"Intimacies of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo": The New Latin American Documentary By Isaac Léon Frias

in 10th Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema

by Isaac León Frías

It is necessary to emphasize, first, the increasing importance that the documentary is attaining in the Latin American region, after its relative obscurity in the 1960s and 1970s. But in this new age, the documentary form has grown diverse; the proof of it is Yulene Olaizola’s Intimacies of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo (Intimidades de Shakespeare y Victor Hugo), and Luis Ospina’s Colombian documentary Paper Tiger (Tigre de Papel), and João Moreira Salles’ Brazilian Santiago. These films play with the notion of “reality” and the authenticity demanded by the documentary genre. Indeed, Paper Tiger is a false documentary and no less sharp or perspicacious in its vision of Colombia’s recent history.

Both Santiago and Intimacies of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo focus on figures whose testimonies stretch the limits of documentary realism, suggesting that artful fiction may be a way to reach a greater truth. Intimacies of Shakespeare and Víctor Hugo takes this argument further, neither affirming nor disproving the story of the peculiar guest, related by the director’s grandmother, who supposedly stayed at her house located on the corner of two streets, Shakespeare and Víctor Hugo.

By telling a story involving an absent personage who may be either real or invented, Olaizola introduces a dimension of intrigue, which surely explains how a documentary could prevail over all of the dramatic features in the festival’s official section.

That a documentary feature could find such high regard with the Buenos Aires filmgoing public might be an indicator (though a relative one, certainly) of the possibility of greater access for a genre relegated, most of the time, to television journalism or specialty venues. Perhaps it also tells us that audiences are willing to redefine their understanding of “fiction” and “non-fiction”, at least as it relates to the cinema.