Sunday, July 21, 2013

Film Review LAP

Film Review
Latin American Perspectives, July 2013 40: 136-139

Homo artis, Homo laborans, and Homo politicus: The Pursuit of Redemption in Three Recent Argentine Films

Armando Bo El último Elvis. Argentina, 2012

Pablo Giorgelli Las acacias. Argentina, 2011

Santiago Mitre El estudiante. Argentina, 2011

One cannot be short of themes while there is still plenty of reality. Any hour of the day, any place, any person, is a subject for narrative if the narrator is capable of observing and illuminating all these collective elements by exploring their interior value.

—Cesare Zavattini

Armando Bo’s feature film debut The Last Elvis (El último Elvis) is a refreshing addition to recent Argentine releases. Bo is the grandson of Armando Bo Senior, the director of the soft-porn pulp classics of Isabel “La Coca” Sarli (Fiebre, 1972, and Carne, 1968). He appears to share his grandfather’s fascination with the malcontent antiheroes that are ever present in our bustling Latin American cities. The Last Elvis follows the misadventures of Carlos Gutiérrez (John McInerny) over a period of a few days. Carlos makes his living impersonating Elvis Presley, singing at private parties and neighborhood fairs.

During the day Carlos (who insists on being called “Elvis,” as if the name were a title of nobility) works in an appliance factory. It is unclear whether he and his fellow workers on the line are assembling new appliances or refurbishing outmoded ones. His factory job speaks volumes about his own path as an artist. During a particularly reflective scene, he leaves the assembly line and walks through a maze of discarded stoves, presumably to take one of his breaks. It’s a stunning shot for its artistic qualities and narrative effect. Carlos lounges on a discarded sofa, feet propped up, listening to “the King” on his Sony Walkman Sport. Just like the rusted refrigerator lying on a heap of other appliances in the background, he is physically exhausted. As he moves into his forties, one wonders whether he is destined for refurbishing or for the dump.

The opening scene is equally provocative. A traveling shot leads the viewer up a set of marble stairs lined with brass railings as Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra builds in intensity. It is impossible for a director to use this music in a film without evoking Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The tone in Bo’s film is set for yet another cosmic encounter, but this time it is with the transformative energy of rock ‘n’ roll. Strauss’s composition turns out to be Carlos’s entrance music, which he follows with a
delightful rendition of Elvis’s classic “See, See, Rider”. In the film as in Carlos’s performance, the execution is part of a plan. The impersonator copies the opening of Presley’s legendary concert Elvis Aloha from Hawaii, a television broadcast that was watched by millions in 1973. Elvis’s famous lyrics “Well, I’m going away, baby/And I won’t be back ‘til fall” form a central motif that sets the film’s plot in motion.

Without McInerny’s superb performance, The Last Elvis would be just another tragicomedy about a loser pretending to be a star. McInerny is especially memorable in this role because he is a real-life Elvis impersonator by night (an architect by day). Initially hired by Bo to coach the lead actor, McInerny turned out to be too good to pass up, and the director decided to replace the trained actor with the real deal.

Carlos doesn’t have many friends. He strikes the pose of a lonely artist seeking redemption. He is estranged from his wife, Alejandra (Griselda Siciliani), and his daughter, Lisa Marie (played by Margarita Lopez with great naturalness). He resents it when Alejandra doesn’t respond to the name “Priscilla” and scoffs at his daughter for not liking “the King’s” favorite sandwich—peanut butter and banana on white bread. His only visitor is a prostitute. While this could be construed as trite, the film positions this character as a kindred spirit; Carlos also prostitutes himself by assuming the persona of another artist for hire. When his ex-wife has a near-fatal car accident, Carlos is put in the position of having to assume fatherly duties, a role he has thus far managed to avoid.

A sense of doom saturates this film. Carlos is at odds not only with the times and his age but also with the Kafkaesque impersonators’ association that reimburses him for his gigs. This association is a celebrities’ purgatory. A rock connoisseur could surely identify in the crowd of familiar faces a Mick Jagger, an Iggy Pop, and a Charly García, to name a few.

Out of the meager salary he receives, Carlos is saving to travel to Graceland. His pilgrimage toward the end is the film’s memorable payoff. Bo and Nicolás Giacobone (credited for the screenplay) recognize that in popular culture, great art is mostly imitation, particularly in an age of digital reproduction. Carlos’s Elvis is as much a version of Elvis as Elvis himself, and this is what makes McInerny’s performance so disquieting; in a song we can ascertain the materialization, rise, and eventual downfall of two great performers.

