Given the country’s political and economic instability, it’s surprising that Argentine cinema has been as productive and successful as it has. In 2000, for instance, Argentine directors managed to make 30 full-length features and four documentaries.
Special effects are generally limited, and Argentine films, like those in Europe, tend to be more character-driven than plot-driven. There are plenty of outstanding directors and actors, though, and quite a few films from the last 20 years–plus are available on video or DVD in Argentina and abroad.
Not only have Argentines made good films, but foreign directors have found Argentina an appealing location—all the more so now that the peso’s collapse has made it inexpensive to shoot here.
Argentine Directors, Movies, and Actors
In its earliest years, Argentine cinema dealt almost exclusively with porteño themes such as Carnaval. Later, tango legend Carlos Gardel worked in Hollywood as well as Buenos Aires, leaving films such as El Día Que Me Quieras (The Day You Love Me, 1935).
Over the decades, Argentine films have made respectable Oscar showings. Based on a story by Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti, Sergio Renán’s La Tregua (The Truce, 1975) was the first nominated for best foreign-language film. María Luisa Bemberg (1922–1995), astonishingly enough, made her first feature at the age of 58, but made up for lost time with films like the 1984 nominee Camila, based on the true story of 19th-century heiress Camila O’Gorman, her Jesuit lover, and their persecution by the Rosas dictatorship. Among its virtues, the film does an excellent job of representing the era’s Afro-Argentine population.
In 1985, Luis Puenzo’s The Official Story won the Oscar for his treatment of the controversial issue of military adoptions of “disappeared” parents’ babies during the 1976–1983 Dirty War; it stars Norma Aleandro, a highly respected theater actress and director as well.
Based partly on Adolfo Bioy Casares’s novella The Invention of Morel, Eliseo Subiela’s Man Facing Southeast was considered for an Oscar nomination in 1986. Juan José Campanella’s maudlin Hijo de la Novia (Son of the Bride) was a 2002 Oscar nominee, but his noirish The Secret of Her Eyes was a more deserving contender in 2010.
The Oscars, though, showcase only a small percentage of Argentine films and are not necessarily representative. Often subtly and sometimes overtly political, independent films may be eloquent and passionate but also introspective—partly due, perhaps, to the popularity of psychoanalysis.
Subiela’s The Dark Side of the Heart (1992), an erotic love story with both humor and pathos, takes place in Buenos Aires and Montevideo; based loosely on porteño poet Oliverio Girondo’s life, it features a cameo by Uruguayan poet Mario Benedetti. Puenzo (born 1946) used San Telmo, La Boca, and Palermo as settings for his adaptation of Albert Camus’s The Plague (1992), with the (notoriously difficult) William Hurt, as well as Raúl Juliá and Robert Duvall.
Bemberg cast Julie Christie in the title role of her English-language Miss Mary (1986), the tale of an English governess on an Argentine estancia. Starring the late Marcelo Mastroianni, Bemberg’s I Don’t Want to Talk About It (1992) is a peculiar romance set in a conservative provincial town (filming took place in the Uruguayan city of Colonia, across the river from Buenos Aires).
Adolfo Aristarain (born 1943) directed the versatile Federico Luppi in A Place in the World (1992), a socially conscious drama disqualified for an Oscar because it was unclear whether it was an Uruguayan, Argentine, or Spanish production (most of the filming took place in Argentina’s scenic San Luis Province).
In what may be the ultimate porteño film, Ricardo Darín and Gastón Pauls share the lead in Fabián Bielinsky’s Nine Queens (2001), the twist-filled tale of con men who strike up a partnership in crisis-racked Buenos Aires. Uruguayan-born Adrián Caetano (born 1969) portrays the Argentine underclass in Bolivia (2001), which highlights hostility toward undocumented immigrants in a fictional but realistic milieu.
Fernando “Pino” Solanas (born 1936), a left-wing Peronist recently elected to Congress, dealt with the theme of expatriation in The Exile of Gardel (1985), with a soundtrack by tango legend Astor Piazzola. The prolific Leopoldo Torre Nilsson (1924–1978), who shot nearly 30 features in his relatively short lifetime, adapted Manuel Puig’s novel Boquitas Pintadas (Painted Lips), a story of hypocrisy and petty jealousies in a small provincial town, to the screen in 1974.
Director Héctor Olivera (born 1931) turned Osvaldo Soriano’s satirical novel A Funny Dirty Little War (1983), depicting the comic consequences of a military coup in a provincial town, into a movie. Starting with a bungled robbery in Buenos Aires, Marcelo Piñeyro’s Wild Horses (1995) becomes a road romance that ends with a chase in the Patagonian province of Chubut.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition