To mark the 5th annual Argentine Film Festival which starts in London this Thursday, we trace the origins of the present, exciting state of Argentine cinema.
In the early years of the new millennium, Latin American cinema established itself on the world stage with a series of films of staggering vivacity and lucidity. It truly was an authentic ‘New Wave’: a literal burst of energy; a furious, delirious collage of stories and bulletins from a previously under-represented corner of our planet. At the forefront of the movement were the films and filmmakers of Mexico and Brazil. Stunning works emanated from the now celebrated names of Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros), Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También), Carlos Reygadas (Japón, Battle in Heaven), Fernando Meirelles (City of God) and Walter Salles (Central Station). Since then, quality films from South and Central America have become less of a novelty, and alongside Mexico and Brazil, other countries have established themselves as hotbeds of cinematic virtuosity. Chile (think Pablo Larraín, Patrizio Guzmán, Sebastian Silvá) and Colombia are two that have especially impressed – anyone who has seen the recent Gente de Bien and Embrace of the Serpent will know this could be the next ‘sleeping giant’ of a country to establish itself cinematically.
Argentina has slipped under the radar somewhat when talk turns to this fabled Latin American New Wave, but there is a compelling case for it having the richest and most diverse of national cinemas across South and Central America. If a striking, vibrant national cinema is about the strong marriage of content (the potential stories and landscapes available to that country’s filmmakers) and form, then Argentina’s fascinating geographical, sociological and historical canvas puts it in a great position to produce world-class cinema. And it does.
Argentina has a huge land mass – the second largest in South America – and interestingly, along with Chile, it is one of the world’s longest countries. Over 3500km in length, Argentina’s northernmost borders touch upon the barren desertscapes of northern Chile and Bolivia, while its southern boundaries are the closest inhabited lands to Antarctica (the port of Ushuaia is the world’s southernmost city). This length and breadth of landscape has inspired Argentine filmmakers to not only make films of captivating pictoral diversity, but to let compelling stories emerge organically from those terrains. Two of the most ingenious examples of these are Lisandro Alonso’s hypnotic Liverpool (2008), where a dissolute sailor pitches up in Ushuaia before embarking on an enigmatic pilgrimage into the wintry confines of Tierra del Fuego, while Pablo Trapero’s Born and Bred (2006) uses the beautiful desolation of Patagonia to fashion a moving portrayal of grief.
Of course, mention of a country’s social geography would be remiss without discussing its capital city, and in Buenos Aires, Argentina has a suitably vibrant (sometimes incendiary) arena for its crackling cinematic tales to play out on. Almost a third of Argentina’s population is condensed in the greater metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, so that has naturally forged – as in other countries with dominant capital cities like the United Kingdom and France – a lopsided financial and political power equilibrium versus the rest of the country. Consider also Argentina’s ethnic diversity, with its relatively recent swathe of European immigrants largely contained in Buenos Aires. This number is particularly high in French and Italians – likely cause for Buenos Aires resembling a southern hemisphere Paris. The outer margins of Argentina however (notably the North-West and the far South) are home to a sizeable indigenous population. Some films have begun to assess these divides and their likely sociopolitical implications, most notably Lucrecia Martel’s remarkable The Headless Woman (2008), which is one of the great cinematic class critiques.
Mention of Argentina’s national cinema couldn’t also pass without some reference to the country’s turbulent history. The latest generation of filmmakers have been particularly drawn to examining the legacy of Argentina’s “Dirty War” period (approximately 1974-83) when thousands of citizens simply “disappeared” at the hands of the Argentine government and its supporters. Even the Academy Awards cottoned on to the power inherent in this form of Argentine soul-searching when it gave its 2009 Best Foreign Language Oscar to Juan José Campanella’s brilliant The Secret in Their Eyes – a thriller based partly on the murky politics and slippery notions of justice in ’70s Argentina.
Here is our list of Argentina’s top 5 contemporary filmmakers. In the case of Rotter and Trapero, some of their films are playing at this week’s Argentine Film Festival.
5. Ariel Rotter
An outstanding filmmaker who has a film, Incident Light, playing at this week’s Argentine Film Festival. Rotter’s a brilliant visual artist whose The Other won the Silver Bear at the 2007 Berlinale.
4. Juan José Campanella
Campanella’s now exhibiting his directorial skills on American TV, but his Oscar-winning The Secret in Their Eyes deservedly drew Argentine cinema to wider, mainstream acclaim.
3. Lisandro Alonso
A distinctive, arthouse filmmaker who has gone on to considerable international success. He turned the southern tip of Argentina into an otherworldly terrain for Liverpool, and created a memorable Danish-Argentine fantasia with Viggo Mortensen for Jauja (2014).
2. Pablo Trapero
Comfortable in both arthouse and genre cinema, Trapero is not only a dynamic visual artist but a compassionate, humane storyteller too. He has the whiff of a young Scorsese about him.
1. Lucrecia Martel
Possibly, just possibly, the most accomplished filmmaker on the planet. She makes films of exceptional subtlety and philosophical richness from La Ciénega (2002) and The Holy Girl (2004) to the staggering microcosm of a social class’s fecklessness that was The Headless Woman. We wait with increasingly bated breath for her next feature (eight years and counting… ).
If this has whetted your appetite to see more Argentine Cinema then your luck’s in! From August 18-21 in London there’s the 5th annual Argentine Film Festival. See the following link for more information: