Between Resemblance And Their Meanings: On The 20th Bafici (In Cooperation With Talents Buenos Aires And Berlinale)
Talent Press, a section of Talents Buenos Aires, is a theoretical and practical program created for South American critics, writers, programmers, and journalists who reflect on new forms of cinema. Initiated by Berlinale Talents in collaboration with FIPRESCI and the Goethe-Institut, annual Talent Press programmes and alumni network meetings are held in five cities around the world.
For seven years, the press workshop has created a dynamic space that exhibits a unique analysis and outlook of South America through reviews, articles, and reports. Each year, we highlight the need to observe, examine, and share regional cinema, its identity, and thus a perspective of the world.
In this section, we will be publishing a selection of articles written by critics and programmers that have participated in Talent Press and continue to collaborate by offering their diverse perspectives and impressions on film and current trends from various festivals and cinematic events in Latin America.
Mariángela Martínez Restrepo
Programmer Talent Press TsBsAs
Latin America Film/Critic Curator
“Cinema offers an alternative to structure, to assess reality, and establish other connections with time and space. Cinema is an alibi to find oneself free from time and space.”
—Teo Hernández, “Trois gouttes de mezcal dans une coupe de champagne” (“Three Drops of Mezcal in a Glass of Champagne”)
The freedom that Teo Hernández refers to, the type that cinema creates in spatial and temporal terms, allows us to build connections and is central to viewing several Latin American films that were part of various sections of the 20th BAFICI (Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema).
In the Avant-Garde and Genre competition, “T.R.A.P,” (2018) a short film by Argentine filmmaker Manque La Banca, colored the screen with a unique atmosphere, and used different atemporal sound compositions. Shot on expired 16mm film, the film presents three medieval warriors that wander along the banks of the Río de la Plata in search of something that is unknown to us. At one point in this neo-romantic epic, the characters grow tired of the adventure and the weight of their robes — when they undress, the film changes its course. The temperature rises and everything becomes hot.
In addition to the chromatic beauty given by the passage of time on the photographic emulsion, the sound composition and pace of the editing all exude eroticism and youth, flowing through the bodies of the actors and spectators. This is the story of a young man who disappears, which is filtered with a radio channel, mirroring past and present events in the film and creates a connection between sexual, political, and aesthetic dissidence in a singular and youthful manner. Manque La Banca and his troupe make films like children at play, and as all children do, they take games very seriously.
“T.R.A.P” is reminiscent of the homoeroticism present in João Pedro Rodrigues’ work, the crossings between mythology and materialism of Samuel M. Delgado and Helena Girón’s, and the elusive and youthful world seen in Eduardo “Teddy” Williams’ films. “T.R.A.P” could be a musical, a trap, a drug, or all of these things at the same time.
The retrospective on Teo Hernández was another youthful and rabid drug taken at the festival. As an unrecognized experimental filmmaker that migrated from Mexico to France in the 1970s, Hernández was part of a group known as MétroBarbès-Rochechou’Art along with Michel Nedjar, Gaël Badaud, and Jakobois, collectively making over 150 films together.
His cinema is a sensorial experience where the body, the ordinary, myths, intimacy, dreams, musicality, and sensuality mix in a palimpsest of forms and rhythms. It is an organic and permanent flux that is baroque and intoxicating with its dizzy and often impossible camera movements, fast cuts, and long sequence shots in which time slows down and everything acquires a tone of eroticism and fragility.
Intimacy permeates his films, for they are anchored by autobiographical, day-to-day experiences. The vitality in these films — reminiscent of Jonas Mekas and other filmmakers’ films in which they walk around with a camera and shoot, shoot, shoot — demonstrate ways to live in this world, perhaps giving the director a reason to live. In a way, with his work, they also give us a reason to live as well.
From time to time, there is a type of cinema, or a way a spectator relates to certain films, that creates (and almost always unexpectedly) a feeling of common ground. Far from being entertaining, they are films that manage to access something deep inside somebody to reveal something personal that is later subconsciously projected on the screen, and stays forever interwoven with those images and characters.
Serge Daney wrote in Libération that emotion is a reverse camera movement that occurs in the spectator’s body towards the film. It is a decision made by the spectator to follow the feeling of a film without being influenced by a close-up or zoom.
Perhaps the emotion in those cases is a sincere and personal invitation from director to spectator, or even the film’s invitation to share a created time and space that only exists in that movie. The 20th BAFICI was full of those moments: the female community in Charlotte Serrand’s 1048 lunes (2017); the fake medieval bunch along the Río de la Plata; the winter afternoons in Hernández’s living room; the long sequence takes in Hu Bo’s An Elephant Sitting Still (2018) that invite the spectator to coexist as a character within the film; the living rooms of the protagonists absorbed in their books in James Benning’s Readers (2017); and the emotional punch when hearing Leonard Cohen’s grainy voice whispering “The light came through the window / Straight from the sun above / And so inside my little room / There plunged the rays of love” after a miracle takes place before our eyes in Benning’s “L. Cohen” (2018).
In another sphere, several Latin American films that were part of the Argentine, Human Rights, or Latin American competitions took archival footage as their raw material. These films mix and intersperse personal matters, family, politics, history, and cinematography in this type of footage.
“La película infinita” (2017) was born as a project from director and archivist Leandro Listorti’s dive into Argentina’s filmmaking past in search of unfinished films — projects that were filmed, but for one reason or another, never completed or premiered.
In the universe that opened up through that investigation, movies shot on film were only selected — from their sequences, still images, and characters, a new interwoven and completely different film not only invokes Argentina’s film history that never came to be, but it also touches upon the political history of the country as well.
The frustration of not being able to finish a film is mirrored in the constant return of the story — “La película infinita” works as a ritual that exorcises the karma of those projects and questions the places and materials that give birth to a film. All these fragments must be kept safe somewhere; they’re waiting to be found and used to evoke different possibilities of being a film. These fragments perhaps contain our lost memories, identities, and history that we can’t recall now.
El silencio es un cuerpo que cae (2017) (“Silence is a falling body”), apart from being the most poetic title in the competition, is a search to find the things that history has left hidden, not by obscurity, but by choice. Agustina Comedi, creates this narrative with home movies that her father filmed when she was young, along with recordings from that time, and her own camera. The questions raised by Comedi are far from those posed by documentaries on memories of the left militancy during Argentina’s dictatorship.
Her questions deal with rumors of her father’s homosexuality, to his relationship with the groomsman at his wedding with whom he was previously in a relationship with for over five years, and the limits between what is private and public, what is political and truly secret.
In the film, VHS tape and the HIV crisis go hand in hand to reflect that period of time. Moreover, El silencio es un cuerpo que cae operates as a montage of generations. Comedi reveals herself and her family, but this also extends to her own son, who in two sentences makes it clear that those secrets kept by others stopped being dangerous for anybody years ago.
Mauricio Alfredo Ovando’s Algo quema (“Something is burning”) (2018) also intersects problems of family legacy with Bolivia’s social and political history. Alfredo Ovando Candia, his grandfather, was a general in the armed forces and president during several complicated episodes in his country. Associated with powerful people, he witnessed tragic and highly resonant events such as Che Guevara’s assassination and the San Juan Massacre.
Based on this family lineage, the director approaches the distance between the family figure and the public figure. Perhaps his sister is the character that sums up all the contradictions that the documentary presents: radically, she lives between the tender memory she has of her caring grandfather, and her own son, who she decides to call Ernesto. Just as a person can be considered a hero by some or a villain by others, a family is made up of some with a particular political position and others with a differing one.
Although a courageous gesture on behalf of the director that may strike parallels with Chilean cinema today in such dark family histories as Adriana’s Pact (2017) or El color del camaleón (2017), this film doesn’t seem to define its position. Between family and politics, the director chooses the former, making the exercise difficult given Ovando’s social class and power when articulating his discourse. Despite this, there’s nothing quite like this documentary that we’ve seen in Bolivian cinema before, giving us further reason to continue exploring films in a country that, despite our close proximity, we know so little about.