Venezuelan filmmaking in its Latin American context

17/07/2010 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

In recent years, a significant number of fiction films produced in Latin America deal explicitly with inequality. Some of La Villa del Cine productions such as La clase display an explicit social message and a realist mode which contrast, on the one hand with the sophisticated aesthetics and sometimes metaphorical style of some of the most well-known third cinema fiction of the 1960s and 1970s; on the other, with classic realist films like Rodrigo D No Future (Víctor Gaviria, Colombia, 1990) or City of God (Fernando Meirelles, Brazil, 2002). The “realist mode with a message” also characterizes other films produced in countries across Latin America like Redentor (Claudio Torres, Brazil, 2004), La zona (Rodrigo Plá, Mexico, 2007) and Era uma vez (Breno Silveira, Brazil, 2008), to name just a few. In Redentor, a favela comedy with fantastic and musical elements, God commands the journalist Celio Rocha to convince his corrupt friend and property developer Otavio to repent and share all his money with the poor while the slum dwellers invade the middle-class apartment buildings situated next to the favela.  La zona narrates how a gang of youngsters break into a rich gated community. We see the home owners and police hunt for them without respect for their rights or the law, which the rich, in collusion with the police, break with impunity.
Similarly, Silveira explores such an issue in the favela drama Era uma vez set in Rio de Janeiro. The poor boy and the rich girl fall in love but they need to overcome the opposition of their families and their social environment, divided between the favela and the elegant city center. The film, which focuses in the personal relationships, ends with a voiceover appealing to more communication between the poor and the rich to overcome the problem of existing inequalities. Stylistically, this Brazilian movie stages its appeal to fight against huge socio-economic disparities like that of the Venezuelan film Secuestro Express, i.e. both films end with a narrator explicitly advocating a solution to inequality.
In addition to these films that address the problem of class inequality directly, there is a growing number of films such as Dioses (Josué Méndez, Perú, 2008), El baño del Papa (C. Charlone and E. Fernández, Uruguay, 2007) and Huacho (Alejandro F. Almendras, Chile, 2009) in which concern for class differences or poverty is equally prominent but not articulated as class struggle. Dioses mostly takes place in the house of a rich Peruvian family whose younger members behave like gods. The son runs away to live in the slums for a short while, after realizing that he and his sister cannot have an incestuous relationship. The rich boy then pays attention to the slum that surrounds Lima for the first time in his life. He sees a cityscape of shacks and high-rises, and this milieu is depicted in a way that resembles the cityscapes of Caracas in Secuestro Express and of Rio de Janeiro in Era uma vez. With a different theme from the films discussed up to now, El Baño del Papa does not deal with class confrontation, but it depicts poverty and indicts the failure of Catholic institutions to deal with poverty. The poor characters in this film are a group of petty smugglers whose lives change with the Pope visiting their city, but contrary to their expectations, the Pope’s visit does not make their lives better. Finally, in Huacho we see four members of a family living in poverty in the Chilean countryside and struggling to make ends meet and be able to send the young boy to school where he is teased by his classmates for being a poor peasant.
All the films in this latter group fit in the tendency towards the representation of intimacy and quotidian events, and the mixture of the personal with the social and political that professor Germán Rey exemplifies with films like Historias mínimas (Carlos Sorín, Argentina, 2002), Y tu mamá también (Alfonso Cuarón, México, 2001), and Bolívar soy yo (Jorge Alí Triana, Colombia, 2002).  Rey perceives in these three films and many others a clear tendency in contemporary Latin American cinema to combine “the political delirium with intimate circumstances, the more individual options with the revelation of a social and natural scenery.” Furthermore, he also characterizes contemporary Latin American filmmaking by an absence of “el cine ideologizado de otras épocas” or “the ideological cinema of other epochs”. However, it is clear that some productions described above and other films produced by La Villa del Cine in Venezuela point to the persistence of an explicit ideological trend in contemporary Latin American cinema that clearly differs from the trend characterized by the privileging of local differences and intimate stories pointed out by film scholars like Zuzana Pick, Ruby Rich, Diana Robin and Ira Jaffe among others.
To conclude, the comparison between Secuestro and La clase and their integration in a  contemporary Latin American film context has indicated that there are still clear signs of the persistence of filmmaking practices tackling major problems that have affected Latin American societies for centuries. Similarly, there is a concern for national and Latin American identity in them, not just local and diverse, and these films are not simply the product of individual choices made by filmmakers, but there seem to be organizations, institutions and film festivals which may provide a “continental project” character to these productions. The film developments in this direction may be due to the current support for left-wing political parties in the region. (Politically, some major South American countries with the exception of Peru and Colombia formed leftist governments by the end of the decade 1999-2009; Chile changed in 2010). Therefore, study of these practices has to take into account organizations like ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) and continental media projects like TeleSur.
After all these considerations, some questions still remain. How do these 21st century efforts to use film as a tool for social improvement differ from the ones in the 1960s-1980s? And, can filmmaking practices characterized by the emphasis on transmitting a clear social message at the expense of artistic innovation and sophistication be really revolutionary or, on the contrary, artistic innovation is required for revolutionary socially committed cinema? This is a question which leads to the consideration of the target audience (international film festivals versus marginal national masses at the extremes of the continuum) and the question of the success or failure of previous socially committed filmmaking initiatives.



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Today “Hermafrodita” at the Philadelphia QFest Monterrey International Film Festival Pays Tribute to Pedro Armendáriz Jr.

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