Strength and Variety of Styles of Argentine Cinema in the International Competition of BAFICI

in 17th Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema

by Paulo Pecora

It is not news, nor any great surprise. The quality of current Argentine cinema is high, as was shown in the International Competition at the 2015 BAFICI, where the two native films chosen showed strength and style. Although used to different ends, the long take was, in both cases, the primary tool for making the stories feel authentic, blurring the line between fiction and documentary. 

The winner of the festival’s award for Best Actress, Verónica Llinás, starred in and co-directed La mujer de los perros (Dog Lady) together with Laura Citarella, It’s the story of a rough, silent woman who chooses to live in the countryside, far from society, with her sole company being a pack of stray dogs.  The film follows her isolation and shows how she manages to survive without money or food, stealing here and there, hunting pigeons and rodents, confronting – along with her dogs – the cold, the rain, and the storms.  Shot over three years, Dog Lady is a worthy example of the stripped-down, low-budget Argentine cinema made outside of the system. Great creative freedom and a contemplative tone combine for a solid, credible story.

From a different Argentine perspective, there’s El incendio (The Fire), the claustrophobic debut of Juan Schnitman, a film with a large budget and high-level production values. It stars Pilar Gamboa and Juan Barberini as a couple in the process of separation, and it follows the unbearable tensions during a 24-hour period of their tension-filled lives.

El incendio had a physical violence that is real and tangible, a hostility between the feuding couple which boils over on the surface. Schnitman’s film explores emotions which are raw and real, and which are reflected in the faces, the desperate actions, awkward silences, and distressing eyes of its protagonists.

What causes the tension, instability and paranoia of the main characters? Money. Their need to stash the dollars they withdrew from the bank after a failed attempt to buy a house. Their deep mistrust over finances. El incendio reveals their confrontation with their inner fears, and how they can’t help but hurt each other. There is a constant tension between the couple trying to hold on to the remains of their love and the escalating violence tearing them apart.

It is no coincidence that the director of photography of both films is the same person: Soledad Rodriguez. Her presence is seen in the agile camerawork during the long takes and tracking sequences, in the perfection of the choreography and the precision of framing. But it’s also in the color palettes and the tone used to reflect the profound emotional states of the characters in both films:  two great examples of a very good moment happening in Argentine cinema.

Edited by Gerald M. Peary