in Buenos Aires, Wolf has worked as a film critic in radio, has been a director of Film Magazine, is a teacher and the author/editor of some books on Argentinean cinema and relations film-literature. He stars “Yo no sé…” as a kind of private eye in the tradition of noir films (trenchcoat included), as he follows the route to a distant monastery where Ada still lived in the year of 2002. She would die a few months after she finnaly agreed to be filmed in front of a TV set, trying to recover small bits of memory of her golden years. In terms of Argentine culture, it is comparable to an encounter with Greta Garbo in her last days.

What makes this concise (64 minutes) and warmhearted documentary remarkable is not only the fact that it achieves all its goals: finding Ada Falcón and clarifying traces of the reasons why she changed her life so drastically, something related to her forbidden love affair with famous, powerful – and married “maestro” Francisco Canaro. The film title refers to a valse composed by Canaro and supposedly inspired by Ada’s deep green eyes.

The filmmakers understood the melodramatic quality of this true story and made large use of pieces from Argentinean fiction films to reconstruct Ada’s itinerary, as well as to evoke the atmosphere of the 30’s and 40’s. They did it with a great sense of mood and rhythm, plus a sound editing that wonderfully transports the viewer in time.

The notion of disparition is crucial for the people of Argentina, given the nostalgic appeal of their popular culture and, in recent decades, the call for the political “desaparecidos” during the military dictatorship. In one of the most haunting moments, the film identifies famous addresses of theatres, dancing halls and studios of Buenos Aires, where Ada Falcón had her glory days, now converted to lousy burger joints, discount stores, and the like.

When Ada finally reappears for what was destined to be just a brief goodbye, her face and voice devastated by time, it seems a miracle that could only belong to the realm of moving pictures.


Deborah Young’s “The Tour” is a short fiction film about the momentaneous inner journey of a tourist guide to a moment when her past and her imagination get indissolubly mixed. It was shot in Rome, Italy, and Istria, Croatia, but the two locations lie no further than some steps from each other in the editing. Eleonora (played by Italian actress Anna Galiena) just turns her back to the Roman Colosseum and is suddenly facing a Croatian beach. She meets her brother (Alessandro Averone), who she believed was dead, and follows him in a visit to an old village where they spent their childhood together. Time seems to folder in itself as the visit unfolds.

An American living in Italy, film reviewer and ex-chief of the Roman bureau of Variety, Young probably puts her own experiences of memory and displacement to the benefit of her film, which she also wrote. “The Tour” has the subtlety of casual remembrances and its clarity leaves intact the density of a mystery.