The Case for Global Film

Discussing everything that isn't Hollywood (and a little that is).

Archive for the ‘Argentinian Cinema’ Category

¡Viva! 2014 #3: Mar del Plata (Argentina 2012)

Posted by Roy Stafford on 18 March 2014

Joaquin meets Elena on the beach. She was his girlfriend many years before.

Joaquin meets Elena on the beach. She was his girlfriend many years before.

Viva14Here’s a short (83 mins) and entertaining comedy with some intelligence. It’s written by Ionathan Klajman and directed by the writer with Sebastian Dietsch – both on their feature debuts. You do wonder if the two men have a relationship like the two characters in the film, Joaquin (Pablo G. Pérez) and David (Gabriel Zayat) – two teenagers who grow up to be thirty-somethings with marriage problems. In several ways this is rather like a New York Jewish comedy. Joaquin is revealed to be from what was once a Jewish immigrant family but I didn’t notice if we learned about David’s family. Wikipedia tells me that Argentina has the biggest Jewish population in Latin America so perhaps the possible cultural identity of the comedy isn’t so surprising.

Joaquin has been divorced by his wife after only a couple of years and his parents offer him a ‘mini-break’ won by his father in the lottery. For various reasons he ends up on holiday with David who he hasn’t seen for some time. David is still married but clearly having a difficult time. He and Joaquin bicker and get into silly schoolboy squabbles but everything changes when the pair bump into one of Joaquin’s ex-girlfriends at the beach resort of Mar del Plata. Elena is now married to a successful novelist who immediately sets off David’s critical response mechanisms. (David is presented as a ‘failed writer’ and the rather pompous Lautaro is like a red rag to a bull.) This is the twist moment in the narrative and I found the latter section of the film more amusing than the embarrassing pranks David and Joaquin played on each other earlier.

Overall this film proved to be a pleasant way to spend time and, as a ‘bromance’, generally more fun than contemporary Hollywood comedies. But I suspect that it is not ‘different’ enough to attract a UK distributor.

Vimeo Trailer posted by the DoP (the film uses quite a lot of music tracks):

Posted in Argentinian Cinema, Comedies, Festivals and Conferences | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Films From the South #11: Carancho (Argentine/Chile/France/S. Korea 2010)

Posted by Roy Stafford on 14 October 2011

Martina Gusmán and Ricardo Darin

Carancho is directed and part-written by Pablo Trapero whose 2002 film El bonaerense achieved a wide international release. It’s a mainstream crime thriller of the kind that Argentinian Cinema does very well and it stars the most recognisable Argentinian actor for international audiences, Ricardo Darin.

In Spanish, ‘carancho’ refers to various birds of prey and the obvious inference here is to vultures. Darin plays Sosa, a lawyer who has been driven to become in US terms an ‘ambulance chaser’ – someone who waits around for a motor vehicle accident and then tries to grab the business of any survivors or relatives who make a claim. According to some of the promo material there are around 8,000 deaths on Argentina’s roads each year. This is a staggering figure. As a comparison, the UK (admittedly one of the safest places in the world to be a road user) has less than 2,000 deaths from a larger number of road users – but the US is nearly as bad as Argentina. I mention this last point only because there is already discussion of a Hollywood remake.

The plot is fairly basic. Sosa seduces a new young doctor on the A&E team of the local hospital, Luján played by Martina Gusmán. She turns out to be not quite as innocent as she first appears. Sosa is in some ways a classic film noir male character – a good man forced to do bad things. He is trapped by the vicious system which allows crooked legal firms to cream off a fat commission on any compensation claim. He needs to find a way to break away from their stranglehold and this means doing some dirty deeds while still keeping Luján on side. I don’t really like medical dramas – especially the soaps set in casualty wards – and the only film I can think of that has some similar elements is Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead (1999), a good film but not very enjoyable to watch. I think I enjoyed Carancho more but I still averted my gaze from some of the gory bits.

