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Experimental Latin American Cinema

Experimental Latin American Cinema: History and Aesthetics

Cynthia Tompkins
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  • Book Info
    Experimental Latin American Cinema
    Book Description:

    While there are numerous film studies that focus on one particular grouping of films-by nationality, by era, or by technique-here is the first single volume that incorporates all of the above, offering a broad overview of experimental Latin American film produced over the last twenty years.

    Analyzing seventeen recent films by eleven different filmmakers from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru, Cynthia Tompkins uses a comparative approach that finds commonalities among the disparate works in terms of their influences, aesthetics, and techniques. Tompkins introduces each film first in its sociohistorical context before summarizing it and then subverting its canonical interpretation. Pivotal to her close readings of the films and their convergences as a collective cinema is Tompkins's application of Deleuzian film theory and the concept of the time-image as it pertains to the treatment of time and repetition. Tompkins also explores such topics as the theme of decolonization, the consistent use of montage, paratactically structured narratives, and the fusion of documentary conventions and neorealism with drama. An invaluable contribution to any dialogue on the avant-garde in general and to filmmaking both in and out of Latin America,Experimental Latin American Cinemais also a welcome and insightful addition to Latin American studies as a whole.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-74416-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION Mise-en-Scène, a Seemingly International Staging
    (pp. 1-45)

    In this book I analyze experimental films from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru of the past twenty years. The focal films in the chapters were made in 1998–2010. These films are experimental in that they have been influenced by the first (late 1920s–early 1930s) and second (1960s–1970s) avant-gardes as evidenced by the paratactical use of montage, the similarities with Italian neorealism, and an antihegemonic stance regarding the industrial, Hollywood model. While many Latin American films of this period share the conventions of the documentary and neorealism, that is, shooting real subjects on location and focusing...


    • CHAPTER ONE A SHIMMERING SUTURE: Fabián Bielinsky’s Epileptic El aura
      (pp. 49-59)

      El aura(2005) is the last film that the late Fabián Bielinsky (1959–2006) completed in his lifetime. Bielinsky achieved international acclaim forNueve reinas(Nine Queens, 2000), which chronicles an elaborate scheme to exchange a set of purportedly highly valued postage stamps for a forged replica. The film’s plot turns on reversals as the con man falls victim to his own greed and most of the characters are revealed to have conspired to deprive him of the share of an inheritance that he in actuality owed his siblings. As if life imitated art, a tragic reversal grew out of...

    • CHAPTER TWO SLIPPERY CRIMINAL PLEASURES: Intermediality and Voyeurism in Jorge Furtado’s O homem que copiava
      (pp. 60-73)

      Brazilian director Jorge Furtado’sO homem que copiava(The Man Who Copied, 2003) follows the classic Hollywood noir conventions, with a couple of murders, a protagonist crazed by greed, and a deceitful woman who ensnares him. Emphasizing the protagonist’s voyeurism and placing most of the action in his bedroom are reminiscent of Hitchcock’sRear Window(1954).¹ As in Orson Welles’sThe Lady from Shanghai(1947), the audience identifies with the protagonist through the use of voice-over. The tight articulation of Furtado’s plot, like Bielinsky’s inNueve reinas, follows Hitchcock’s formula; as such it ascribes to Deleuze’s concept of the action-image...

    • CHAPTER THREE ENDLESS QUEST: Chasing Sex, Lies, and Money at the Gates of Hell in Heitor Dhalia’s O cheiro do ralo
      (pp. 74-87)

      Noir conventions such as murder and a final reversal that reinstates order appear in Heitor Dhalia’sO cheiro do ralo(Drained, 2006). The film also incorporates neonoir conventions such as the dangerous dame whose crime not only goes unpunished but also leads to her self-realization.¹ InO cheiro do ralo, the typical flawed protagonist of noir movies turns into a morally ambiguous, perhaps delusional, neonoir character whose fixations allude to psychoanalysis. Dahlia’s alternative neonoir focuses on consumerism, for like Furtado, Dhalia offers a critique of commodity fetishization. Dhalia and Furtado coincide as well in deploying voice-over to seduce the audience...


      (pp. 91-105)

      As one of the most successful and financially viable of the films I discuss in this book, Walter Salles’s melodramaticCentral do Brasil(Central Station, 1998) apparently follows the industrial Hollywood model, and it has earned many awards. The generic conventions of the road movie signal the transition between the classic Hollywood model, which Deleuze defines as the movement-image, and the unscripted allure of the journey, as per Deleuze’s time-image.¹ The inclusion of generic conventions of the documentary (interviews showing multiple points of view, attention to historical time, shooting on location, long takes in real time) and especially of the...

    • CHAPTER FIVE TWIN PIQUES: The Double Discourse of Carlos Sorín’s El camino de San Diego
      (pp. 106-122)

      Carlos Sorín is an important transitional figure whose work bridges the gap between the most representative directors of the previous generation and those associated with the New Argentine Cinema.¹ Sorín departs from the idea of cinema as a revolutionary tool as well as from the industrial model that focuses on issues of the middle class in Buenos Aires. Instead of reinforcing the stereotype of Argentina as the leisure class in Buenos Aires that European and Argentine audiences have come to expect, Sorín tackles the problems of the have-nots, of ethnic groups, and of Argentines living in other regions.

      With the...

    • CHAPTER SIX ORPHANS’ SOLIDARITY: María Victoria Menis’s El cielito
      (pp. 123-135)

      The synergy of neorealist aspects such as shooting on location with nonprofessional actors and lyrical experimental sequences naturalized as dreams is significant in Menis’sEl cielito(Little Sky, 2004).¹El cielitois based on a true story. It follows the experiences of Félix (Leonardo Ramírez), a transient who witnesses the failure of the marriage of Roberto (Darío Levy) and Mercedes (Mónica Lairana) and tries to save Chango, their baby boy (Rodrigo Silva). Menis’s film offers social critique, set as it is in the midst of Argentina’s 2001 economic meltdown.El cielitoopens with Félix in his late teens or early...


    • CHAPTER SEVEN SCULPTING TIME: Inés de Oliveira Cézar’s Como pasan las horas
      (pp. 139-145)

      Inés de Oliveira Cézar’s focus on time is a recurrent element in her corpus and in experimental film generally as it evidences the transition between films centered on action and those around an open-ended journey.¹ Rather than depicting a rationale, these films trace the mystifying allure of time. Time is central to Oliveira Cézar’s cinematic production: her oeuvre may be defined, following Tarkovsky, as sculpting in time, as it shows sustained experimentation regarding the nature of repeated actions in recorded time and myth.Como pasan las horas(2005) is like Victoria Menis’sEl cielitoin that it centers on the paradoxical...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT THE PAST ENGULFS THE PRESENT: Josué Méndez’s Días de Santiago
      (pp. 146-156)

      Following an extended stint in the Peruvian armed forces, the protagonist of Josué Méndez’sDías de Santiago(2004) returns to Lima.¹ Inquiring about financial aid for veterans, Santiago Román (Pietro Sibille) initially states, “Soy ex-combatiente. He luchado por mi patria tres años” (“I’m a war veteran. I fought three years for my country”). However, when Santiago goes for the first time to the nightclub where his classmates meet and marvels at seeing teenagers dancing, drinking, and having a good time in the afternoon, he recalls his past differently: “Seis años sin poder pasarla así, como cualquiera” (“Six years unable to...


      (pp. 159-167)

      In terms of auteurism, Reygadas’s preference for “cine sensorial...en que lo predominante es la emoción que se desprende de la imagen y el sonido” (a cinema of the which emotion emanates primarily from images and sound) (in Romero, 180) is tantamount to a self-reflexive assessment, since the overarching effect of his three movies hinges on photography and music.¹ Like others in this study, the Mexican director acknowledges his debt to postwar Italian cinema: “I like Roberto Rossellini very much and the conditions in which he had to shoot, with the matter that was there. This was especially true of...

    • CHAPTER TEN CRIME AND SELF-INFLICTED PUNISHMENT: Carlos Reygadas’s Batalla en el cielo
      (pp. 168-174)

      Reygadas acknowledges a displacement from the existential crisis inJapónto a social crisis inBatalla en el cielo(James, “Angels,” 31). Like its predecessors in the New Latin American Cinema, Reygadas’sBatalla en el cielo(Battle in Heaven, 2005) offers social critique in that it underscores economic inequality and rampant corruption throughout Mexican society. Examples of its shocking scenes appear when the film opens and closes with blow jobs. Marcos (Marcos Hernández) is beset by guilt because of the unexpected death of the baby he and his wife, Berta (Bertha Ruiz), kidnapped to exact ransom.¹ Marcos shares the news...


