The Calgary Cinematheque’s focus on 21st Century Argentine Cinema highlights a diverse collection of contemporary directors associated with the New Argentine Cinema. While films of the New Argentine Cinema were not part of a unified movement like the French New Wave or Brazilian Cinema Novo, they were united by a desire to depict original creative stories that broke away from the past yet still maintained a foothold in Argentine society. Famous Argentine directors such as Adrián Caetano, Bruno Stagnaro, Pablo Trapero, Martín Rejtman, Daniel Burman, Lisandro Alonso, Lucrecia Martel, the late Fabián Bielinsky, Carlos Sorin and Matías Piñeiro all started making their movies when Argentina was either in the midst of an economic crisis or just coming out of one. Powered by fresh new ideas, their diverse films helped restore Argentina’s cinematic identity both nationally and on the global stage.
The collective process of filmmaking in New Argentine Cinema did not happen overnight but took almost two decades as Argentine cinema had to rebuild itself after local cinema had lost its voice and the film industry almost ground to a complete halt in the late 1980s-early 1990s. Between 1976-83, Argentine cinema was restricted to a limited number of film productions per year under the rule of the military dictatorship. Once the dictatorship ended in 1983, the Argentine film industry was finally able to make works that examined the impacts of the dictatorship or the ‘Dirty War’, a term which described the subversive tactics used by the military to torture, assassinate or kidnap opposing political voices. The most famous of these films about the dictatorship, Luis Puenzo’s The Official Story (1985), won an Academy Award in 1986. Film production showed signs of recovery in the mid 1980’s but production hit a snag after the Argentine Currency crisis of 1989, an event that resulted in film production falling to numbers lower than even under the dictatorship years. However, a series of events in the early 1990’s ensured the seeds for a future awakening of cinema had been planted. Demetrios Matheou outlines three of these key events in The Faber Book of New South American Cinema. First, the establishment of the Universidad del Cine paved the way for future generations of film directors and many of the nation’s current top directors, such as Lisandro Alonso, Bruno Stagnaro, Pablo Trapero, Matías Piñeiro, graduated from there. Second, the creation of the 1994 New Cinema Law helped open up a new source of revenue for the newly created Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales (INCAA) ensuring independent films could be made. Third, the sponsorship in 1995 of a short-film competition, Historias Breves, resulted in many young directors getting a chance to make their short films and also establish connections with other like-minded filmmakers. It was at this short film competition that Daniel Burman, Lucrecia Martel, Adrián Caetano and Bruno Stagnaro met each other and started sharing ideas. Film production started to increase in the late 1990‘s although most of the films were Hollywood-inspired productions. However, just as the 1990‘s were about to end, a New Argentine cinema started to take flight, starting with Adrián Caetano and Bruno Stagnaro’s Pizza, birra, faso (Pizza, Beer and Cigarettes,1998) and Pablo Trapero’s Mundo Grúa (Crane World) in 1999. These young directors came with a unique perspective and their cinema broke away from the conventional mould that existed previously. Pizza, Beer and Cigarettes and Crane World were shot in extended takes and depicted characters and events in a vérité manner that bordered on documentary. These two films had roots in Italian neo-realist cinema and incorporated Argentina’s social and economic realities. The economic crisis of 1998-02 impacted Argentine society drastically and these films embraced the harsh reality and stitched it within their framework to depict youth and workers struggling to make ends meet. Adrián Caetano continued this examination with his 2001 film Bolivia which examined the simmering anger regarding unemployment and the distrust towards foreigners coming into the country. Caetano, Stagnaro and Trapero showed that their films didn’t exist in a bubble but were fully immersed in contemporary society. Once these directors took an alternate path, others followed and examined Argentine society with their own unique visions.
