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Welcome to Argentina: New Argentine Cinema

August 17, 2016

A version of this article is published at:

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 and underestimated 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 (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 desert scapes 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 ingenious pictoral diversity, but to let compelling stories emerge organically from those terrains. Two of the best recent 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 unimaginably cold confines of Tierra del Fuego, while Pablo Trapero’s Born and Bred (2006) used the beautiful desolation of Patagonia to fashion a moving parable on grief and regeneration.

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 (sometime incendiary) arena for some of 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 with 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 large indigenous population. Some films have begun to assess these divides and their likely socio-political implications, most notably Lucrecia Martel’s remarkable The Headless Woman (2008) which is one of the most subtle class critiques going.

Mention of Argentina’s national cinema couldn’t also pass without some reference to the country’s turbulent history. Even the Academy Awards cottoned on to the power inherent in Argentina’s political soul-searching when it gave its Best Foreign Language prize for 2009 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 70’s 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. Try to catch them if you can!

  1. Ariel Rotter

An outstanding filmmaker with two films playing at this week’s Argentine Film Festival. A brilliant visual artist whose The Other won the Silver Bear at the 2007 Berlinale.

  1. Juan José Campanella

He’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.

  1. Lisandro Alonso

A distinctive, arthouse filmmaker who has gone on to 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).

  1. Pablo Trapero

A dynamic visual artist but also a compassionate, humane storyteller too. His films are like an Argentine version of those by a young Martin Scorsese.

  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…) (August 2016)

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