Tuesday, 7/2/2019

The Power of Antithesis: Rebells

Latin American Cinema at FILMFEST MÜNCHEN

The Power of Antithesis: Rebells

The capitol of Chile looks so peaceful from up here: SANTIAGO, ITALIA

Latin America is undergoing political change at an alarming rate. As if wanting once again to do justice to its historical role as imitator and "backyard" of the United States, a neoliberal and right-wing populist rollback is sweeping the continent. This phenomenon is most striking in Brazil, but in nearby countries such as Chile and Argentina, an era of left-leaning government has also suddenly given way to thriving platforms of solidly right-wing politics. The effects have been felt immediately in the cultural realm and in cinema in particular. This is distressing news, but it's also good news, since the continent's filmmakers are coming together to form an effective counterforce that instills fear in the powerful.


Memory and Resistance

In its variety, its nuanced artistic languages, and especially in how it focuses on conflicts in an actively political way, Latin American cinema is a great source of hope that its civil society and its artists will keep their eyes open to realities beyond those portrayed in the distorted images guided by those in power. A shift to the right like that happening in Brazil is already a sad reality in several countries in the Americas, such as Chile. Yet there, of all places, cinema is becoming a medium of artistic resistance, a source of poetically rebellious counterimages.


An example of this is PERRO BOMBA, in which Juan Cáceres offers a highly topical look at the lives of the ever-growing Haitian community in Chile's capital, Santiago, and its deeply racist exclusion by the local population. Another example is SONG WITHOUT A NAME, a film which is part detailed milieu study and part criminal investigation, in which Melina León recalls the organized abduction of the children of indigenous women which really happened in 1980s Peru and which her own father uncovered as a journalist. Yet another example is FIREFLIES, Bani Khoshnoudi's enthralling queer Mexican-Iranian refugee story.




No less than the grand masters of global cinema are now becoming aware of the emblematic potential of Latin American reality, and they're relying on the power of documentary films to depict the current state of the world outside their own regional context. Nanni Moretti's latest work SANTIAGO, ITALIA is, on a superficial level, a story of the coup by Augusto Pinochet against Salvador Allende, though the plot increasingly focuses on the Italian embassy in Santiago, which thanks to the active involvement of the Italian diplomats became a final place of refuge for the persecuted. Moretti succeeds in creating a fascinating counterimage to the reality of present-day Italy: namely, Matteo Salvini's policy on refugees, which wantonly sends them to their death, and an EU policy that criminalizes the saving of human lives.


There's a productive tension between Moretti's storytelling from a European perspective and that of distinguished documentary filmmaker Patricio Guzman, who since the 1973 coup d'état has lived in Paris in order to analyze and interpret the memory of this national tragedy from a distance. On its way across the mighty Andes mountains, an unknown territory in spite of the fact that they cover 80% of Chile's landmass, THE CORDILLERA OF DREAMS reflects on forgetting and the continuity of a resistance that has never stopped generating its images and preserving them for future generations. Finally, with EL PEPE, A SUPREME LIFE, Emir Kusturica has created a very personal and deeply moving portrait of former Uruguayan president Pepe Mujica during his final days in office. This biography of a person who never cracked nor renounced his political views despite years of torture and solitary confinement offers a counterimage to the autocratic tendencies of the present.


The New Guerrilleros of the Silver Screen

The warlords of politics as well as industry are even being combatted by a generation of female filmmakers who are employing their own guerrilla strategies with a view toward creating a cinema that flouts established structures. In this way, film industries are developing in small countries that until recently did not have a film industry to speak of. An example is Costa Rica and LAND OF ASHES, a coming-of-age drama as poetic as it is astute, about a segment of the population that's hardly ever been portrayed in cinema: namely, the black community on the Caribbean coast.


Girl power in LA FLOR


Unusual groups of artists such as "El Pampero Cine" with Marino Llinás, Laura Citarella, Alejo Moguillansky, Agustín Mendilharazu, and Ezequiel Pierri are an expression of independence among filmmakers. Two films by this Argentinian collective are showing this year: the bizarre comedy FOR THE MONEY and the monumental epic LA FLOR, whose running time of 14 hours probably makes it the longest film ever to come out of Latin America. In this film, four actresses keep switching to new roles, bringing together in a kind of "total film" all the genres in the history of cinema. For the production and distribution of the film, the "Pamperos" reject all the mechanisms of the commercial film business. Neither do they work with major companies, nor do they accept state subsidies. They distribute their films to cinemas themselves, without a distributor and without sales agents. Most importantly, all of the artistic and technical positions in the team are filled by their own family members and friends.


In this way, filmmaking behind the camera suddenly morphs into a creation that's similarly communitarian to the close-knit community of villagers and family members in the film BACURAU. The price to be paid is sacrifice and economic deprivation. The reward, however, is priceless: a radical and limitless freedom that allows even impossible works like LA FLOR to become reality — and that even shows filmmakers on this side of the Atlantic new ways they can proceed.

Florian Borchmeyer