It has been just over two decades since the establishment of the New Cinema Law and INCAA. The impact of these efforts have helped ensure that Argentine Cinema is no longer isolated from the world. In addition, the film themes have also evolved from purely Argentine stories to works that contain universal themes. For the last 15 years, many of the New Argentine Cinema works have screened at numerous international film festivals around the globe. Calgary has shown works of Daniel Burman and Carlos Sorin as part of either the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) or Calgary Latin Wave. However, their films were screened in isolation with no unifying thread to link the works with each other. There existed a need to finally shine the spotlight on New Argentine Cinema and present a collection of works from some of the more established names who are inspiring a new generation of directors around the world. In this regard, the Calgary Cinematheque’s four-film series offers a chance to closely look at some of these established directors. All the films selected were made in the 21st Century as Argentina was emerging from their economic crisis. The four films, Jauja (Lisandro Alonso), The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel), Bombón: El Perro (Carlos Sorin) and Viola (Matías Piñeiro), are by directors associated with different regions of Argentina. These directors themes and styles range from a vérité style to a cinema inspired by theatre and literature. Lisandro Alonso’s stunning visual style arises from his decision to set almost all films outside cities, away from the everyday noise and traffic of city life. Alonso’s films take place in nature, such as a farm (La Libertad), a forest/river (Los Muertos), snowy mountains/sea (Liverpool) and a desert (Jauja), allowing his camera the freedom to explore the natural surroundings thereby creating a beautiful visual language. The only feature film he depicted in a city, Fantasma, takes place entirely inside the Teatro San Martin, a Buenos Aires theatre, where the city is only visible via the giant glass windows in the lobby. Prior to Jauja, his films contained lonely male characters who made their way through nature, either going about their daily lives or trying to repair their past. However, Jauja is an exciting departure for Alonso as it highlights what a talented auteur can accomplish with a larger cast and a major star (Viggo Mortensen). On the other hand, Lucrecia Martel’s films are packed with multiple characters and are entirely city-based. In her case, the films take place in Salta, a city located in the North West region of Argentina where she was born. In her films, the settings are large houses and the stories depict class divisions in society with a witty combination of satire and drama. No one is spared in Martel’s films as she ensures the attentive camera captures all relevant details. Carlos Sorin is identified with Patagonia, located in the southern part of Argentina, a region where he has filmed four of his features, starting with Intimate Stories, Bombón: El Perro, The Window and his last feature Gone Fishing. Each film contains a beautiful layer of emotions while following fully developed characters on journeys across the picturesque Patagonian landscapes. Buenos Aires forms the backdrop for Matías Piñeiro’s films but one doesn’t really notice the presence of the city in his work. The characters may live in a city but the city does not impose on their lives. Instead, their lives revolve around art and theatre. In this regard, Piñeiro has skillfully created a world within a world in his films which are richly influenced by theatre and literature, something which sets him apart from the other contemporary Argentine directors. In his recent films, the influence of Shakespeare can be felt such as in Rosalind (Shakespeare’s As You Like It), Viola (The Twelfth Night) and his recent The Princess of France (Love Labour’s Lost). Yet, his films are not direct adaptations but show how text from Shakespeare’s plays can serve as creative inspirations.
The earlier works of New Argentine Cinema started off by holding up a mirror towards Argentine society and giving voices to people and stories that were previously suppressed. Newer works still have roots in Argentine society but are looking outwards toward the world and presenting stories that are universal. As a result, people from different parts of the world can relate to these Argentine films. For example, Lisandro Alonso’s films are undeniably associated with Argentine landscapes but the depiction of closure and redemption sought by his characters are universal traits. Similarly, Martel’s films examine class divisions in society but the behaviour and actions of her characters can take place in any country where there is a significant financial divide between people. Emotions play a big part in Carlos Sorin’s films which is why his films can evoke powerful reactions around the world. In Bombón: El Perro, Sorin depicts a tender relationship between a man and his dog and as a result, the film perfectly illustrates why a dog is such a worthy companion to humans. On the other hand, Piñeiro’s films captures the world of art and theatre. As a result, Piñeiro’s films could easily be set in any city where art and theatre flourish. The four films selected by the Cinematheque give a glimpse into Argentine society as well as highlight the unique filmmaking style of New Argentine Cinema. The initial films of New Argentine Cinema started with inspiration from neo-realist Italian cinema with stories born out of Argentina’s economy crisis. Now, newer Argentine films have developed their own film language and are in turn referenced in global film festivals. Any film set in Patagonia will be forever linked to Carlos Sorin while any film which features contemplative shots of lonely men walking in nature will be compared to the cinema of Lisandro Alonso. The Argentine works selected by the Calgary Cinematheque offers a unique chance to understand some of Argentina’s past while offering a glimpse into both contemporary and future cinematic trends.