Sturm und Drang and Its Contemporary Beyonds

in 26th Rencontres Cinémas d'Amérique Latine, Toulouse

by Andreas Günther

For March, it was pretty cold in Toulouse. When the festival Cinélatino, 26es Rencontres de Toulouse began, it was rainy, too; at the end, it became stormy. The wind whistled in the streets, picked up paper and even sent some tiles down. The tent of the ‘cantina’ of the festival in the Rue du Périgord had to be closed one day for security reasons. But eating outside didn’t bother much the culinary delights and cinematic discussions this meeting point offered to jury members and journalists, filmmakers and staff. At the center of attention was – for the most part — rather stormy filmmaking. Inevitably, it brought to the mind of this German member of the FIPRESCI-Jury the conception of ‘Sturm und Drang’.

Coined in the second third of the 18th century upon the title of a then-famous play, the term can be translated as ‘Storm and Stress’ and means a short-lived but still influential artistical movement led by Goethe and other then-young German writers who celebrated the flame of revolution, the power of life and nature, the singular human, dramatic emotions on the edge of dispair (take “The Sorrows of Young Werther”) and the cult of genius. Originally attached to a literary epoch, it has become in film studies the synonym of an iconoclastic approach to the medium as Peter Biskind´s book “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” on New Hollywood shows on almost every page.

The tendency of Sturm und Drang proved to be evident in Toulouse this year. One reason is that, by comparison with former years, the festival seems to becoming younger and younger. The feature films in the fiction section the FIPRESCI-jury had to consider were without exeption first ones in the field. The average age of the filmmakers was far less than 33. Flying at high risk: the title of the Chilian Cut down Kite (Volantín cortao) by Diego Alonso Ayala Riquelme and Aníbal Jofré Del Campo, about a young woman breaking out of a bourgeoise family and life to join a petty thief, might be difficult to translate but expresses quite well the daring attitude of most of the contributions.

The subjects: world-wariness with suicidal denotations or connotations (the destroyed rural life of The Quispe Girls (Las niñas Quispe) in a so beautiful landscape by Sebastián Sepúlveda, the desperate search for a raison’d être in Saudade by Juan Carlos Donoso Gómez), the fear of History of Fear (Historia del Miedo) by Benjamín Naishtat and the exploration of violence in The Wolf at the Door (O lobo àtras da porta) by Fernando Coimbra); but also the joyful excesses of youth (the band We are Mari Pepa (Somos mari pepa) by Samuel Kishi Leopo singing “I want to ejaculate on your face/because I love you/Natasha! Natasha! Natasha!…”) and the search for love and sexual identity (Atlántida by Inés María Barrionueva). The means: Camera in the neck sharing the protagonists’ energy, blurred images to subjectify confused minds, airy handheld filming, media-mix, trance-like collage, contemplative landscape-pictures, moody slow-motion…

Youth and inexperience bring fresh visuals to the screen. Notwithstanding differences in quality, every film had touching and captivating moments. But the main danger for the debutants seemed to be in getting lost in the conception of their films, becoming self-centered. This is the spring bed of loss of logic in story building, of unbearable pretentiousness, of fetishizing camera motives and movements, of experimenting with the elements of genre a little too long to find a convincing ending. The desire to express oneself, may it be one’s suffering or one’s joy, clearly dominated the pictures.

It is quite symptomatic that the gamecock in All about the Feathers (Por las plumas) by Neto Villalobos had less to fight than to symbolize… the process of filmmaking itself. For the cock’s escapes and the difficulties to recapture him seem to be an allegory of making movies in Costa Rica and presenting them to a public that appreciates them. In consequence, at the end of the movie it is the public that takes the perspective of the roaster. Perhaps the documtenary Ça tourne à Villepaz by María Isabel Ospina (also shown in Toulouse) might serve as a mirror to young filmmakers. It deals with the subject of a mason in a small village in Colombia who writes and directs movies with his fellow citizens just for the joy of pleasure, making films fort the sake of making films. But sometimes art needs more. Despite the overwhelming vitality of the Mexican We are Mari Pepa and the seriousness of the Argentinian Atlántida, instinctively one looked also for something more stable, more mature, something beyond the expenditure of Sturm und Drang… and found Casa Grande by Fellipe Barbosa.

This Brazilian comédie de mœurs is so well-composed that you are already deep in it before you know it. While the opening credits appear and eclipse, a middle-aged man is shown enjoying his pool and other amenities of his villa until deep into the night. We get to know that he is sleepless because he is nearly bankrupt. The whole family is endangered by a deep social fall while the pubescent son enters his éducation sentimentale wavering between two girls who both don’t belong to his own social class. The people in Casa Grande are neither really sympathetic nor beautiful, they all lie and have their secrets. The superficiality and opportunism of their behavior is always shown but with a tender look to it.

Writer-director Barbosa cites the Brazilian télénovella as well as the more mimetic part of the nouvelle vague and is original at the same time. The disciplined and nevertheless allusive cinematography, the careful and clever writing, the multi-layered characterisations and the controlled direction paid off very well. Fellipe Barbosa received the the prize of the French critics, La découverte française, as well as the FIPRESCI award, being obviously emotionally very touched, and, on top, the award of the public, which made him make a joyful leap. In conversation, the sensitive and thoughtful three-times winner who knows his Chekhov and easily detects A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, USA, Dir. Elia Kazan) in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine doesn’t forget to point out other young Brazilian directors, in particular his fellow colleague Kleber Mendonça Filho whose drama Neighboring Sounds (O som ao redor) opened in France to high acclaim from the renowned publication “Cahiers du cinéma” and was a major event of the festival as well and bears similarities with Casa Grande. So, we ultimately discover there is young Latin American cinéma beyond Sturm und Drang, too.

Edited by Steven Yates