The real question is why this film attracted investment from three co-production partners and a slot at Cannes in Un certain regard. It’s a perfectly serviceable thriller, with a downbeat ending, that is very well made but not that unusual/distinctive apart from the originality of the basic premise. I was intrigued to discover that Martina Gusmán was a producer before she was an actor and she is exec producer here. Her presence and that of Darin helps to lift the film, but I’d still put it alongside French polars such as the two Fred Cavayé films Pour elle (2008) and À bout portant (2010), the first of which has already been re-made. Such films have an originality in ideas that Hollywood needs to feed on. What will Hollywood need to change about Carancho? Probably it will need to make the ending more upbeat and the characters less seedy. A studio will also have to find an actor/star who can do what Darin does so effortlessly – sleaze plus sex appeal with several beatings to withstand and that little pot belly. He’s a great role model for middle-aged men!

YouTube trailer for the US market:

Posted in Argentinian Cinema, Festivals and Conferences | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Films From the South #7: Aballay (Aballay, el hombre sin miedo, Argentina/Spain 2010)

Posted by Roy Stafford on 12 October 2011

The gauchos in one of several telephoto compositions.

I saw Aballay immediately after the Malaysian film The Year Without a Summer. It’s a very different kind of film. It was also introduced in Norwegian – and in English – by someone I took to be Argentinian, who explained that it was a ‘gaucho film’, a kind of Argentinian Western set in Tucumán province. The introduction suggested that this was a film pitched somewhere between a ‘festival film’ and a commercial genre picture and went on to claim that the gaucho represents a potent Argentinian rebel or outsider figure (so Diego Maradonna could be a kind of gaucho). Finally it was suggested that the film conjured up Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. That last point was quickly confirmed in an opening that could easily have been Leone and indeed the inciting incident that begins the narrative is a raid on a stagecoach with armed escort as it races through the arroyos (or the Argentinian version of these dried up river beds) of a mountain region. This ends with all the troops and the passengers killed save a frightened boy who stares into the eyes of the gang’s leader, Aballay. This is the stare that haunts Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, given substance by Charles Bronson as the boy becomes a man. In Aballay the story moves on ten years and the boy is now a man in his early twenties with, as Variety‘s reviewer points out, a rather ludicrous stuck-on moustache. This is Julián, making his way towards the town of ‘La Malaria’! – a setting that would fit nicely into The Wild Bunch and I was almost surprised that Warren Oates and Ernest Borgnine didn’t appear in the cantina.

Aballay looks wonderful. The landscapes are spectacular and cinematographer Claudio Beiza has an eye for arresting framings. But director Fernando Spiner’s narrative is elliptical, driven almost entirely by notions of revenge and family honour. This is where the film departs from the American-Italian conceptions of the ‘West’ as a frontier about to be incorporated into a capitalist state. There is no historical background or contextualising of gaucho culture in Aballay that I could discern. (Of course, this is only relevant for a global audience – the local audience probably doesn’t need such knowledge to be spelt out. I have read that the original story by Antonio Di Benedetto was written when he was a journalist imprisoned under the junta and that it is seen as an intensely ‘Argentinian’ story which no doubt carries symbolic meaning.)  The screening introduction suggested that the setting was “early 20th century” but who were the soldiers, who was Julián’s father, where was the gold heading? None of this seems to matter. Instead, the narrative moves into a more folkloric/mystical mode. A flashback reveals how Aballay (Pablo Cedrón) gave up leadership of the gang after his soulful meeting with Julián as a boy and turned to the teachings of Simon Stylites, the hermetic saint who perched on top of a column for 37 years to expiate his sins. Aballay refuses to get off his horse and retreats to the mountains where he becomes known as the ‘saint of the poor’ – only coming down to La Malaria when his former second in command, El Muerto (‘The Dead One’), terrorises the town, steals the beautiful Juana as his bride and stakes out Julián for the vultures when he attempts to save the girl.

Aballay is the Argentinian entry for foreign language film at the Oscars. I can’t imagine what the Academy voters will make of it. One of the issues will be the brutality of the violence and the treatment of the single female character who is beaten and abused, even branded. The sense of strength in the character comes from the performance by Mariana Anghileri but I think that you could argue that the film is exploitative in the way it uses her body. These aspects certainly troubled me (and I’m a fan of Peckinpah and Leone) but I am interested in these kinds of Latin American ‘Western’ and I suspect that there is a market for this internationally – though it is a long time since the popularity of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo (1970). Simon Stylites also refers to Buñuel’s Mexican production of Simon of the Desert (Simón del desierto, Mexico 1965). The full title of Aballay translates as ‘the man without fear’ and to return to the rebel gaucho, it isn’t difficult to see that opaque though the actions of these men may be to non-Argentinians, they can carry such symbolic weight for local audiences.  This is a film to watch out for if it gets a wider release.

