One Discovery After Another

in 31st Mar del Plata International Film Festival

by André Roy

Mar de Plata is one of the most important festivals in the world, on par with Toronto. While it has always served as a launching pad for South American films, the event is more than that. For its organizers, the festival is not just about showing films: it is a time to reflect on filmmaking itself. Hence, there were many activities following the screenings of the festival’s 400 international films: round-table discussions, seminars, master classes, and book presentations.

The festival’s sections included the International Competition and National Competition, as well as categories such as South American Short Films, New Directors, and Homage to Argentine Personalities. It is an extremely varied array of films, ranging from restored classics to horror movies. The aim is to bring together an informed filmgoing public (it is said that Argentina, like France, has one of the most cinema-literate audiences in the world).

In the past, the festival experienced turbulence which nearly jeopardized its existence. It is now recovering after two years under military rule, where it was neglected and forced to changing its timing from March to November. 2016 seems like a complete recovery for the festival, and for any film critic, it is the place for fantastic discoveries. Many of these are in Argentinian cinema, one of the most dynamic in the Spanish-speaking world, even though economic crisis and military rule have hampered it in the past. Production plummeted from 50 films per year in the 70s to 30 films in the 90s. Financing is largely dependent on different state policies; production has improved significantly in the last decade, thanks to quotas and to the assistance of Institucion Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales (INCAA). Today, production stands at about 80 films per year.

The FIPRESCI jury assessed 18 Argentinian films. Some were a sheer delight, such as the prizewinner, Balloons (Los globos), the debut of Mariano Gonzales, a well-known Argentinian actor. Imbued with subtle emotions – it is far from melodramatic – it tells the story of a father who finds his runaway son, the child he once abandoned. The same theme runs through The Silence (El silencio), a minimalist and intuitive film. The judges were astonished by Sleeping Tiger (La siesta del tigre), a documentary in which director Maximiliano Schonfeld stands, as he holds the camera, as the fourth archeologist in his film, searching for the fossil of a saber-toothed tiger, an adventure which resembles the quest for the Holy Grail. Federico Gidfrid’s second film, Pinamar, a luminous, slow and affecting picture tinged with melancholy, rests entirely on Gidfrid’s command of cinematic language as he depicts two uncertain brothers grappling with the death of their mother. Other noteworthy films for the jury included Nela Wohlatz’s The Future Perfect (El future perfecto), Jose Celestino Campusano’s Nuhuen Puyelli’s Sacrifice (El sacrificio de Nehuen Puyelli), Tomaz De Leone’s El aprendiz, and Lukas Valenta Rinner’s A Decent Woman (Los decentes).

Another surprising discovery was the retrospective of the French director Pierre Léon and his Japanese counterpart, Masao Adachi. Eccentricity mixed with charm and a continuous flow of poetry is the hallmark of Pierre Léon’s work. Born in Moscow in 1959, Léon is also a critic, musician and actor. Nine out of his thirteen works were screened at Mar del Plata. It was a delight to see, for instance, Li Per Li (1994), Guillaume et les sortilèges (2007), the Dostoyevsky adaptation L’idiot (1999), and Biette (2013), a documentary on the critic and director Jean-Claude Biette. The world Léon creates is an austere and thrilling combination of all kinds of moving experiences.

Despite the fact that we couldn’t see all of his works, we were really impressed by Masao Adachi’s films. Born in 1939, he is a director, scriptwriter and actor (he appeared in Nagisa Oshima’s Koshekeide), but he is also known as a theorist and activist who played a role in the renewal of Japanese cinema in the 60s. The left-leaning Adachi was jailed for taking in part in the activities of the Japanese Red Army, and his films were often banned. He explored many genres and modes of expression, from surrealism to conceptual art. Meteoric matter: Bowl (19961), Close Vagina (1963), Galaxy (1967), A.K.A. Serial Killer (1969), Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War (1971), Sex Game (1968), Sex Zone (1970) and The Prisoner (2007) – each of these works express a facet of guerilla-style cinema, the strain of activism which calls for a revolution of the senses and a fight on all frontlines of politics.

Edited by Lesley Chow