The New (A)political Allegory

in 31st International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana

by Dean Luis Reyes

In the last decade Latin-American cinema has been full of movies where people wander, narrative stead, and there’s very little physical action, almost no dramatic development. This post-epic, post-documentary trend seems to be in discussion with an old cinema obsessed with social change, transformation and class/ideological clashes. Moreover, these movies used to have young people as key dramatic characters.

Hiroshima (2009) is a radical overturning of this trend. Uruguayan director Pablo Stoll’s first solo feature shows a generational synchrony with Latin-American cinematic counterparts. Most of his previous films were directed with the late Juan Pablo Rebella. Both of them produced critically acclaimed films, 25 Watts (2001) and Whisky (2004), wherein a fresh generation of Uruguayan new wave filmmakers made their debut.

Loosely inspired by the novel La Ciudad, by Mario Levrevo, Hiroshima displays the talents of an emerging group of filmmakers working in Uruguay today. A number of these artists have cameos in Stoll’s film: Adrián Biniez (Gigante, 2008); Federico Veiroj (Acné, 2007); and Manuel Nieto Zas (La perrera, 2005). All of them gained early experiences in cinema working on Stoll and Rebella’s initial two features. Hiroshima is dedicated to Rebella himself.

According to Stoll, “life is not inherently dramatic”, but his main character’s life is even more boring than that. Hiroshima’s presented as a “silent musical”, where the director’s camera follows his real life brother, Juan, as he goes about his daily routine in Montevideo. As the lead singer of a band, Juan lacks the ability to communicate his feelings verbally. Instead, he relates to the world through his music. His answers are almost exclusively the phrase “más bien”. The natural sounds around him and the songs he listens to on his iPod take on a fundamental role in the film, and, as in silent movies, characters mouth their lines before intertitles provide translation.

With the creation of a film with silent dialogue, Stoll fosters an affecting depiction of a protagonist cut off from the world around him and those close to him. The only time words are heard is when Juan watches old home movies that he found while cleaning out his closet. Unsettlingly, we are only able to hear the voices from his past and from his childhood. Similarly disconcerting is when he goes to the street market and sells a projector along with all of his family films. When the buyer asks if they are his, Juan claims to have found them and to have no idea to whom they belong. Hiroshima touches on these themes of disappearance and disengagement with great exterity.

Hiroshima is a very intimate film. It’s fly-on-the-wall style and let-it-be kind of gaze suggests a documentary approach, but its dramatic arc is clear. Stoll said that the original idea rose from a conversation with his brother: “What do you do all day?” In the movie, Juan does his chores under his parental roof after working at a bakery; he then watches a TV show, sleeps a little, assists with a casting for work and continues this way without filling in the blanks on his test. He also poses as a model for a group of painters, visits a girlfriend in a hospital at Montevideo and takes a train to the countryside, where he’s distracted by amateur soccer, a pal’s BBQ and an amorous female acquaintance. Every time he´s doing something it interrupts his deeds and he finds something else. No telos or plot seems to rule his actions. Finally, he makes it to a club gig where, having expressed himself only in mime and silent-film dialogue titles, Juan sings the titular punk rant. And we can hear his painful shout, referring a refrain where we can hear the word “Hiroshima”.

Hiroshima is about a dead world and how to make an allegory of cinema’s demise. Everybody’s dead right there, maybe after a flare-up. All that stay behind are people wandering, and a camera looking after their loose hopes.

Edited by Tara Judah