Spanish version / Versión en Español. Icónica.

One of the subtler coincidences between Zama (2017) and Jauja (2014), Lucrecia Martel’s and Lisandro Alonso’s most recent films, has received far less attention than the more obvious ones, such as their move from contemporary settings to a national or even continental past of colonization and frontier struggle and, with it, a more explicit engagement with the great literary traditions of Argentine and Latin American modernity than in their previous work. In fact, both films, as they delve into the boggy undercurrents of eighteenth and nineteenth-century histories of colonial backwaters and desert frontiers, actually end up abandoning altogether the time, space, and even language of what might be thought of as ‘Argentina’. Diego de Zama’s (Daniel Giménez Cacho) anti-odyssey in Martel’s film culminates in an amphibious swamp beyond the reach of the colonial system and – in a departure from its literary antecedent, Antonio di Benedetto’s monumental 1956 novel – also in a linguistic vortex where indigenous Guaraní and Aché words mix with the Portuguese spoken by the motley band of outlaws commanded by the bandit Vicuña Porto (Matheus Nachtergaele). Jauja, more radically even, abandons its hero Gunnar Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen) in a vast, treeless expanse of grey rock, to briskly cut to a present-day, refurbished Danish castle where Villbjørk Malling Agger, the actress playing his daughter Ingeborg, wakes from a dream and goes for a stroll with one of the estate’s dogs (the same, perhaps, that had guided Dinesen towards the old woman in the cave on the pampas). Both Zama and Jauja, in fact, take us not so much into as, rather, through or even beyond history, into a time and space that is no longer Argentina (or Paraguay, or Denmark, for that matter) but the very place from which cinema rethinks its relative autonomy and heteronomy vis-à-vis the space-times, languages, and medialities of national and global imaginaries. For both male protagonists as well as for the films themselves, this point of arrival is one of great potentiality but also of great risk: of incomprehension, abandonment, even death.

A very different kind of estrangement had been at the root, some twenty years earlier, of an emerging constellation of filmmaking practices that would soon be hailed, both locally and on the international festival circuit, as ‘the New Argentine Cinema’, and in which Martel and Alonso (as well as a host of now well-established young filmmakers such as Pablo Trapero, Israel Adrián Caetano, Alejo Moguillansky, Pablo Fendrik and Sandra Guigliotta) cut their teeth. In a context of catastrophic socio-economic decline around the millennium after decades of dictatorship and neoliberal adjustment policies (a situation to which Argentina seems today to have returned full circle, following a brief period of stability and moderate redistribution under the Kirchner administrations), the film industry had paradoxically been one of the few sectors to experience a boost, due in part to increased state subsidies following the passing of a national film law in 1994 as well as to a more intense but also diversified relation to the transnational funding and festival system and the consolidation of training institutions and infrastructures for film and audiovisual media professionals. One of the unforeseen side-effects of the spread of private cable TV and the neoliberal dismantling of the industrial sector in the 1980s and 1990s had been the emergence of Argentine as a prized low-wage, high-competence shooting location for commercial ads and even the odd blockbuster.

Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja (2014)

With the film and media sector thus being relatively shielded from the economic disaster unfolding in the country, the stage was set for a new generation of directors, actors, cinematographers and sound engineers to break with the production models and expressive mould championed by the dominant film auteurs of the post-1983 transition from dictatorship to democracy (Adolfo Aristaráin, María Luisa Bemberg, Alejandro Agresti, Fernando Solanas, Eliseo Subiela, to name but a few). 1 If these had often favoured an allegorical, heavily discursive language frequently relying on literary adaptations – not least because of the need, dictated by co-productions with Spain, France, or Germany, to construct recognizably ‘Argentine’ as well as universally accessible narratives – many of the new filmmakers would now adopt radically local settings and an almost ethnographic attitude towards the corporeal and linguistic expressions of their subjects, in the process coming up with “certain images and forms of behaviour” – as veteran writer-filmmaker Edgardo Cozarinsky admiringly put it – “that evoke a whole country and its people as if they were being filmed for the first time.” 2

At a moment when the great cultural narratives seemed to have run aground in the face of a national default that was not merely monetary but seemed to call into question the very existence of Argentina as a ‘viable’ nation, this ‘new’ cinema that discarded discourse and allegory in favour of observation and affect thus offered “a testimonial space” – in the words of film historian Gonzalo Aguilar – where “the traces of the present were taking shape.” 3 Arguably, this time-window in which cinema, through a fortuitous combination of internal and external factors – including the festival success of Martel’s and Alonso’s La Ciénaga (The Swamp) and La libertad (Freedom), both from 2001, and of Trapero’s Mundo Grúa (Crane World, 1999) and Daniel Burman’s El abrazo partido (Lost Embrace, 2004) – became something of language of the present, in and through which a country in tatters became re-acquainted with its own, damaged self, would close only a few years later. Literary and artistic performances such as the editoras cartoneras (cardboard publishing houses) or, towards the end of the 2000s, a theatre boom of biodramas that conjoined in spectacular and haunting ways the intimate and the political, were speaking perhaps more forcefully than film to the post-2001 re-emergence of political languages and identities, including a resurgent claim for justice for the victims of the bloody military dictatorship installed in 1976. What, however, happened to Argentine cinema after the ‘New’? What kinds of formal and thematic concerns have emerged in recent years, and how have these incorporated and contested the innovations in other cultural forms, as well as in other cinemas beyond the horizons of Argentina and Latin America?

History’s lessons

Even though attempts at rallying historical subjects once again for the sake of constructing political allegories of the present had been made throughout the 2000s by supporters and detractors of kirchnerismo alike – Andrés Maiño’s and Leandro Ipiña’s patriotic blockbuster Revolución: el cruce de los Andes (Revolution: The Crossing of the Andes) and Rafael Filipelli’s left-bashing Secuestro y muerte (Kidnapping and Death) were both released in 2010 – these remained both aesthetically unconvincing and commercially only modestly successful. Although the New Argentine Cinema was being hailed at home and abroad for being radically in sync with its own present, however, a concern with historical themes had always been an important aspect of the young filmmakers’ work, long before Alonso and Martel turned their gaze to the past. Films such as Marco Bechis’s Garage Olimpo (1999), Israel Adrián Caetano’s Crónica de una fuga (Chronicle of an Escape, 2006) or Lucía Cedrón’s Cordero de Dios (Lamb of God, 2008) had made the still-recent history of dictatorial terror one of the key subjects of Argentina’s cinematic revival, as did, more forcefully even, a host of first-person documentaries made in the early 2000s by the daughters and sons of the disappeared: Albertina Carri’s Los rubios (The Blonds, 2003) was probably the most controversial of these for its politically as well as aesthetically radical stance. Even though these films diverged both in their politics and their aesthetic approaches, they nevertheless coincided in an attempt to focalize on the country’s recent past with the same inquisitive, ethnographic gaze to which cinema was submitting its own present of national crisis: 4 rather than to bring history closer by enticing viewers to empathise with the plight of their characters, these films would maintain a distanced curiosity allowing the past to emerge in its strangeness, its discontinuity towards the present as manifest in gestures and in speech habits  or – as in Carri’s film – as drifting away through the mist of contradictory remembrances. Just as the city of the young castaways in Caetano’s and Bruno Stagnaro’s Pizza birra faso (Pizza, Beer, and Cigarettes, 1998) or the parallel, corporate world of provincial police work in Trapero’s El bonaerense (2002), the past of these films is a self-enclosed, local universe – an ‘other world’, as Aguilar pointedly characterized the settings of New Argentine Cinema – where the camera and the audience are foreigners only gradually learning to find their feet.

Alonso’s and Martel’s most recent films – as well as Carri’s return to the documentary genre and to the archives of revolutionary, anti-imperialist struggle and its brutal defeat with Cuatreros (Rustlers, 2015) – speak to a more complex and more richly textured engagement with historical settings, including the histories of cinema (and of literature and the visual and graphic arts). These settings have come to be associated with a move, in fact, already anticipated in the rural gothic of Carri’s La rabia (Anger, 2008) or in Martel’s subtly out-of-time La mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman, 2008).

Albertina Carri’s Cuatreros (Rustlers, 2015)

Once the New Argentine Cinema had cleared the slate from previous, allegorical approaches to history as a period setting for moral statements, a more risky and experimental attitude towards the past as archive of images, narratives and sounds became possible: quite literally, as in Carri’s bedazzling, split-screen compilation of found footage, set to a first-person narrative of inquisitive travel towards an impossible revelation of truth (that of the life and death of Isidro Velázquez, the last gaucho rebel; that of the lost film on Velázquez shot clandestinely by a crew of militant filmmakers, based on a book by Carri’s father; and that of the fate of her parents and of the film crew, disappeared by the military dictatorship). Carri doesn’t bring this past ‘back to life’ but rather forces out the powerful affect it unleashes onto our own bodies – as does the unceasing vertigo of images always remaining fragmentary and inconclusive – precisely as it fades away into the distance, as it slips our grip. But the past is also addressed, as in Jauja and in Zama, as a multilayered dialogue with the cinematographic archives of the nineteenth-century frontier and the colonial past, as ruinous palimpsests where sedimentations of film history can be re-encountered in strange mutations and transfigurations – including, say, the western and its local modulation, the gaucho drama, in Alonso, but also its sci-fi offspring, the space epic; or in Martel, the traces of surrealism and its Latin American instantiations from Buñuel to Raúl Ruiz. Importantly, however, this archival consciousness does not detract these films from their interest in the archive’s subject, history: the citation games of metacinema never become an ends but they remain a means to approach historical subjects precisely by acknowledging the always already historical nature of the filmic image itself.

Even though with different degrees of aesthetic success, films such as Santiago Mitre’s El estudiante (The Student, 2011), Pablo Trapero’s Elefante blanco (White Elephant, 2012) or Benjamín Neishtat’s recent, San Sebastián-winning Rojo (Red, 2018) coincide in their confidence in the more traditional powers of cinematic narrative –that is, in the combined effects of the script, mise-en-scène, costume, and actorship as a way of crafting an image of the past. At the same time, however, all three films retain New Argentine cinema’s lessons of avoiding the big stage of national history in favour of self-enclosed, local worlds, where the former’s effects can be observed in their unfolding through the intimate, affective constellations between bodies, and in the sedimentations of public language in interpersonal dialogue. Yet the differences between these films also evince certain important bifurcations in the routes open to Argentine filmmakers in the wake of the early 2000s festival successes: Trapero’s film, while banking on the still-recent global media presence of economic crisis and social unrest in the country which had had no small part in lifting New Argentine cinema onto screens worldwide, too often succumbs to the demands of transnational production dynamics, reducing the shantytown settings and their inhabitants into picturesque backgrounds for fast-paced pans and dolly-shots, and also re-introducing the ‘outsider’ character – Belgian actor Jérémie Renier playing the foreign priest Nicolas – as a diegetic stand-in for the non-native audiences to which the film reaches out, a feature that had often marred the coherence and street credibility of Argentine (and Latin American) films before the millennium.

Pablo Trapero’s Elefante blanco (White Elephant, 2012)

Whereas Elefante blanco, then, represents a perhaps all too transparent bid for global auteurship, Mitre’s and Neishtat’s films, at least at first sight, approach the idiosyncrasies of their local settings on their own terms: the milieu of student activism sometime in the mid-1980s, in El estudiante; the dark secrets of small-town elites just prior to the military coup of 1976, in Rojo. Intensely acted and beautifully shot (including frequent pans that efficiently exploit the university corridors’ forest of banners, posters and graffiti, filmed on location at Buenos Aires University’s Social Sciences Faculty), El estudiante tempts us into taking its ‘realism’ at face value. But, without altogether undermining this reading, Mitre’s film also introduces some additional layers that call into question the truth-value of the onscreen action: most importantly, he adds an anonymous voice-over, which occasionally provides background information about characters’ political and affective biographies – details the others may or may not be aware of. But instead of heightening the mise-en-scène’s realism, these narrative interventions point our attention more to the constructed, theatrical character of the central intrigue — that is, away from the political content of certain characters’ actions and towards their potential for loyalty and betrayal as figures, as characters in a history-play (one that may well be history itself). If the figure through which El estudiante proposes to think the political is the betrayal of faith, this idea does not apply here to any politics in particular but, rather, to the game of mirrors the film plays on its own viewers, by suggesting a variety of ‘political’ readings only to discredit and turn these on their heads, exposing the essentially dramatic nature of all political action.

