Bottle messages from Argentina’s twilight zone

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By Iván Zgaib

*This article was originally published in the Talent Press and FIPRESCI websites on 08/02/2018 

 

1.

 I write this with a tingling sense of fear. Every time I face an empty page or an unseen film, I feel this way: bubbly anxiety is awaken by the unexpected. It’s a sentiment that becomes especially heartfelt in a time when film criticism seems indistinguishable from a marketing campaign: cold, calculated and effective.

If I have to comment on my part as a critic, I should start by saying my writings feel like work-in-progress. They may still be maturing, but they are somehow trying to react against manufactured criticism. “Writing is the unknown”, Marguerite Duras once said. And so should be our approach to cinema. Because, like the best films, criticism can also be an act of bravery.

 

2.

Whatever I do comes down to Córdoba, an old city of trees as dry as the hearts of its politicians. This is where I live and where film production and criticism have increasingly grown over the past years, taking away the exclusivity from Buenos Aires. And so my work is enhanced by a network of local film professionals who have formed this community.

Although extensively discussed, Córdoba’s cinema has usually been thought in an isolated way. Both its virtues and faults should be placed in the eclectic context of national films as a whole, which are still figuring out their way after the so called “New Argentine Cinema”, a renovation that started in the 90s. Nowadays, our films seem trapped in aesthetics which were new more than a decade ago.

 

3.

Nevertheless, Argentine cinema remains varied as many interstices of creativity keep appearing. Directors like Lucrecia Martel, Anahí Berneri, Matías Piñeiro, Julia Pesce and Teddy Williams attest this.

But such diversity is currently in danger. For the past two years, a conservative government led by President Mauricio Macri crystallized its political identity by repressing social protest and implementing a regressive economic adjustment. The Argentinean Institute of Cinematography, our most important source of film funding, has become the latest victim of public cost cutting.

Macri’s government won the elections by affirming it would bring “change” to the Argentine people, but a hidden fear seems to be present towards anything implying an actual transformation. And I strongly believe cinema can be just that. As the country faces violent times, both film artists and critics should engage in deep discussions about the aesthetic and political state of our cinema. This is the moment: the empty and manufactured images of the government are asking for a reverse-shot.

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