Cine Independiente: Discovery in Context

Esteban Lamothe and Romina Paula smoulder in 'El Estudiante.'

No Gauchos. No Futbol. No Tango. Tonight Northwest Film Forum opens a series of independent films from Argentina, and in keeping with its promise of ‘discoveries,’ a diverse slate will be revealed (in which audiences may encounter nothing more native than an independent ethos of filmmaking).

An obsessive home movie unsuspectingly traces a Porteño family back to its Polish roots during the war (Papirosen); members of a professional dance troupe become romantically entangled in a drama that blurs the boundary of fiction and documentary (Dioramas); nine year-old twin sisters are acutely observed coping with the hazards of everyday living with their hard-working mother (Los Dias); a budding activist—played by the ascendant actor of the moment, Esteban Lamothe—becomes player and pawn in an internecine war of student politics (El Estudiante); and a theatre company rehearses a mash-up of Shakespeare’s plays and the world (or an un-sensational Buenos Aires) becomes a stage (Viola). In addition to five features, this weekend’s program also includes three quite distinguished shorts which are not to be missed.

In the current landscape of independent cinema in Argentina and specifically its capital (in which as many as fifty films are produced a year) there are no unifying themes, only certain tendencies, and a profound faith in the medium to express decidedly singular visions.

What these Cine Independiente films do share in common, outside of their directors’ relative youth, is the fact that most of them first saw the light of day at BAFICI (Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente), a showcase of epic proportions, now in its 15th edition, that has proven to be the hottest market for Latin American films and especially local production. This in spite of having endured a crushing economic crisis.  Once directors such as Lucrecia Martel, Lisandro Alonso, Pablo Trapero, and Daniel Burman graduated to international success, a new wave was said to have crested and, inevitably, waned. Only Mariano Llinas’ extraordinary, novelistic Historias Extraordinarias, in 2008, was seen as carrying the torch.

While Alonso is likely to present his latest (featuring Viggo Mortensen) at Cannes this year, and Martel is preparing an adaptation of the historical novel Zama by author and journalist Antonio Di Benedetto, the question of who and what is coming up the ranks in Argentina, by way of BAFICI, has become a question that critics and audiences are asking in unflattering tones.

As a visiting journalist to the festival for the last six years, I became increasingly curious about the state of Argentine cinema, and participated in BAFICI Labs featuring works in progress. It was here that I took note of a wealth of nascent talent (in spite of critical petulance from international media), and the Film Forum’s program is a summation of this curiosity borne out: a new generation of filmmakers has clearly arrived, under the radar, doing their thing. Vengan a ver!

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