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The cinema in Latin America

17.01.2011

Brazil’s Bruno Barreto created the raucous comedy Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands) in 1976, while Carlos Diegues scored with the colorful Bye Bye Brasil (Bye Bye Brazil, 1979), an examination of circus life in the Amazon, as a rag-tag troupe competes with the encroaching influence of television. Hector Babenco made an interesting homage to American “B” films of the 1940s with Kiss of the Spider Woman (O Beijo da Mulher Aranha, 1985), starring William Hurt, Raul Julia, and Sonia Braga. Brazil’s Walter Salles began his cinematic career with the documentary short Socorro Nobre (Life Somewhere Else, 1995), which led to his first fiction feature, Central do Brasil (Central Station, 1998), in which a hardened, cynical woman takes in a young boy after his mother dies and regains some of her lost humanity as they search for the boy’s absent father.


The film was a surprise art-house hit throughout the world and eventually brought Salles to the United States. Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s Cidade de Deus (City of God, 2002) is a brutal slum drama set in the shanty towns of Rio de Janeiro, as gangs of young kids battle for survival in a world of drugs, guns, and sudden death; it owes much to the spirit of Buñuel’s Los Olvidados.


Argentine cinema underwent a resurgence in the 1980s and 1990s. In the 1950s and 1960s, Argentina’s leading force in the cinema was the prolific Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, whose films La Casa del ángel (The House of the Angel, 1957), Fin de fiesta (The Party Is Over, 1960), and El Ojo de la cer-radura (The Eavesdropper, 1964) were well received at international film festivals. María Luisa Bemberg became one of the most important directors of the new era with the passionate historical romance Camila (1984), which was the biggest box office hit in Argentine history, while her film De eso no se habla (I Don’t Want to Talk About It, 1993) became an international success at the box office and Bemberg’s most influential film. This whimsical tale of Charlotte (Alejandra Podesta), a woman who is born a dwarf and brought up by her mother, Leonor (Luisina Brando), to ignore her condition entirely, and then falls in love with the dashing Ludovico D’Andrea (Marcello Mas-troianni), is funny, sad, and wise.


Bemberg died in 1995; since then, such directors as Fernando E. Solanas, Lucrecia Martel, Juan José Campanella, Fabián Bielinsky, and Luis Puenzo have contributed to some of Argentine cinema’s most prolific years. Solanas, the oldest of the group, directed the exquisite musical drama Tangos, el exilio de Gardel (Tangos, the Exile ofGardel, 1985), in which a group of Argentine exiles in Paris gather together to celebrate the tango in a series of staged performances, dedicated to Carlos Gardel, a legendary Argentine tango star. An outspoken political activist who is often critical of the government, Solanas survived a shooting attack in May 1991 when he was struck by two bullets during an ambush. Solanas continued to make films, however, and became even more involved in political causes.


 La Dignidad de los nadies (The Dignity of the Nobodies, 2005), for example, details the economic crisis of Brazil in the early part of the twentieth century, brought about by inflation and predatory bank policies.


Lucrecia Martel’s La Ciénaga (The Swamp, 2001) is a stunning film about the complicated lives of two women and their respective families who live in a small town. Juan José Campanella’s El Hijo de la novia (Son of the Bride, 2001) is a tale of midlife crisis in which forty-two-year-old Rafael Bielvedere (Ricardo Darín) struggles with his relationship with his overbearing father and elderly mother. After twenty years as an assistant director, Fabián Bielinsky’s first film as a director, Nuevas reinas (Nine Queens, 2000), was a fast-paced and wildly popular caper comedy that relied on deception and comic confusion; sadly, Bielinsky succumbed to a heart attack shortly after the completion of his next film, the hauntingly enigmatic El Aura (The Aura, 2006), about a low-level government worker who inadvertently becomes involved in a high-stakes casino robbery. Luis Puenzo’s La Historia oficial (The Official Story, 1985) is a complex tale of love and memory, as a couple in Buenos Aires realize that their adopted daughter may be the child of a woman who vanished from her home in the wave of terror from 1976 to 1983, known as the “Dirty War,” when Argentina was under the rule of a brutal military dictatorship.


 The film was a remarkable success both critically and commercially and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.


Mexican cinema, moribund from the 1960s through the 1980s, began to show signs of a resurgence with such films as María Novaro’s Danzón (1991), an exquisite film about love, dancing, and Mexican cultural life, and Alfonso Arau’s delicate love story Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate, 1992). Arturo Ripstein, who started his career as an uncredited assistant director to Luis Buñuel, directed his first feature, Tiempo De Morir (Time to Die), in 1965. Since then, Ripstein has been remarkably prolific, with more than fifty feature films to his credit. He is also known for embracing digital filmmaking in his more recent works, stating flatly in an interview that “ the future of cinema is digital.”


Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores perros (Love’s a Bitch, 2000) was a breakthrough film that became a substantial hit internationally, painting a violent picture of modern life in Mexico City in a series of interlocking stories, not unlike Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). With Amores perros, the Mexican cinema returned to its commercial, populist roots, with movies that were simultaneously exploitable at the box office and yet undeniably rich in personal expression. The film was Iñárritu’s feature film debut after a long apprenticeship directing television commercials and established him as a front-rank artist in a single stroke. Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también (And Your Mother Too, 2001) is one of the ultimate road movies of all time, as two young boys take to the highway with an older woman for a voyage of pleasure, introspection, and personal discovery. The film was an unexpected international hit. Cuarón almost immediately left Mexico for Hollywood, where he directed the highly successful Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Az-kaban (2004) and then went to England to direct the dystopian science fiction parable Children of Men (2006), a film notable for its stunning handheld cinematography and oppressively bleak production design. But as these artists leave Mexico, the country’s indigenous film industry suffers. Such migration has been part of a recurring pattern that has drained the Mexican cinema of much of its promising talent.



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