Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers 3031323459, 9783031323454

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Table of contents :
Notes on Contributors
List of Figures
Chapter 1: Introduction. Women Filmmakers in Argentina: Reworking Cinematic Practices
In Context
Women Filmmakers
The Pioneers
María Luisa Bemberg
After Bemberg
The Chapters
Part I: Auteurs
Chapter 2: Lita Stantic: “The Personal Is Political” Is Professional
Stantic the Filmmaker
Stantic the Director
Un muro de silencio: A Film Made by a Director Who Is a Producer
Conclusion: On Emotional Labour
Chapter 3: Jeanine Meerapfel, Cosmopolitan Auteur of the Immigrant Condition
Germany: First Films
The Return to Argentina
International Co-productions
Chapter 4: María Victoria Menis’s Counter-Cinema: La cámara oscura (2008) and María y el Araña (2013)
La cámara oscura
María y el Araña
Part II: Traumatic Experiences
Chapter 5: Sisterhood on the Threshold in Julia Solomonoff’s Hermanas (2005)
The Levin Sisters
Entering Liminality
Exploring Liminality
Exiting Liminality
Chapter 6: Screaming into the Abyss: Trauma and Witnessing in Albertina Carri’s Los rubios (2003) and La rabia (2008)
The Cinematic Voice of Albertina Carri
Traumatic Dehumanisation and Psychic Contagion
The Wordless Testimony of a Neglected Child
From Representation to Witnessing: Carri’s Artistic and Ethical Interventions
Chapter 7: Are You Listening? Voices and Images in Gabriela David’s Taxi, un encuentro (2001) and Lucía Puenzo’s El niño pez (2009)
Taxi, un encuentro: Moans, Cries and Wounds
El niño pez: Whispers, Songs and Secrets
A Sonorous Path to Narrative Voices
Chapter 8: Intersectionality in Gabriela David’s La mosca en la ceniza (2010)
Part III: Aesthetics
Chapter 9: They Are All Around Us: Pain, Memory and Multisensory Images in Paula Markovitch’s El premio (2011)
Marks and Althusser: From the Elusive to the Evident
Postmemory Cinema and the Figure of the Child
Multisensory Images and the Unseen Evil
Pain, Wounds and the Repressive Role of the School as State Apparatus
The School and the Army as an Optical Parallelism
Chapter 10: The Oppositional Gaze in the Argentine Cinema of Migration: Negotiating Chinese Identity and Coloniality of Seeing in Nele Wohlatz’s El futuro perfecto (2016)
A New Perspective in Context
Subverting the Gaze
Hypothetical Futures as Visual Agency
Chapter 11: Manipulating the Gaze in La novia del desierto (dir. Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato, 2017)
Service On-Screen in South America
Watching the Maid’s Journey in La novia del desierto
Teresa in Focus
Teresa in the Distance
Teresa Confined
Part IV: Genre Cinema
Chapter 12: Women, Hybridity and Genre in the Films of Verónica Chen
Mujer conejo (2013)
Rosita (2018)
Marea alta (2020)
Chapter 13: A Different Terror: Crudo Films and Women’s Horror Cinema in Argentina
Women’s Cinema and Horror Films
Forms of Horror Within Horror
Haptics and Horror Cinema
Chapter 14: Girlhood and the Uncanny in the Coming-of-Age Genre: Abrir puertas y ventanas (dir. Milagros Mumenthaler, 2011) and Mamá, mamá, mamá (dir. Sol Berruezo Pichon-Rivière, 2020)
Planeta ciénaga
Girlhood and the Uncanny
The Presence of Memory
Chapter 15: Epilogue. On Cinematic Disobedience
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Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers Edited by Mirna Vohnsen · Daniel Mourenza

Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers

Mirna Vohnsen  •  Daniel Mourenza Editors

Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers

Editors Mirna Vohnsen Technological University Dublin Dublin, Ireland

Daniel Mourenza Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, The Netherlands

ISBN 978-3-031-32345-4    ISBN 978-3-031-32346-1 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors, and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover credit: Lydia Goolia Photography / Alamy Stock Photo This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


The idea of this project emerged in Dublin just before the COVID-19 pandemic, when Daniel invited Mirna to launch her monograph Portrayals of Jews in Contemporary Argentine Cinema at Trinity College Dublin. After the event, and over a much-deserved pint of Guinness, we both decided to embark on a project that would make visible the work of women filmmakers in Argentina. Our conversations on the bus, outside “our” gym in Stillorgan, over coffee and cake and online contributed to shaping the project. Following a well-received call for papers, we were joined by an outstanding group of scholars who shared their enthusiasm and expertise on Argentine cinema with us. Without our excellent contributors, this book project would never have come to fruition. Hence, our thanks go first and foremost to them. Despite the pandemic, we were fortunate to share and discuss our ideas and findings with some of the contributors on two occasions: at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) 2022 Online Conference and, in person, at the conference “Mujeres y cine en Iberoamérica: políticas, representaciones, historias, interseccionalidades” held at the Universidad Carlos III in Getafe, Madrid. Our careers meant we had to part ways—Mirna remained in Dublin; Daniel moved to the Netherlands—but we have always found occasions to reunite. The latest was in the form of a reading group hosted by Daniel’s home institution, Radboud Universiteit, where Sofía Forchieri, Marloes Mekenkamp and Paula Romero made invaluable comments that helped us develop and sharpen our arguments in the introduction to the volume. We are incredibly grateful to them for their critical insights. v



We are also grateful to Raghupathy Kalyanaraman and Camille Davis at Palgrave Macmillan for their support and faith in the project. We would like to extend our gratitude to the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI) for awarding us the Trevor J.  Dadson Publication Enhancement Fund. Particular thanks go to Rachel Beaney, who took the time to carefully proofread and edit the entire manuscript before submission. Finally, we would like to thank Inela Selimović for agreeing to write the epilogue to this volume. We dedicate this book to all the women who have been part of and continue to work in the Argentine film industry. Their perseverance and work in such a challenging industry is a true source of inspiration for us.


1 Introduction.  Women Filmmakers in Argentina: Reworking Cinematic Practices  1 Mirna Vohnsen and Daniel Mourenza Part I Auteurs  25 2 Lita  Stantic: “The Personal Is Political” Is Professional 27 Constanza Burucúa 3 Jeanine  Meerapfel, Cosmopolitan Auteur of the Immigrant Condition 41 Matt Losada 4 María  Victoria Menis’s Counter-Cinema: La cámara oscura (2008) and María y el Araña (2013) 61 Carolina Rocha Part II Traumatic Experiences  79 5 Sisterhood  on the Threshold in Julia Solomonoff’s Hermanas (2005) 81 Mirna Vohnsen vii



6 Screaming  into the Abyss: Trauma and Witnessing in Albertina Carri’s Los rubios (2003) and La rabia (2008) 97 Fiona Clancy 7 Are  You Listening? Voices and Images in Gabriela David’s Taxi, un encuentro (2001) and Lucía Puenzo’s El niño pez (2009)113 Ana Forcinito 8 Intersectionality  in Gabriela David’s La mosca en la ceniza (2010)131 Traci Roberts-Camps Part III Aesthetics 145 9 They  Are All Around Us: Pain, Memory and Multisensory Images in Paula Markovitch’s El premio (2011)147 Guillermo Severiche 10 The  Oppositional Gaze in the Argentine Cinema of Migration: Negotiating Chinese Identity and Coloniality of Seeing in Nele Wohlatz’s El futuro perfecto (2016)163 Pedro Cabello del Moral and Roberto Elvira Mathez 11 Manipulating  the Gaze in La novia del desierto (dir. Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato, 2017)183 Andrea Meador Smith Part IV Genre Cinema 199 12 Women,  Hybridity and Genre in the Films of Verónica Chen201 Beatriz Urraca