There is a similar tone to Pablo Giorgelli’s Las acacias. The film is also a story of a marginal character, a single-minded truck driver whose judgment is stuck to the road ahead, but it has no references to pop culture, stardom, or cultural colonialism. Las acacias tells a simple tale and does so with confidence and weariness.

Little is said during the first 20 minutes or so. In the opening scene we witness an acacia tree being cut down with a chain saw. Latin American viewers, quick to pick up
on regional languages and accents, will situate themselves at the border between Paraguay and Argentina, a region that has been devastated by indiscriminate logging for decades. Rubén (Germán de Silva) transports logs on a faded Scania truck; its purring engine provides the soundtrack for the first quarter of the film.

On this trip, Rubén is annoyed because he has been ordered to drive from the border to Buenos Aires (a long journey) with Jacinta (Hebe Duarte) and her 5-month-old baby girl, Anahí (Nayra Calle Mamani) (Figure 2). Not much is said between the two adults, but there is no need for conversation. In contrast to many contemporary directors, Giorgelli clearly understands that relationships are built mostly on gestures rather than words.

In the beginning, Rubén is purposely rude to Jacinta. He drinks without offering, lights a cigarette in front of the baby, and doses off at the wheel (something that he later tries to deny). During these first tense scenes, the camera is mostly confined to the truck’s cabin, and we begin to crave the rare opportunity to peek at the passing landscape out of a window or in the dusty rear-view mirror. The outside world is only fleetingly reflected, and we begin to question Rubén’s ability to imagine life beyond these narrow frames.

The eyes of baby Anahí are interposed between Rubén’s callousness and Jacinta’s dignity. In Guaraní “Anahí” means the flower of the ceibo (Argentina’s national tree), esteemed for its beauty, and Anahí is beautiful. Both Rubén and Jacinta have turbulent pasts. As Jacinta firmly states, the baby has no father. Rubén met his son when he was four and hasn’t seen him since. He carries a picture of him in his glove compartment, perhaps to remind him of his missteps as a father. The road pushes the characters forward, and their relationship warms up. Viewers are left to evaluate what each character requires from the other and whether emptiness might be filled by their companionship. This is an antiquated tale, but the care with which it is handled by Giorgelli and Salvador Roselli (who collaborated on the screenplay) gives the film a distinguished glow.

El estudiante (2011)
On its screening at the esteemed Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente, Santiago Mitre’s film The Student (El estudiante) was heralded as the beginning of a new era in Argentine independent film. The film is shot in digital HD, but the screenplay rests on the principles of classical filmmaking—an agreeable combination of the old and the new. Mitre coauthored Pablo Trapero’s Leonera (2008) and Carancho (2010), darlings of the international circuit, and his maturity is well displayed in The Student. What makes this new film a promising departure for him is that he manages to bring us even closer than usual to the social milieu of its protagonists.

Roque Espinosa (Esteban Lamothe), a slightly lazy college student, moves to Buenos Aires to attend the tumultuous University of Buenos Aires. He soon discovers (the passage of time in the film is marked by the girls he sleeps with) that he would much rather
meander through the poster-covered hallways and student centers spinning out political conspiracies than attend class. The film marks Roque as a hunter. The Argentine rockers Los Natas provide untamed rhythms and distortions to anticipate or accompany the moments when he is mulling over his next move up the university’s barbed ladder. Roque favors, protects, enlists, and seduces colleagues and comrades with an ease that, from time to time, surprises even himself. Mitre must be thanked for not weighing the scenes down with expository dialogue. This is in fact one of the best qualities of his film—his ability to detach himself from the world he is exploring in order to reveal, humorously, its contradictions. The moralizing is left for those who find it necessary to expiate their political sins. Roque prefers action and expediency—he is a political beast.

The cinematography owes much to the documentary (shot on location, uneven camera work, natural lighting, real time). It moves swiftly among the students’ sit-ins and assemblies, often searching for a resting place from which to observe the conspiratorial carnage. Mitre uses some of the formal elements of social realism that we see in the other films reviewed here, but the acting, at times delicately stilted, gives the reality he depicts melodramatic overtones. He relies on the protagonist’s predatory stare to build tension and supplies the prey with a few redeeming features. Paula (Romina Paula), a well-intentioned teaching fellow, supplies several damning stare-downs that chip away at our loyalty to the unsung hero. An omniscient voice comments rather sarcastically on the species that inhabit the social system under scrutiny.

For viewers outside of Argentina, the academic world depicted in The Student, especially the ins and outs of the appointment of professors and deans, may remain mystifying, but the core of the conflict—the rise of a young political leader, closely monitored by his shifty mentor Alberto Acevedo (deftly played by Roque Felix)—is a popular theme in movies about drug pushers, human traffickers, and corrupt cops. For most of the film it remains unclear whether Roque will be able to find the principles and values that will give moral authority to his machinations. One can only hope that those would-be leaders will be driven not by personal ambition but by the yearnings of their communities. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but, as Roque reminds us in The Student, the ritual of casting ballots partially rests on our willingness to delegate rather than govern.

Los espacios de la memoria: Memorias del porvenir


En el marco de la conmemoración de los cincuenta años de la Carrera de Artes

Martes 6 de Agosto, 2013. 14 a 16 hs. 
Centro Cultural de la Memoria Haroldo Conti- Aula 2
Buenos Aires, Argentina


Magdalena Dardel Coronado (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso):Experiencia, emoción y estilo: aportes de la filosofía de Richard Wollheim a la historia del arte.

Marcelo G. Burello (UBA):Regalos de los dioses. El estatuto epistemológico del arte rupestre en la actual Historia del Arte

Jorge Anthonio  e Silva (UNILA):  “Memória, tempo, espaço, arte loucura  em  Arthur  Bispo  do  Rosário

Bárbara Varassi Pega; Inês de Avena Braga (Universidad de Leiden, Holanda. Programa docARTES del Orpheus Institute, Gante, Bélgica):Investigación artística: el cruce entre la teoría y la praxis.

Miriam Lucero (UNSJ-UNTreF-CONICET):El devenir animal en Francis Bacon: una tensión irreductible entre político y lo estético.

Karina Zaltsman (UBA):Los afectos en el cine. En torno a la lectura deleuziana de dos films de John Cassavetes.

Tomás F. Crowder-Taraborrelli (Soka University of America):Música, consumo y geografías emocionales.


La tecnología digital ha generado, como se dice frecuentemente, un sin número de cambios en la producción de las artes. Pero quizás uno de los cambios más notorios y dramáticos es la forma como se compra y se escucha música. Un experiencia tan simple como caminar por las calles de las grandes ciudades pone en evidencia que, a consecuencia de la nuevas tecnologías y del uso de los auriculares, la gente se desplaza e interactúa de forma diferente. El MP3, el teléfono celular, le dan al consumidor la ilusión, tal vez real, que es amo de su campo auditivo. 

En los últimos dos años se publicaron en Estados Unidos varios textos que analizan este fenómeno, algunos de ellos de gran vuelo teórico- Acoustic Territories Sound Culture and Everyday Life (2010) de Brandon La Belle y Reason and Resonance: A History of Modern Aurality (2010), de Veit Erlmann. Para Jonathan Sterne, autor de MP3:The Meaning of a Format (2012) los nuevos formatos digitales sirven de excusa para repasar la historia de la emisión de sonido por cable- empezando por el teléfono, las grabaciones de pasta (el LP), el casete y el MP3. Estos cambios son orquestados por un conglomerado de corporaciones que persuaden a los consumidores que las nuevos formatos son siempre superiores - más pequeños, más livianos, más realistas, y más fáciles de copiar. En mi presentación, analizaré algunas de las características de estos cambios y la diferentes aproximaciones teóricas publicadas en los dos últimos años, haciendo una comparación entre tecnología analógica y digital y su relación con los hábitos de consumo. También me referiré a un estudio de observación realizado en la ciudad de Buenos Aires sobre los modos de escuchar música en la calle. 

Martes, 6 de agosto de 2013


Un gran espacio de reflexión

El CIAC repasará las transformaciones sociopolíticas, estéticas y culturales del último medio siglo en la Argentina. 
Por María Daniela Yaccar

Es enorme el listado de actividades del III Congreso Internacional Artes en Cruce (CIAC), una iniciativa de la carrera de Artes de la Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA). Lo es porque no pasa por alto ninguna disciplina y porque repasa distintas aristas de la creación: la estética, la social y, ante todo, la histórica. El CIAC es un espacio de reflexión y de diálogo que reunirá, desde hoy y hasta el sábado, a artistas, investigadores e intelectuales, nacionales e internacionales, y a la comunidad, para pensar las artes. Se propone una intersección entre los saberes del campo académico, la investigación y la enseñanza en la materia, tanto en los niveles de grado como de posgrado.

Este año, el lema del encuentro –que es bienal– es “Los espacios de la memoria, memorias del porvenir”, ya que invita a hacer una revisión histórica de las distintas disciplinas artísticas (cine, teatro, plástica, música y literatura). Además, “el congreso se propone pensar la historia”, desliza Jorge Dubatti, docente universitario, crítico, historiador teatral y coordinador del área de teatro del CIAC. “Sobre todo pensarla hacia el futuro. El congreso tiene una fuerte marca de futuridad, sobre todo porque alumnos y egresados participan de una manera muy fuerte. El congreso es de los jóvenes”, concluye. Una amplia variedad de temas será abordada en mesas, plenarios, conferencias, entrevistas abiertas y presentaciones de libros. Por otra parte habrá obras teatrales, danza y música. Ayer, Luis Felipe Noé y Eduardo “Tato” Pavlovsky estuvieron en la apertura oficial. En los próximos días participarán Federico Luppi, Norman Briski, Raúl Serrano y Graciela Borges. Una de las actividades destacadas será la entrega de un Doctorado Honoris Causa a la familia de Leonardo Favio.

En esta ocasión, el CIAC se propondrá repasar las transformaciones sociopolíticas y culturales de los últimos cincuenta años. Esta tercera edición es la más grande desde el surgimiento del encuentro, puesto que coincide con el 50º aniversario de la carrera de Artes de la UBA. “Queremos hacer una memoria de la carrera”, apunta Ricardo Manetti, director de Artes. “Entre 1963 y 2013 han ocurrido muchos acontecimientos que transformaron a la universidad y al país. La realidad del ’63 difiere de la de 2013. Hay palabras que hubieran sido impensables, como ‘desaparecido’, ‘trans’, ‘matrimonio igualitario’. Todos estos hechos están ligados a la construcción del campo artístico”, explica. La mirada histórica que propone esta edición del CIAC se manifiesta, también, en la elección de las sedes: la principal es el Centro Cultural de la Memoria Haroldo Conti, que funciona en la ex ESMA. También habrá actividades en el Centro Cultural de la Cooperación –nacido tras la crisis de 2001– y el Centro Cultural Francisco “Paco” Urondo.

“En la selección de los espacios hay una toma de posición, respecto de pensar los treinta años de post-dictadura mirando hacia el futuro”, recalca Dubatti, para quien el factor económico también es crucial para pensar el arte y la cultura: “Es impresionante el crecimiento que la cultura argentina ha ganado, en términos de PBI, en cine, teatro, literatura y música. Es fuerte. Eso habla de la integración de lo artístico a las fuerzas productivas de la Argentina. Recoloca al arte de un lugar más aislado a uno protagónico”.

Entre los múltiples propósitos del congreso también está la revisión del plan de estudios de la carrera de Artes, que nació en los ‘60 como un desprendimiento de Historia. Primero se llamó Historia de las Artes. Manetti traza una cronología hasta llegar a la actualidad. “Durante la primavera camporista se modificó el ámbito universitario, ya que empezó a mostrar un interés grande por el pensamiento latinoamericano y el argentino. Eso quedó parado en los años terribles de oscurantismo y desapariciones. En el ’85, la carrera pasa a llamarse Artes y se divide en tres orientaciones (música, plástica y artes combinadas), incorporando formas de la cultura mediática y popular”, repasa el director. El CIAC debe servir, también, para revisar el plan de estudios actual, “porque los jóvenes de hoy son mucho más jóvenes que el programa. El congreso nos permite pensar nuevos paradigmas en el campo artístico”, cierra Manetti. Otra de las intenciones de los organizadores del CIAC es que la investigación abrace a la comunidad, que no quede en un salón en el que un par de estudiosos debaten sobre el campo artístico. Desde ayer, la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la UBA está artísticamente intervenida. “Más que un congreso, éste es un festival”, define Manetti. “Los congresos tienen que abrirse a otras perspectivas. Los grupos de estudio tienen que estar, pero también es importante plantear un encuentro con los que producen arte. La carrera de Artes trabaja en el campo teórico, pero nada puede hacer esa disciplina si no existen los artistas. Y es clave el contacto con la comunidad”, recalca Manetti