The new in new Argentine cinema By Josefina Sartora
The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema has always been a window to showcase the new Argentine cinema, as well as a forum to discuss it, which makes it the best place to evaluate the state of national production. In particular this year, the Festival organized three round tables on the topic. After the renewal of the nineties, the movies by first or second time directors that have been released during the last two years have not reached the quality level of the previous production, and they have caused some disappointment. Critics and theorists have been moved to ask if the “New Argentine Cinema” phenomena had ended, or if it had just been the product of a single generation. Has the moment of creativity passed? During the three consecutive discussions, the participants — mostly directors — agreed without any doubt about the importance of continuing the process of renovation. The debate remains open.
I know that one cannot ask a cinema to renovate itself every five years. However, after seeing the films of both the International and the Argentine Official Competitions, I cannot be terribly optimistic: I have had more than one frustration. In previous years, the Bafici premiered such important films as Crane World (Mundo grúa), I Don´t Know What Your Eyes Have Done to Me (Yo no sé qué me han hecho tus ojos), Freedom (La libertad) or The Blondes (Los rubios), but this year the most important Argentine movies have had or will have their first screening in commercial theaters, and were not presented in the Festival. That was the case for the newest films by Daniel Burman, Adrián Caetano, and Rodrigo Moreno. The most significant and celebrated Argentine cinema seems not to be quite as “independent” anymore, a condition the festival will be forced to confront.
The thirteen movies in the International Selection varied drastically in quality. Next to be gone (Los próximos pasados) is another excellent documentary by Lorena Muñoz à la recherche de l´art perdu, like her previous I Don´t Know What Your Eyes Have Done to Me. Far superior to the rest of the films in the section, it won the Fipresci award and Nelson Carro is writing about it specifically. The next level was made up of other second movies of young directors. Suicidals (Los suicidas) shows a development in Juan Villegas´ work after Saturday (Sábado). This time he has based his well-developed story on a novel by Antonio Di Benedetto, with two solid characters. Villegas moves a step ahead in his work with language, and the film holds to an even, neutral tone without any undue emotional underlining, which is the mark of a true director. On the contrary, Water (Agua) the second, very physical feature by Verónica Chen, has a wonderful photographic sense that can’t save a poor and erratic script. It was this film and Sofabed (Sofacama) by Ulises Rosell, a decadent portrait of popular customs, that prompted the darkest thoughts about the end of creativity in the new Argentine cinema.
On the other hand, there were two very interesting films in the Argentine Competition, both quite original. Both worked on the borderline between fiction and documentary: The Yellow (El Amarillo) by Sergio Mazza, is a fresh essay that focuses on a remote, rural area – much like Lisandro Alonso´s Freedom – and makes use of authentic regional music, performed by local singers, worked organically into the plot. The Tree (El árbol) by Gustavo Fontán is an evocative film about the director’s family infused with a lyrical intimacy that might have worked better if it were ten minutes shorter. In this group of promising works I include the documentaries Solitude at the End of the World (Soledad al fin del mundo) and The School (La escuela) and the collective experiment Around Buenos Aires (A propósito de Buenos Aires).
The balance of the Argentine entries -Maria and Juan (María y Juan), Dry Soil (Tierra seca), Glue (the winner of the Argentine Competition and two other awards) and Porn (Porno) – struck me as failures, displaying a kind of minimalism that cannot hide the fact that the directors have nothing to say. This is not a promising path for the Argentine cinema.