13 A  Different Terror: Crudo Films and Women’s Horror Cinema in Argentina217 Jonathan Risner 14 Girlhood  and the Uncanny in the Coming-of-Age Genre: Abrir puertas y ventanas (dir. Milagros Mumenthaler, 2011) and Mamá, mamá, mamá (dir. Sol Berruezo Pichon-Rivière, 2020)233 Daniel Mourenza 15 Epilogue.  On Cinematic Disobedience251 Inela Selimović Index257

Notes on Contributors

Constanza Burucúa  is a Professor in the Department of Languages and Cultures and Affiliate Faculty in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, at the University of Western Ontario (Canada). Her research focuses on two main lines of enquiry: on one hand, she works on women filmmakers, questions of gender and representation; on the other, she is concerned with the reception and circulation of Latin American cinema in the international film festival circuit. Pedro  Cabello  del Moral  is a doctoral candidate and Teaching Fellow at the Graduate Center, CUNY. He graduated in Media Studies and Art History from Universidad Complutense in Madrid and gained an MA in Cinema Studies from New  York University and one in Spanish Cinema from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. His recent publications focus on Central American cinema and contemporary Spanish documentaries. Pedro combines his work in the university with his career as a filmmaker. His works tackle issues related to migrant youth in the Spanish education system and migrant justice movements in New York City. Fiona Clancy  completed her PhD at the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies, University College Cork, in 2018 with a thesis entitled No Place Like Home: Trauma and the Moral Subject in Contemporary Argentine Cinema. Her doctoral research was funded by the Irish Research Council. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Spanish from University College Dublin, and a Higher Diploma (Arts) in Hispanic Studies and Master in Research in Hispanic Studies from University College Cork. She teaches Spanish at South East Technological University, Ireland.




Roberto Elvira Mathez  is a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and an Adjunct Professor at Queens College. He works on the relationship between structural poverty and culture in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. He studied at Stockholms Universitet and Universidade do Porto after obtaining his BA from Universidad del Salvador in Argentina. He has published three books, Habitar las ruinas (2023), Tú y yo y las primeras lluvias (2015) and Tras el reflejo (2010). He has published translations of different poets into English, Portuguese and Norwegian. Ana Forcinito  is Professor of Latin American Literatures and Cultural Studies at the University of Minnesota. Her research focuses on gender studies and feminist theory, literary and visual practices for the promotion of human rights and the reconstruction of memory in post-authoritarian regimes, with a primary focus on the Southern Cone. She is the author of Memorias y nomadías: géneros y cuerpos en los márgenes del posfeminismo (2004), Los umbrales del testimonio: entre las narraciones de los sobrevivientes y las marcas de la posdictadura (2012), Óyeme con los ojos: cine, mujeres, voces, visiones (2018) and Intermittences: Memory, Justice and the Poetics of the Visible (2018). Matt Losada  is an Associate Professor in the Department of Hispanic Studies at the University of Kentucky. He writes about film, mostly from Argentina, on which he has two books: The Projected Nation: Argentine Cinema and the Social Margins (2018) and Before Bemberg: Women Filmmakers in Argentina (2020). Andrea  Meador  Smith  (PhD, University of Virginia) is Professor of Hispanic Studies and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Shenandoah University. Her research and writing address representations of race and gender in Latin American literature and film, and her work on South American film has appeared in journals such as Hispania, Mise-en-scène: The Journal of Film & Visual Narration and Studies in Spanish & Latin American Cinemas. Daniel Mourenza  is Assistant Professor of Hispanic Cultural Studies at Radboud Universiteit in Nijmegen, Netherlands. He is the author of Walter Benjamin and the Aesthetics of Film (2020) and co-editor of a special issue of parallax. His research focuses on Spanish and Argentine cinema, film philosophy and critical theory. Mourenza completed his PhD at the University of Leeds in 2014. He has also worked at Aston University, Newcastle University and Trinity College Dublin. Jonathan  Risner  is an Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Indiana University Bloomington. His research focuses on Latin American genre cinema, and he is the author of Blood Circuits: Contemporary Argentine Horror Cinema (2018). He has published essays in different collections and in journals, such as Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, Hispanófila and Studies in Spanish & Latin American Cinemas.



