Latin American Mosaics

in 51st San Sebastian International Film Festival

by Isaac León Frías

Latin American presence in the official section of the 51st version of the San Sebastian International Film Festival could have been more representative of current times in which Argentinean cinematography is going through a very creative moment, undoubtedly the most aesthetically productive in the entire region at the beginning of the 21st Century. There was no Argentinean film present in the official section, but there were in other parallel selections. Two noteworthy movies were Cecilia Murga’s Ana y los otros (Ana and the others) and Santiago Loza’s Extraño (Foreigner), both of them very intimate first works, made with little resources, and that speak of a young cinema that keeps its distance from the orthodox methods of traditional screenwriting.

Nevertheless, there was one French production in the official section directed by an Argentinean filmmaker, Edgardo Cozarinski, with several references to his native country, but lacking the consistency needed to expressively arouse the topics of memory and guilt: Dans le rouge du couchant (Red Dusk).

Latin American titles in the official section were Fernando Pérez’s Suite Habana (Suite Havana), from Cuba, Francisco Lombardi’s Ojos que no ven (What the Eye Doesn’t See), from Peru, and Vicente Amorim’s O caminho das nuvens (The Middle of the World) from Brazil. The latter is the weakest among the three; a sort of road-movie of underdevelopment in which a needy family travels from the North of Brazil to Rio de Janeiro. What the other two have in common is that they both aim at reflecting the historical moment of these recent years. However, their narrative proceedings are different. Suite Havana takes real characters and a documentary base and dramatizes very little over that, whereas What the Eye Doesn’t See is a fiction that recalls recent events in Peruvian politics, and is complemented by documentary images.

Suite Havana records everyday life fragments of ten people of different ages, and creates a kaleidoscope of the city’s daily life. Words are mostly absent; it’s the gestures and the behavior that transmit the disenchanted atmosphere –which Fernando Pérez had already shown in Madagascar-, as well as the music that establishes a valuable audiovisual counterpoint.

What the Eye Doesn’t See weaves together six stories involving characters implied one way or another with the network of political and moral corruption experienced during Alberto Fujimori’s government, which was revealed through the videos of Vladimiro Montesinos, the sinister chief of intelligence. The film approaches the moment of political and spiritual disaster through characters that represent the decaying atmosphere, and the fact that the action is mainly set main in a hospital is quite significant. An X-ray of a sick country, What the Eye Doesn’t See continues the testimonial work of the Peruvian director, whose filmography includes La Ciudad y los Perros, La Boca del Lobo and Tinta Roja, all renowned in their country.

Both Suite Havana and What the Eye Doesn’t See can be seen as true mosaics of societies in crisis: the lack of aspiration and illusion in the former, and the moral disgust in the latter. They both resort to narrative methods that, although not new at all in film history, are nevertheless relatively unusual in the context of their cinematographies, which in this way are trying to overcome the rather linear narrative frameworks that have characterized most of the region’s production.