Whereas Mitre’s film intentionally confounds its period setting with anachronisms in language and costume that refer back to the viewers’ own present, Neishtat’s Rojo constructs a different kind of palimpsest. The somewhat faded beige-and-red image temperature (echoed in the characters’ period cardigans and trench coats and in the wood-panelled interiors of their homes and offices) and the at times awkward, soap opera-like distribution of bodies in front of camera ­– as in the opening sequence when two characters argue over a table in a busy restaurant that suddenly turns silent as if not to drown out the over-theatrical dialogue between them – infuse this film noir of mutual betrayals and reckless brutality underlying the boredom of pre-coup, small-town Argentina with a particular kind of period touch. Indeed, the casting of TV-soap veterans Andrea Frigerio and Darío Grandinetti (also a favourite of the pre-millennium cinema of Eusebio Subiela and Juan Carlos Desanzo) as the leading couple, opposite a deliberately clownish Alfredo Castro as a Colombo-style TV-personality detective, only adds to the sensation of watching a film not so much on as from the past – the past as pastiche that freely mixes period references from the early seventies (the period of classic Peronism’s violent and final decline) with those from the eighties and nineties, when the violence of dictatorship was being exorcised in the melodrama and allegory of televisual romance and of films such as Luis Puenzo’s La historia oficial (The Official Story, 1985). The crime plot of the provincial well-to-do engineering forced disappearances and illegal appropriations of the property of kidnapped dissidents on their own, well before the dictatorial regime was ‘officially’ starting to do so is, then, but one of the arguments about the wide-spread complicity of civil society with military terror that Neisthat’s film puts forward. The other, more subtle, is about the ways in which cinema, and media culture more widely, have themselves been complicit in the whitewashing of history even as they were purporting to address it.

Santiago Mitre’s El estudiante (The Student, 2011)

If, then, many recent Argentine films have used a shift in time, from the immediate present to various moments of past conflict and stagnation, as springboard for a change in narrative form and mise-en-scène – from the ‘ethnographic’, observational cinema of the early 2000s towards a more complex engagement with speech, costume, the theatrical and the intertextual – perhaps the most daring and innovative of these is Neishtat’s second feature film, Mar del Plata festival winner El movimiento (The Movement, 2015). Shot in grainy black and white, the hand-held, circling camera movements around the characters on a stage-like open plain sometimes reminiscent of the great films of Brazilian Cinema Novo of the sixties, Neishtat’s film follows an all-male band of militiamen under the command of a charismatic leader (Pablo Cedrón) through the devastated, near-empty landscape of what may or may not be post-Independence Argentina. Because, for all its period attire and folksy language, the main character’s lengthy speeches – punctuated by gruesome acts of gratuitous violence perpetrated by his motley gang of followers – decrying the state of corruption and abandonment that has befallen the country and rallying the population to join his own ‘movement’  for restoring law and order, resounds just as much with the vacuous fascism of contemporary Argentine and Latin American political discourse as with that of the nineteenth-century caudillos the film purportedly refers to. This anachronism is made explicit when, towards the end, a motorcycle and a battered Renault Kangoo cross in the background of shots of ‘peasants’ talking to camera. The violent past of the nation’s origins, as conveyed through the great works of Argentine nineteenth-century narrative essays and gauchesca poetry, but also as revisited in the anti-imperialist, decolonizing cinema of the sixties and seventies (including, say, Fernando Solanas’s Los hijos de Fierro, and Leonardo Favio’s Juan Moreira, both from 1973), Neishtat’s film seems to suggest, is also the dystopian future Argentina may be facing beyond the horizon of neocolonial extractivism. But beyond such easy, univocal allegorical meanings, El movimiento above all invokes history as archive, that is, not as what lies in the past but rather, as the image that lies in waiting to cast a new light on our own present.

Benjamín Neishtat’s El movimiento (The Movement, 2015)

Intermedial counterpoints

If the self-imposed restraint in narrative focus on the present and on inconspicuous, everyday localities shot with an ethnographic eye as if they belonged to another country, had been hailed as one of the great virtues of New Argentine cinema, the other was its fierce insistence on the autonomy and self-sufficiency of film, as a medium and as expressive form, casting aside the previous reliance on literary models (in the case of arthouse) or on TV and commercial theatrical comedy (in mainstream industrial fare). 5 Historias breves (Short stories) –the collection of shorts released under the auspices of the Universidad del Cine since 1996, including the directing debuts of Burman, Caetano, Martel, Ulises Rosell and Paula Hernández, among others– or Carlos Sorín’s Historias mínimas (Intimate Stories, 2002) proclaimed, right from their titles, a return to the ‘essence’ of cinema, as well as the need to adjust the camera’s gaze to the realities of a country stripped down to its bare bones after years of neoliberal plunder.

