The Argentinean 'Boom'

in 19th Guadalajara International Film Festival

by Isaac León Frías

At the Mar de la Plata Festival in 1997, an Argentinean film caught those of us which were part of the FIPRESCI jury by surprise. It was “Pizza, Beer and Cigarettes” (Pizza, birra y faso), a first time co-direction by Adrián Caetano and Bruno Stagnaro. This was a film about a group of youngsters living on the edge in the huge city of Buenos Aires, narrated in a dry and direct style that values the spontaneity of oral language and paints a landscape of emptiness and desolation without sentimental concessions.

From that starting point, several other films, directed mostly by young film school graduates, have consolidated a new generation in their country’s cinema and formed a sort of ‘New Wave’ or ‘boom’, which is specially relevant in the region’s current environment.

The new Argentinean filmmakers work mostly on very tight budgets, opting for a ‘minimalist’ style and casting a different gaze upon Argentinean reality, which has lived its worst crisis in its recent years of republican history.

Many of these young filmmakers have overcome the limitation of their first feature, hurdle that many others cannot overcome. This makes up a list of names that, despite the brevity of their works involved, are, at present, amongst the most important ones in Latin America: two of them are the before mentioned Adrián Caetano and Pablo Trapero; the latter gave us “Crane World” (Mundo Grúa), a film which is fundamental to this new cinema. Filmmaker Lucrecia Martel directed “The Swamp” (La ciénaga), and with this, she gave us a film destined to remain with us, due to the talent she shows.

The XIX Muestra de Cine Mexicano e Iberoamericano de Guadalajara has offered a good prove of the fine creative moment Argentinean cinema is living today. From the films seen, the most outstanding ones are “Lost Embrace” (El abrazo partido) by Daniel Burman, a keen approximation to an Argentinean family of Polish Jewish descent, within the framework of a shopping mall in Buenos Aires, and “Strange” (Extraño), a first time direction by Santiago Loza, the portrait of a character locked in an almost complete silence, who nevertheless holds on without enthusiasm to a possibility of survival.

Both films propose rigorous and personal visions, which contribute to the gamut of aesthetic projects which are an evident characteristic of Argentinean cinema; the former in a warm, cheerful tone, the latter in a disenchanted and cold registry.

Two other less valuable fiction films, but still estimable on this line of new cinema seen in Guadalajara are “The Magic Gloves” (Los guantes mágicos) by Martin Rejtman and “Southern Cross” (La cruz del sur) by Pablo Reyero. The irony found on the first one seems to oppose the bleakness of the second one, but both bear witness to a situation of national crisis, which in the case of “The Magic Gloves” is expressed as the imperious need of work in order to carry on an existence that become precarious, while in “Southern Cross” is expressed as a delinquent life which is frustrated in the end. While “The Magic Gloves” is a film set in an urban context (just like “Lost Embrace” and “Strange”), “Southern Cross” takes place in the winter scenery of the Argentinean North Atlantic coast.

Besides these fiction films, there were others which are located on that uncertain zone which borders between documentary and fiction. One of them is “The Blonds” (Los rubios) by Albertina Carri, on which the filmmaker uses an actress as her avatar to investigate the memory of her parents and the final days of their hazardous existence, cut short by the brutal military repression, during the 1976-1983 period. The other film is “I Don’t Know What Your Eyes Have Done to Me” (Yo no sé qué me han hecho tus ojos) by Sergio Wolf and Lorena Muñoz, a sort of journalistic thriller which investigates the life of Ada Falcón, a popular Tango singer who suddenly abandons her artistic career during the early Forties. Both films escape traditional documentary journalistic rules, and present themselves as clear attempts to relativise the genre’s supposed ‘objectiveness’, which makes it one of the most fruitful roads taken by films in several parts of the world.

Argentinean films seen in Guadalajara confirm the contributions presented by a new generation which not only presents varied views of a current Argentinean reality, but also which contribute to the reflection on the creative possibilities of film art. The fact that it’s done from a peripheral country is in itself exceptional.