A country’s hell, a cinematic paradise

While the new Argentine cinema has signalled the fall of the nation-state, it has also bolstered national reconstruction


Crisis and Capitalism in Contemporary Argentine Cinema
Joanna Page
2009, Duke University Press
233 pages

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

THERE is no doubt that Argentine film-making has been going through a very exciting phase since the mid-1990s, and this seems unlikely to come to an end in the short term.

One could easily lose oneself in the illusion that this beautiful country has been on a roll: from only 14 feature films produced in 1994 to 66 ten years later and an Argentine movie making it this year to the Oscars (and its films receiving 34 other nominations).

But the beginnings of such a wonderful evolution were as painful as a breech birth with no anaesthetic. Not long ago Argentina went through the pain of its deepest economic crisis ever. In December 2001 the Argentinian recession reached a point similar to that of the American crisis of ’39, the banks, oblivious to their clients’ pleas outside their doors, froze millions of savings accounts, leaving people on the point of starvation. In less than two weeks Argentina changed changed presidents. Remarkably the country, survived.

Resourceful generation

But even more miraculously the Argentine film industry did not die, even though production costs trebled when the price of film stock and equipment that was imported and paid in foreign currency tripled in a matter of days. The landscape was bleak, as the funds allocated to the institute in charge of cinema and visual arts in Argentina suffered cuts of 50 per cent.

A rather resourceful generation of “orphaned” directors were put to the test and, in the end, made something advantageous of this crisis. With the use of non-standard equipment 16-mm, black and white, beta format or, later, digital video cameras, and at times the gentle persuasion of actors to work for nothing, new aesthetic virtues emerged out of very low budgets.

With the rest of Argentina screaming for food, a new discourse also emerged out of the crisis via celluloid: the re-articulation of the national became an exercise in rebellion denouncing the failure of the state and resisting the rhetoric of globalisation that exposed the country’s vulnerability as an underdeveloped capitalist country on the periphery of the global economy.

Joanna Page’s Crisis and Capitalism in Contemporary Argentine Cinema has to be recommended to outsiders interested in Latin American film as it provides an analysis of how directors from this troubled part of the world expressed the individual and collective experiences of capitalism, neoliberalism and globalisation. Cinema, she explains, has registered and helped to construct certain models of subjectivity relating to Argentina’s experience of deep economic crisis.

Page departs from the observation by an Argentinian sociologist that at times of greater economic crisis there is resurgence in nationalism. Her research takes the reader towards the signs when the “new Argentine cinema” made a radical turn away from the aesthetic rules of past films.

The author examines a number of movies from the mid-1990s – some of them very obscure, but which have reached a cult status among Argentinians. She provides thematic introductions for the films in the book, and in chapters 2 and 3 discusses a number of the major productions associated with this corpus of work. The selection was made conscientiously with the idea of creating a guide that may help those interested in Latin American cinema widen their knowledge.

Worthy of note are her exhaustive dissections, almost frame by frame, of Fernando E. “Pino” Solanas’ La Nube (The Cloud), Eliseo Subiela’s No te mueras sin decirme a dónde vas (Don’t Die Before Telling Me Where You’re Going), and Adrián Caetano and Bruno Stagnaro’s iconic Pizza, Birra y Faso (Pizza, Beer and Cigarettes). Page also looks into Ana Poliak’s La fé del volcán (Faith in the Volcano), Martin Rejtman’s Rapado (Skinhead) and Cecilia Prieto’s Los guantes mágicos (The Magic Gloves).

The underlining themes of the new aesthetics are those of growing unemployment, rising crime, the expansion of the informal economy, the clash of private and public spheres, and social decline.

Page’s selection is excellent: the films chosen are linked by focussing their attention on the changes in subjectivity and representation provoked by specific political or economic structures and events. She also explores the role of national and transnational film studies and their effect on the new Argentine cinema.

Yet, like the many demonstrations of December 2001, there remains optimism behind the raising of the national film flag. As Page herself has discovered, while the new Argentine cinema has intended to tell the rest of the world about the fall of the nation-state, it has also contributed to the country’s reconstruction.

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer

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