It was this aesthetic and political program, often expressed in long, immobile takes and in the reduction of dialogue to an absolute minimum (or to pure noise beyond any discursive function) that came under full-blown attack, in 2008, with the release of Mariano Llinás’s Historias extraordinarias (Extraordinary Stories) which, both in its title and its extension of just over four hours, boldly reclaimed cinema’s capacity for exuberant storytelling, as well as its amphibious capacity for shifting alliances with other forms of aesthetic expression, including literature and architecture (more recently, Llinás has released the 14-hour mammoth La flor (The Flower, 2018), a three-part narrative puzzle of six interweaving episodes featuring the same four actresses, shot  in different formats and frequently resorting to abysmal, film-within-the-film narrative twists). Where, in Sorín’s film and in much of New Argentine cinema of the millennium, the self-sufficiency of cinema had asserted itself in a falling-out between image and discourse, resulting in a, literally and temporally, ‘extended image’ that lingers on as if to make up for the missing speech, in Llinás’s film there is, on the contrary, a superabundance of discourse. But rather than to re-enter the image, discourse thrives here on the ongoing separation between the two, the voice-over providing a narrative supplement that prevents the image from closing in on itself and propels the film forward as the contradictions and enigmatic correspondences between image and sound track pile up, requiring ever more baroque narrative twists and bifurcations.

Mariano Llinás’s Historias extraordinarias (Extraordinary Stories, 2008)

The return of storytelling to Argentine cinema – despite a number of engaging literary adaptations apart from Zama, including Milagros Mumenthaler’s El retorno de un lago (The Return of a Lake, 2016, based on Guadelupe Gaona’s Pozo de aire) and Oscar Frenkel’s El origen de la tristeza (The Origin of Sadness, 2017, based on Pablo Ramos’s homonymous novel) – has largely eschewed the ‘translation’ into filmic language of previously existing works from literature or other arts. Instead, filmmakers have set out to engage literature – but also the visual and performative arts – midway between their own medium-specificity and that of film, exploring the potential for formal innovation that opens up in the zone of indistinction between them.

Whereas New Argentine cinema had addressed the neighbouring arts principally through the genre of documentary – as in Alejandro Fernández Mouján’s diptych of films with sculptor Ricardo Longhini and painter Daniel Santoro or in Gaston Solnicki’s portrait of composer Mauricio Kagel – as a way of inquiring from an external point of view into the particularities of a different aesthetic language, more recent forays into intermediality have rather tended to force out the ‘nonspecific’: a tendency to break out of the routines, genres and institutional circuits of a particular mode of aesthetic expression that, according to cultural critic Florencia Garramuño, has become a shared concern in Latin American cultural production of the last decade. 6 Thus, for instance, in Los posibles (The Possible Ones, 2013) director Santiago Mitre and choreographer Juan Onofri team up to re-shoot as a film the latter’s homonymous, all-male dance-theatre production of the previous year that had brought together professional dancers with marginal youths from the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Although ostensibly framed as a documentary of one of the group’s rehearsals, including the young dancers’ journey to and arrival at their training grounds in the basement of La Plata’s Teatro Argentino, the film transforms the ‘original’ spectacle into something else by bringing into the equation the essential elements of cinematic language, such as frame composition, depth of field, camera movement, and so forth. Different from the audience point of view of the original dance production, the camera literally takes to the stage, almost – but not quite – becoming yet another of the dancers swirling around one another, touching, clashing and separating again. But this intermediate position of the cinematic apparatus vis-à-vis the dance troupe is key here, as not quite another member of the ensemble yet also no longer merely an external viewer, and thus also held in the balance between ‘documentation’ and ‘adaptation’, between cinema as register of something else and as the medium of the latter’s recreation.

A similarly ambiguous relation of observation and compenetrating quality is at play in Mariano Donoso’s Tekton (2009), outwardly a documentary about the completion, almost four decades after construction had started, of the city of San Juan’s Civic Center, a brutalist monument to the developmentalist State of the mid-twentieth century. But shooting the subsequent stages of collaboration between workers and heavy machinery in the hoisting-up of beams and installation of various contraptions also turns Donoso’s film, shot in expressive black and white, with intertitles replacing the absent words in a soundtrack given over instead to the mechanic rhythms of the construction site cross-edited with extradiegetic music (Fauré, Ravel, Débussy) into an elegy of high-modern cinematic urbanism, a belated and melancholic epilogue to the city symphonies of Vertov, Ruttmann or Ivens. Rather than into an external observer, Donoso’s constructivist framing and editing turns cinema into a kind of silent voice of the construction site, forcing out its latent aesthetic meanings – even if, at the same time, the anachronism of both (the building’s monumental forms and the film’s expressive lyricism) also open up a margin of ironic distance towards their modernist references.

