The Enticing Recovery of Memory

in 5th Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema

by Pablo Suárez

The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema (BAFICI) contained “Lo nuevo de lo nuevo”, a thought-provoking and much-needed competitive section devoted to the works of the newest auteurs of the so-called Nuevo Cine Argentino. As was to be expected, some new talents that stand out from the crowd have already surfaced in this fifth edition of the booming BAFICI.

As a remarkable example, take the opera prima “Yo no sé qué me han hecho tus ojos” by the journalist, professor, screenwriter and film critic Sergio Wolf who has now turned to film direction (he co-directed the film with Lorena Muñoz). It’s a brilliant, most touching and utterly inspired documentary on the late tango singer Ada Falcón (one of the great Argentine divas of the 1920s and 1930s) and the resonance of her turbulent romance with the renowned orchestra director Francisco Canaro.

In its first half, the film reveals many of the traits of the film noir. Wolf himself acts as a journalist/detective obsessed with finding what Ada Falcón was really like and what had become of her. Once she was a star, she turned into a myth – who has now fallen into oblivion. Hence, as a modern Philip Marlowe, Wolf and his overcoat walk steadily along the grayish streets of Buenos Aires in order to find those who can give evidence of and information on the so-called empress of tango. Thus, he becomes the first-person narrator of an investigation in which pieces aplenty are missing. Was Ada the one who ended her torrid affair with Canaro? Was it the other way around? Why did she retire to a convent in the province of Córdoba?

During the film’s second half, and thanks to a smooth transition, “Yo no sé qué me han hecho tus ojos” is no longer structured as a thriller, but as an intimate, heartfelt and inquisitive character study where the audience is not a mere witness but rather an active part in the portrayal of so engaging a scenario. The most fascinating trait is that the character under scrutiny belongs to a mythical terrain rather than to one ruled by what we call reality. No wonder that the thin line between the person and the myth is deliberately blurred, time and again, to marvelous effect.

But what makes this a unique piece of cinematic mastery is that it clearly transcends its subject matter, for Wolf is after filming the things gone by, the remembrance of things past, from his very personal viewpoint: that of a fervent cinephile, but also that of a rigorous scholar, a nostalgic tango fan, a melancholy lover of a past golden era brought into the present by a clever use of the elements of the language of cinema.

It’s deeply satisfying to see that the result is wondrously engaging, sophisticated in its seeming simplicity, and touching, which makes “Yo no sé qué me han hecho tus ojos” arguably the best Argentine film featured at this year’s BAFICI.