Selected Works From the Documentary and Short Film Sections

in 35th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema

by Dieter Wieczorek

A large part of Havana’s documentary programme was focused on the memory of Latin American revolutions and their socio-political context, with ongoing repression, corruption and humiliation as their background. But the main documentary award went instead to a purely existential work. Brazilian director Petra Costa’s ”Elena” is a reconstruction of quite personal moments of pain, doubt, and disillusionment from her early childhood up until now. It’s a reconstruction of overwhelming intensity, partly composed from the private family film archive, partly with documentary research and the questioning of her mother, and partly with a purely poetical floating audiovisual stream following the borderline between conscious and unconscious imagination. The dramatic composition of ”Elena” has at its centre the suicide of her older, and at the beginning of her life joyful, sister Elena, who after desiring to be an actress with a career in the United States slowly has fallen into a nihilistic and helpless incapacity to affirm any sense of life anymore. ”Elena” is the stage of an ongoing process of questing for art, creation, death and life. “I perform our death to find air, to be able to live,” says Petra Costa at the end. And, dancing with her sisters, she is finally able to perform in the street, at night, with a breath of relief.

As an innovative and at the same time socially well-researched work we can point to ”Gorgona, Stories on the Run” (La Gorgona, historias fugadas), which traces 25 years of a captive’s life struggles in an isolated prison on the island of Gorgona, strictly in the form of off-screen voices and comments, accompanied by associative animation, the detached observations of details like crawling insects or images of the still-remaining ruins of a today abandoned place. This experimental documentary by Colombian filmmaker Camilo Botero was equally honoured by the documentary jury.

Brazilian director Marcos Pimentel’s documentary ”Breath” (Sopro) displays the style typical of his short films of carrying out the detailed observation of bodies and situations with a mostly slow-moving or even static camera. In this way, he creates a nearly meditative perception of death and life in the countryside, far away from all entertainments of media culture. Resting on the face of an old woman, he for example captures an unwilling tear falling, which anticipates the soon-to-come death, but then opens onto children’s games or just animal activities. In a subtle way Pimentel offers an inside view of a past generation’s way of existence, and self-sufficient society. His taking time to observe allows the spectator to participate in a lifestyle far from his habits and behaviors.

In the short film section the surprising Mexican work ”Porcelain” (Porcelana) by Betzabé García goes straight to the taboo subject of the sexual feelings of young teenagers as an act of self-awareness, poetically contextualized in a panoramic view of nature images referring to the ongoing stream of living and dying.

As funny as it is subversive is the Brazilian short by Fáuston da Silvas ”My Friend Nietzsche” (Meu Amigo Nietzsche), which tells the story of a bored and quite bad scholar who finds by chance Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” in the trash and, fascinated by the work, confronts his teacher shortly after with some philosophical thoughts she has difficulty to follow. For security reasons the school administration and parents agree to throw the book away again.

In an intense, realistic style Cuban film ”Truck Driver” (Camionero) by Sebastián Miló follows a group of youngsters in an education camp, who with sadistic pleasure torture a shy and helpless classmate physically and mentally, pushing him toward suicide. Just one in the group stands up for the tortured student, and immediately becomes the new victim. But his reaction will be quite different, and an outbreak of uncontrolled violence will be the last step. Miló creates a brilliant and well-observed study of humiliation in close groups, where teachers preach just law and order without having any idea what is really going on behind the curtain.

A masterpiece of acting, and performing acting, is Eduardo Del Llano Rodríguez’s ”Casting”. The Cuban film observes the amazing intersection of reality and acting (as a fiction) during casting. The simple situation offered much entertainment. The film won an award in the short film category.

In the Latin American section a work more marked by US-European influences focused on the inner psychology of a traumatised man who has accompanied his wife to her painful cancer death over some years. The film was awarded by the Signis jury. The main actor Diego Peretti was awarded for his brilliant performance as a man living in apathetic distance, who only starts to come back to life and empathy after having been confronted again with death, this time of his last friend, and at the same time with the pain of his helpless widow and her two teenage girls. Reduced gestures and sparse dialogue create an attentive tension, inviting the spectator to participate in the inner destruction and the quite fragile possibilities of overcoming it. ”The Reconstuction” (La reconstrucción) by Argentinian director Juan Eteban Taratuto is an impressive document of sensitive psychological observation, able to create empathy for the hidden conflicts of a broken man.

Edited by Carmen Gray