Yet it was cross-fertilizations with theatre – perhaps the most thriving of aesthetic forms in Argentina over the last decade – that have yielded some of the most interesting modes of intermediality in Argentine films of recent years. Martín Rejtman’s Entrenamiento elemental para actores (Elementary Training for Actors, 2009), a collaboration with theatre director Federico León, features Fabián Arenillas as a deadpan coach for aspiring child actors who makes short thrift of parents’ demands for memorable performances. Instead, he submits his young subjects to a series of hyper-Stanislavskian exercises, both disarmingly simple and extremely demanding, in the process also enticing us to reflect on the nature of (non-) actorship, embodiment and speech in both theatre and film. Matías Piñeiro’s trilogy of play-within-the-film features, the most recent of which is the two-city tale Hermia & Helena (2016) shot between Buenos Aires and New York City, similarly draws out the metacinematic elements of actorship when it discloses itself as such. However, in a way that is simultaneously more cinematographic and more theatrical than Rejtman’s and León’s short film – if only because of its feature-length running times – Piñeiro’s series (also including Viola, 2012, and La princesa de Francia – The Princess of France, 2015) revolves around the similar storyline of a troupe of young, aspiring actors and playwrights working to put on, rewrite and translate Shakespearean plays (Twelfth Night in Viola, Love’s Labor’s Lost in La Princesa, A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Hermia & Helena). The dynamics of emotion and desire soon spill over from the inner ‘core’ of the plays into the outer narrative of the young actors’ sentimental melées, the fact that Piñeiro keeps working, Fassbinder-style, with the same group of actors from one film to the next further adding to the non-naturalistic playfulness of his films, at the same time as there is a marked absence of ‘theatricality’, of dramatic emphasis, in the delivery of the dialogue and mise-en-scène. Rather than, as in León’s and Rejtman’s Entrenamiento, through the foregrounding of acting as both the films’ subject and mode of performative expression, in Piñeiro there seems to be an ongoing quest for lightness or playfulness, an attempt to grasp the performative as it becomes unremarkable and everyday and thus, also, a lived reality – not for nothing, it is the comedies rather than the tragedies of Shakespeare to which he returns again and again.

Mariano Donoso’s Tekton (2009)

Global Argentinas

Piñeiro is not the only Argentine filmmaker now working overseas as well as in his own country and making this alternation between multiple localities a subject as well as an aspect of the production and distribution of his work. Julia Solomonoff – who, like Piñeiro, now lives and works mostly in New York City – chronicles in Nadie nos mira (Nobody’s watching, 2017) the struggles of Argentine former TV-soap idol Nico (an arresting performance by Guillermo Pfening) who, while looking for a breakthrough in New York’s arthouse film scene, also odd-jobs as a male nanny for his wealthy Argentine friend Andrea (Elena Roger) as he tries unsuccessfully to put some distance between himself and abusive lover-producer Martín (Rafael Ferro). Shot almost entirely on location in New York City, and oscillating between English and various Latin American varieties of Spanish, as Nico immerses himself into the world of precarious childcare labour provided almost entirely by illegalized Central American migrant women, Solomonoff’s film is both an intriguing take, from an unexpected angle, on the new social sites of convergence and frontlines between global cosmopolitan elites and the new migrant underclass and also a subtle reflection, and critique, of the (non-)place of Argentine film between the contradictory demands of mainstream stereotypes of Latin Americanness and those of US/Latino niche markets.