      (pp. 177-185)

      As the last of a triptych of films centered on the attractions and revulsions in the social interdiction of taboo, Reygadas’sStellet lichtreturns to the question of guilt that he explored inBatalla en el cielo.Stellet lichtcould be seen as the reverse image ofBatalla, for the taboos around crossing the sharply defined lines of race/ethnicity and class are transferred to a Mennonite community in northern Mexico.¹

      The action turns around adultery inStellet licht, as Johan (Cornelio Wall), a farmer and father of seven, has told his wife, Esther (Miriam Toews),² about his ongoing affair with Marianne...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE CYCLICAL SCAPEGOATING: Inés de Oliveira Cézar’s Extranjera
      (pp. 186-195)

      As introduced inComo pasan las horas, Oliveira Cézar’s directorial signature lies in sculpting actions in time; however, the director goes beyond Tarkovsky’s notion of inscribing time in actions by tracing similarities between civilizations in different geographical locations and periods. Thus, inComo pasan las horas, Virginia’s pouring wine for the dead reenacts a libation ritual that she attributes to Persian poets. InExtranjeraandEl recuento de los daños, the gesture of cultural crossover is set against ancient Greek myths rehearsed repeatedly through the cycle of tragedies.

      Oliveira Cézar’s second film,Extranjera(2007), presents a free version of Euripides’s...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN THE IRREVOCABLE NATURE OF CURSES: Inés de Oliveira Cézar’s El recuento de los daños
      (pp. 196-205)

      By establishing connections across temporal and geographical variations, the focus on time broadens the scope of events, allowing for a certain sliding of the signifier between the texts and suggesting other implicit possibilities. In addition to the interval that results from the paratactical articulation of the film, intertextuality generates an interval, which is amplified as it ricochets between the texts; furthermore, awareness of one of the terms of the comparison, as in the case of Oliveira Cézar’s tragedies, elicits not only an active but also an affective response from the audience. Oliveira Cézar continues her exploration of actions sculpted in...

      (pp. 206-218)

      Fernando Pérez Valdés is a transitional figure whose cinematic production presents an alternative, as it is closely tied to the history of ICAIC and thus allows us to trace the movement from overtly politicized films to more subtle, experimental, ambiguous productions that aim for allegorical readings that allow for a critique and a celebration of the revolution. Pérez, born in Havana in 1944, is part of a generation of Cuban filmmakers who learned the trade as apprentices at the ICAIC.¹ Pérez has directed three documentaries that are each twenty-four minutes long:Cascos blancos(1975),Siembro viento en mi ciudad(1978), and...


    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN ROOM WITH A VIEW: Fernando Pérez Valdés’s Suite Habana
      (pp. 221-231)

      The amazing use of montage turns Fernando Pérez Valdés’s documentarySuite Habana(2003) into one of the most experimental Latin American films of recent times. The reinscription and subversion of Bill Nichols’s observational documentary mode allows for teasing out the synergy between drama and different types of documentary approaches present in most contemporary Latin American cinema. From the perspective of auteur cinema, Gilles Deleuze’s writings shed light on the affective impact of the close-up, complementary to his views on the effect of the extreme close-up, whose paradoxical proximity results in a distancing effect that resists representation and might allude to...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN LIFE IS AND IS NOT: Paz Encina’s Hamaca paraguaya
      (pp. 232-244)

      An accurate representation of the Paraguayan ethos appears throughout the unabashedly experimental filmHamaca paraguaya(2008). Yet the film’s director, Paz Encina, somewhat paradoxically counters these arguments by stating that the film offers an accurate representation of the Paraguayan ethos: “Paraguayans have a slower rhythm than the rest of Latin Americans. Why would I move the camera if my intention was to express it?” (interview by Jemio).¹ Encina’s opera prima inscribes and subverts the conventions of the observational documentary. The minimalist aesthetics hinges on the use of a fixed camera, harking back to the origins of film. Montage depends on...

  11. CONCLUSION Possible Futures
    (pp. 245-250)

    The corpus ofExperimental Latin American Cinema: History and Aestheticsconsists of films that were, to a greater or lesser degree, influenced by the first and second European, American, and Latin American avant-gardes. The effect of the first avant-garde (late 1920s–early 1930s) may be summed up in terms of the experimental deployment of montage in a degree of experimentation that ranges tremendously. There is the inherent montage resulting from variations in the distance of the shots of a fixed camera (as in Encina’sHamaca paraguaya). Montage also appears in the typical editing mechanism evidenced in Salles’sCentral do Brasil,...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 251-264)
    (pp. 265-286)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 287-294)