YouTube trailer (no English subs – but they aren’t really needed):

Posted in Argentinian Cinema, Festivals and Conferences | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

BIFF 2011 #12: Mount Bayo (Cerro Bayo, Argentina 2010)

Posted by Roy Stafford on 28 March 2011

Inés is consoled by her brother in Cerro Bayo

Cerro Bayo offers a pleasant and diverting way of spending 86 minutes. My initial response was ‘Almodóvar lite’ or ‘telenovela plus’. I hope that isn’t too much of a putdown because I enjoyed the film. Writer-director Victoria Galardi has several things going for her including a good cast and a beautiful setting in Villa La Angostura, in the Andes of Western Patagonia close to the popular ski resort on Cerro Bayo. The script has its comic moments and she’s only really let down by the occasional clunky sequence and a rather weak resolution to the narrative.

The plot hinges on the drastic action of the mother of two middle-aged women. After winning some money at the casino she buries it under the headstone on her husband’s grave and then attempts suicide – but only manages to put herself into a coma. Cue the return of her older daughter Mercedes from Buenos Aires sniffing around for the money while the younger daughter Marta sits by her mother’s bedside. Marta’s husband meanwhile is inveigled into a plan to sell his mother-in-law’s plot of land to some Spaniards. Her son needs money to travel to Europe and her daughter is obsessed with winning the local beauty contest. There are more old memories for Mercedes to turn up and the usual small town relationships to disentangle. I don’t think that there is enough here to warrant a UK distributor picking up the film, but I’m glad I saw it all the same. I’ve not seen this part of Argentina represented before and it made me think about how this country (the 8th largest in the world) has so many varied landscapes and narrative possibilities for filmmakers.

Posted in Argentinian Cinema, Festivals and Conferences, Films by women, Melodrama | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

!Viva¡ #2 El asaltante (The Mugger, Argentina 2007)

Posted by Roy Stafford on 9 March 2011

Arturo Goetz as the man.

This was an enjoyable screening event. As part of the ‘Cine en Construcción’ strand organised by Instituto Cervantes, the director Pablo Fendrik was in attendance and after the screening (again a film of only 70 mins) he conducted a lively and entertaining Q & A in English. He is clearly a talented director and if he ever finds that he can’t sell his films he has potential as a performer in a one-man show.

El asaltante is a slight but very engaging narrative that intrigues the viewer and raises several questions about how people live in Buenos Aires. The film opens with a middle-aged man (see the image above – although the film is in colour) entering a school in the city rather furtively. What follows is the gradual breakdown of what was clearly a carefully planned ‘operation’. The camera follows the central character like a limpet in a series of long takes – a masterpiece of handheld camerawork and careful choreography. At the end of the film we do finally learn the identity of the protagonist – but not why he carries out the operation, although we do get some clues.

In the Q & A, Fendrik revealed that the story was based on a real incident he had read about in a local newspaper. The perpetrator was never caught and Fendrik thought this was an ideal basis for a film that could be shot and edited very quickly on a low budget. He was certainly correct on that score and aided by excellent cinematography and a totally convincing performance by Arturo Goetz as ‘the man’ he has produced an attractive little film. My questions to him after the screening focused on the short length of the film and whether it received a release in Argentina.

Pablo Fendrik at Cannes in 2008.

Fendrik told us that after screening at Cannes in 2007 during International Critics Week he had received a lot of interest. Distributors had urged him to shoot an extra ten minutes but he was adamant that he just wanted to shoot the story as he saw it and that he wasn’t prepared to change. Pressed on how the film was distributed in Argentina he told us that it was screened as the first film to be shown in a new specialised cinema in Buenos Aires but that he had refused an offer to screen at a ‘museum cinema’ because the other films on the programme were too ‘arty’. I admire someone who sticks to his guns but it’s a shame if more people don’t get to see this director’s work. And work he does. He returned to Cannes in 2008 with a second feature, Blood Appears, again with Arturo Goetz in a lead role. This co-production with France and Germany sounds far too violent for me, but Fendrik is clearly a director to look out for. El asaltante is available on a Region 1 DVD in the US.

The film’s trailer is here, but SPOILER warning, it gives away more of what happens than this review. (The music track isn’t in the film.)

Posted in Argentinian Cinema, Festivals and Conferences | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos, Argentina/Spain 2009)

Posted by Roy Stafford on 1 September 2010

Javier Godino, Soledad Villamil and Ricardo Darín

The question everyone is asking is why did this film win the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009 ahead of Une prophète and Das weisse Band (and for that matter, Ajami and The Milk of Sorrow)? It’s a bit of a silly question really, but we all find ourselves pondering over it. The answer is possibly because this film looks most like a classic Hollywood mystery/thriller.

Plot outline (no spoilers)

Benjamín Esposito, a retired officer of the federal court in Buenos Aries, is struggling to write a novel. Eventually, we realise that the novel is actually based on real events in his life. Some 20-25 years earlier, starting in 1975, Esposito was involved with a vicious rape and murder case in which a young schoolteacher was attacked at home. He was deeply affected by the devotion of the young woman’s husband and was determined to find the real killer after colleagues made a false arrest. But Esposito is also troubled by his long unfulfilled yearning for the young woman who was appointed as his boss and a sense of guilt about what happened to his own assistant who was a crucial part of the investigation. Will writing the novel finally help him to crack the case and – and defeat his personal demons?

Commentary

This is a thoroughly entertaining film that certainly gripped me over its 129 minutes and it is great to see a large scale Argentinian film again. Shot in CinemaScope with a wonderful sequence at a football ground (and a great football discussion in a bar), the film looks very good and the performances are outstanding. There was only one technical flaw, exacerbated by watching the film on a big screen via a digital print – the make-up necessary to age characters by 25 years is clearly visible. This is especially the case in the closing scenes and perhaps contributes to the dismissal of the film’s narrative resolution as ‘contrived’.

The obvious point to make is that the film (which is based on a novel) is deliberately intended to refer to the period of the ‘Dirty War’ and the ‘Disappeared’ in Argentina during the second half of the 1970s. Benjamín is frequently urged to “put it all behind him” and to “look forward, not back”.  The not unnatural obsession with this period is a trait of Argentinian Cinema and it is interesting that it is still there as a major theme. This might be the key to why I was so reminded of the The Lives of Others, another Oscar winner which explored a dark national past via crime, mystery and personal relationships. Rather like that film, I did feel that sometimes this Argentinian film was rather too clever for its own good.

The main enjoyment in the film comes from the two relationships which are central for Benjamín. In some ways, I would have probably enjoyed the film even more if these relationships had replaced the murder mystery altogether. The assistant, Pablo, is witty and amusing (as well as tragic) and the boss Irene is stunningly attractive and provocatively dominant/submissive. I was struck by a review which offers a reading of Benjamín as gay and therefore guilty about failing his assistant and tentative in pursuing his boss. I confess that this reading didn’t jump out at me, but on reflection it makes a lot of sense. The film’s subtitles don’t help of course. They appear to have been translated into ‘American’ – always a problem, I fear, because American slang loses the subtlety of Argentinian Spanish and I found myself several times thinking, “Did that character really say that?”. Perhaps they did – I’m not familiar with Argentinian banter. But the review has other important points to make as well. The director, Juan José Campanella has a background in television in both the US and Latin America. He appears to have been put down by reviewers referring to the telenovela elements in the plot of this film. I don’t see this as a problem (though I can see that the title suggests the pleasure of the telenovela – a long serial melodrama) but I am interested to learn that the two principal actors, Soledad Villamil and Ricardo Darín (as Irene and Benjamín) have appeared in earlier films by the same director. Darín is a seasoned campaigner but Villamil has relatively few listed credits on IMDB, so her performance is the more remarkable. They were together in El mismo amor, la misma lluvia (1999) which appears to be a romantic comedy. Given the other elements in the film, it is clear that there is much in The Secret in Their Eyes that will mean more in Argentina than overseas.

To return to the original question, it is pointless to compare this mainstream entertainment film with the work of Michael Haneke and Jacques Audiard. I would heartily recommend it as a great night out at the pictures. Apart from the make-up, it seems to me a highly professional piece of work and a very interesting text in terms of Argentinian film culture. I’d happily spend more time with these characters and if this was a telenovela on UK screens, I’d start watching TV again.

Here is the short subtitled trailer:

Posted in Argentinian Cinema, Latin American Cinema, Spanish Cinema | 3 Comments »

 
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