The year before, Eduardo Williams, a graduate of the French Studio National des Arts Contemporains at Fresnoy, won Locarno’s 2016 Filmmakers of the Present Award with El auge del humano (The Human Surge), shot over several years in Argentina, Mozambique and the Philippines and exploring in challengingly experimental fashion the both material and vicarious interconnections between remote locations in the Anthropocene – including cyberporn, the precarious nature, outsourcing and circulation of labour and waste, and the new assemblages between technology and nonhuman forms of life emerging from these. Leo Goldsmith, reviewing the film in Cinemascope, aptly calls it “a cinema of vectors: across borders, networks, and states of being,” thus also mapping out “a diffused landscape of contemporary precarity, one that’s both physical and virtual, hyperconnected yet fragmentary.” 7

Julia Solomonoff’s Nadie nos mira (Nobody’s watching, 2017)

Conversely, Argentina has also increasingly turned into a space of study, work and production resources for filmmakers from Latin America and even from overseas. Lukas Valenta Rinner, a graduate from Buenos Aires’s Universidad del Cine who is originally from Austria, has already released two feature-length films, shot and produced entirely in the country yet also drawing on resources from Austrian and European film funding networks. Parabellum (2015) chronicles the mischief of middle-class Porteños coming uncomfortably close in an apocalyptic survival camp set in the Paraná delta; Los decentes (The Decent Ones, 2016) takes a similarly absurdist hyper-realism to the fraught relations between a suburban gated community and the neighbouring nudist swingers’ club. Meanwhile, starting with Paz Encina’s Hamaca Paraguaya (Paraguayan Hammock, 2006), winner of the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes, which was co-funded by Lucrecia Martel producer Lita Stantic, Argentina has also become a regional reference for co-productions as well as editing and postproduction services. The most recent edition of San Sebastián’s Cine en construcción showcase, for instance, featured among its six nominees three co-productions made by non-Argentinean directors in neighbouring countries: Uruguayan Lucía Garibaldi’s Los tiburones (The Sharks), Chilean Sebastián Muñoz’s El Príncipe (The Prince), and the sci-fi dystopia Mateína, a Uruguayan-Brazilian-Argentine co-production shot in Montevideo and directed by Uruguayans Joaquín Peñagaricano and Pablo Abdala. In fact, then, Argentine cinema has today not just diversified in terms of film form and production models; it is now also much more enmeshed than at the start of the millennium with global circuits of film funding, production and distribution. At the same time, arguably, as a new and potentially even more lethal crisis looms in Argentina, cinema also no longer possesses the freshness or expressive force of capturing the contemporary moment that it had briefly held around the financial, social and political default of 2001. It is telling that one of the few films to have addressed, in the mode of black comedy, the proto-fascist languages of resentment and moral panic rapidly spreading through Argentina’s and the region’s social media and political discourse – Damián Szifrin’s Relatos salvajes (Wild Tales, 2014) – was not even considered political in its reception at home or abroad but, rather, as a delightfully heavy-handed genre movie, an indication, perhaps, of the more general difficulty of speaking to the urgencies of local political conjunctures in the medium of film.

Endnotes:

  1. For a more comprehensive survey of the context of emergence of New Argentine Cinema in the second half of the 1990s, see my New Argentine Cinema (London: I. B. Tauris, 2012), pp. 1-25.
  2. Edgardo Cozarinsky, “Letter from Buenos Aires,” New Left Review 26 (2004): p. 16.
  3. Gonzalo Aguilar, Otros mundos: un ensayo sobre el nuevo cine argentino (Buenos Aires: Santiago Arcos, 2006), p.178. (English edition: New Argentine Film. Other Worlds (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
  4. I am paraphrasing here Joanna Page’s argument on New Argentine Cinema’s ‘ethnographic gaze’, see her Crisis and Capitalism in Contemporary Argentine Cinema (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).
  5. Prior to the 2001 crisis, some Argentine production companies such as Pol-Ka and Patagonik produced a number of successful blockbusters such as Comodines (Cops, Jorge Nisco, 1997) or La furia (Fury, Juan B. Stagnaro, 1997), often in the form of spin-offs from TV action series. Although the financial default effectively put production of large-budget, industrial action movies on hold, commercially successful genre films such as the comedy Nueve reinas (Nine Queens, Fabián Bielinsky, 2000) or the romance El hijo de la novia (Son of the Bride, Juan José Campanella, 2001) continued to be made throughout the heyday of New Argentine Cinema.
  6. Florencia Garramuño, Mundos en común. Ensayos sobre la inespecificidad en el arte (Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2015.
  7. Leo Goldsmith, “The Wanderer: Eduardo Williams’ The Human Surge,” in Cinemascope Online, http://cinema-scope.com/features/human-surge-eduardo-williams-argentinabrazilportugal-wavelengths/ (accessed October 2018).