The Unfinished Latin American Cinematic Movement

in 54th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Magda Mihailescu

In his book New Latin American Cinema, Michael T. Martin (Wayne State University Press 1977) analyses “the unfinished cinematic movement” in this part of the world, from a neo-baroque period in the 1970s and 1980s, to the emergence since the 1990s of a realist cinema whose production and representational strategies are simultaneously local and global.  Almost any generalist festival provides us with new proof of this, and the recent 54th edition of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival offered convincing proof.

The Latin American Cinema was at a record high. Three films out of fourteen included in the International Competition grabbed the most important awards and one of them, The Golden Cage (La jaula de oro) by Diego Quemada-Diez from Mexico, has a great collection, no less than four:  Golden Alexander Theo Angelopoulos for Best Feature Film, Best Director Award, Human Values Award (granted by Hellenic Parliament TV Chanel) and Fisher Audience Award. The Special Jury Award for originality and Innovation, Bronze Alexander, went to Bad Hair (Pelo Malo) by Mariana Rondon from Venezuela. This film was, as well, the International Critic’s favorite, getting the FIPRESCI Prize. Last but not least, Jaime Vadell, the protagonist of Ignacio Rodriguez’s The Devil’s Liquor (La chupilca del Diablo) shared the Best Actor Award with his Greek colleague Christos Stergioglou for The Eternal Return of Antoni Paraskeva (I aionia epistrofi tou Antonis Paraskevas).

In their own way, all of these films are so impressive that even now, when I am writing about them, somehow I still have the feeling of watching them. Family themes of social problems, poverty, injustice and violence take centre stage. Unlike the other films seen this year at Thessaloniki, which  tell  stories about young ones, here there is no question about being involved in a coming of age tale. The characters seem to be born adults. No need to discover step by step the secrets of existence. The harshness of the life is a familiar image at their tender age.

The three teenage heroes of Diego Quemada-Diez’ feature debut, Golden Cage, know that things invariably work out worse than one expects. Seeking to escape the humiliating life of the favelas, they do not give up the dream, whatever it might cost: leaving Guatemala, to reach the mythical North America, so called “El Norte”, via Mexico.  No touch of sentimental pressure appears in this exceptionally strong story about the price one must pay for a dream, sometimes really tragic: people’s cruelness, friends lost, other friends killed, the loneliness of the new life.

Another human group, this time a family, is seen in Bad Hair, where other expectations do not run very high: Marta, a single mother, tries to get back her job; Junior, her nine-year-old boy, who has beautifully curly hair, desperately wants to have straight, long hair, like his colleagues.  In this fantasy he is supported by his grandmother, a pretty strange but good hearted old lady. In her dreams, the grandson must become a famous pop singer, obviously possessing “good hair”, which means long, straight and glittering hair, a sign of belonging to another community. In a society of intolerance, this is an impossible dream; and little Junior has to resort to a radical change. Despite the conflict among the characters, we emphasize with all three, because this small family embodies the will to do anything to secure one’s future.

A dream, also, is arising in The Devil’s Liquor, the Chilean film. Eladio, a stubborn, grouchy old man, who is a small producer of an alcoholic drink, has a hidden desire: to get his grandson”s sympathy in order to save his modest fortune and have somebody to inherit it and to work for it. The opportunity is passing both of them by; but, finally, both the old man and the young one receive a special benefit: they both understand that there is no other way to fight and to win except through human affection.

Edited by Dennis West