The Construction of Imaginary Territories

in 36th Cinélatino – Rencontres de Toulouse

by Letícia Alassë

Through Cinema We Can Build New Narratives about Latin American Peoples

What are imaginary territories? The concept is one of the premises of cinema and of the 36th Cinelatino Reunions Festival in Toulouse, which allows productions from across the Atlantic to reach an audience willing to inhabit these new spaces, at least during the ten days of the event, held between March 14 and 24, 2024, in the region of Occitania, southwest France.

From an indigenous village fighting for its territorial survival in the Oaxaca region of Mexico, Valentina or the Serenity (Valentina o la Serenidad), the second feature film by director Ángeles Cruz, presents us with a universal theme: mourning. Through the eyes of the little girl Valentina (Danae Ahuja Aparicio), the small details of this village, such as the insects and birds, fill the environment with life and encourage us to see another way of existence by the river, presenting it as a territory unexplored by foreign eyes.

Enchanting our retinas and presenting a peculiar culture, the film Betânia, by Marcelo Botto, takes viewers on a journey through the beautiful landscapes of Lençóis Maranhenses, in the Brazilian state of Maranhão. Beyond a beautiful postcard, the film seeks to show what life is like in this corner of the world, surrounded by the changing currents of the wind and the movement of the dunes. Between misfortunes and moments of laughter, the narrative mixes the original Bumba Meu Boi songs and the cultural hybridism of pop and reggae brought by tourists to the region.

Bringing the unknown to the eye is also part of Sariri, the first film by young director Laura Donoso. With courage and daring, the work presents a fictional village in the desert in the north of Chile.With an arid tone that echoes the famous Atacama Desert, the highest desert in the world, the small village of Sariri uses patriarchal beliefs to create a community of women bound by their fate, of servitude to men. Upon becoming a woman, all young girls must follow their destiny: marry and have children. Some of them, however, seek out other territories in order to get to know other ways of life.

Our imagination flies through these locations, where narratives of mourning, suffering, and revolt meet our own. In a journey from Lebanon, in the Middle East, to Manaus, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, Portrait of a Certain Orient (Retrato de um Certo Oriente), by veteran Marcelo Gomes, completes these networks of connections and spaces. Despite the black and white photography, the Brazilian director manages to open up space within the rich vegetation of northern Brazil to show the ways of life, the music, and the integration of different peoples, but he also relates the obstacles of a conflict of beliefs.

In addition to geographical territoriality, the films are also capable of identifying bodies and the physicality of these places. Some sequences in the films in competition are precious frames for these environments, such as the meandering of the rainforest next to the Pacific in Colombia in I Saw Three Black Lights (Yo Vi Tres Luces Negras), by Santiago Lozano Álvarez. The black bodies in the foreground place us in the perspective of territoriality, to whom this space belongs.

In the sweet film about mourning, Valentina or the Serenity, the representation of the indigenous territory is in the features of the faces and in the rescue of the Mixtec language, just as Portuguese is learned by the Lebanese on the crossing to Brazil and mixes with Arabic, Guarani, and other languages, joining thousands of dreams brought in the womb of the ship to the new imaginary territory, where you dream of being much more than you were in the land you left behind.

Through these films, whether they are science fiction, romance, or about mourning and historical accounts, this festival dedicated to Latin American cinema enhances the collective imaginaries about this region and, consequently, the social discourses about them. From a satire on the revenge of the 1968 revolution in Mexico, in We Shall not be Moved (No Nos Moverán), to a narrative about the patriarchal pressure on women at the end of the 20th century, in Memories of a Burning Body (Memorias de Un Cuerpo que Arde), our vision of Latin America expands and begins to inhabit new parts of our social discourse.

Getting to know these new territories can change the narrative that has been built up over the years about the continent as a zone of poverty, violence, and religious mysticism, although some titles are still attached to this Third World view. The idea of imaginary territories is to make other perspectives relevant and commonplace in the global panorama, thus opening doors for them to become part of daily life, politics, and the world economy.

by Letícia Alassë
Edited by Robert Horton