Traci Roberts-Camps  is Professor of Spanish and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at University of the Pacific. Her areas of specialisation include Latin American women filmmakers and Mexican women novelists. She is the author of the monographs Latin American Women Filmmakers: Social and Cultural Perspectives (2017) and Gendered Self-Consciousness in Mexican and Chicana Women Writers: The Female Body as an Instrument of Political Resistance (2008). She has published book chapters and articles on a variety of Latin American women film directors and novelists. Carolina Rocha  is Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She specialises in contemporary Latin American film and literature. She is the author of Masculinities in Contemporary Argentine Popular Cinema (2012) and Argentine Cinema and National Identity (2018). She has also co-edited several volumes: Violence in Argentine Literature and Film with Elizabeth Montes Garces, Representing History, Class and Gender in Spain and Latin America: Children and Adolescents in Film and Screening Minors, both with Georgia Seminet. She also edited Contemporary Latin American Cinema: Resisting Neoliberalism? (2018) with Claudia Sandberg. Inela Selimović  is an Associate Professor at Wellesley College. She has published in peer-reviewed journals such as Revista Hispánica Moderna, Confluencia, Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, Chasqui and Bulletin of Hispanic Studies. Selimović authored Affective Moments in the Films by Martel, Carri, and Puenzo (2018) and co-edited The Feeling Child: Affect and Politics in Latin American Literature and Film (2018) and Inusuales: hogar, sexualidad y política en el cine hispano (2020). Guillermo Severiche  is a writer, academic researcher and educator. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from Louisiana State University and an MFA in Creative Writing in Spanish from New York University. His research focuses on the politics of physical sensations and the representations of bodies in contemporary Latin American cinema. He is the founder and director of En Construcción, a reading series that showcases emerging Latin American writers in New York. Currently, he is an advanced lecturer in the department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Fordham University (Lincoln Center) and works as a literary manager at IATI Theater in Manhattan. Beatriz Urraca  is Professor of Spanish and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, and Chair of Modern Languages at Widener University, in Chester, PA. She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Michigan. She is a film scholar who specialises in contemporary Argentine cinema. With Gary M. Kramer, she co-edited the two-volume Directory of World Cinema: Argentina (2014 and 2016). She is also the author of a number of articles and conference presentations in this field.



Mirna  Vohnsen  is Assistant Lecturer in Language Studies at Technological University Dublin, where she teaches literary and critical theory, Latin American and Spanish literature and culture, Argentine cinema, intercultural studies and Spanish language. She holds a PhD in Hispanic Studies from University College Dublin on the representation of Jewishness in Argentine cinema. She specialises in contemporary Argentine cinema and culture. Her research has been published in edited volumes and journals. She is the author of Portrayals of Jews in Contemporary Argentine Cinema: Rethinking Argentinidad (2019) and the co-author of Eva Perón: A Reference Guide to Her Life and Works (2021).

List of Figures

Fig. 13.1 The still from Mujer lobo exemplifies the distinct camera placement in the film Fig. 13.2 In Clementina, Juana is often framed from above at home and at work

224 227



Introduction. Women Filmmakers in Argentina: Reworking Cinematic Practices Mirna Vohnsen and Daniel Mourenza

In the opening scene of Lucrecia Martel’s Zama (2017), the protagonist Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) hears the laughter and giggles of a group of women who are having a mud bath on the banks of the Paraguay River. He stares at their naked bodies while hiding in the grass, until one of the women recognises him and shouts: “Mirón [stalker]”. Zama runs away. At the beginning of La niña santa/The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel 2004), Dr. Jano (Carlos Belloso) arrives at a hotel together with other physicians to attend a medical congress. Through an open window, he catches a glimpse of the naked back of a woman, who happens to be the hotel’s co-owner, Helena (Mercedes Morán). Although his gaze is disrupted by a member of staff who guides him to his room, Dr. Jano manages to see Helena’s back again reflected in a mirror. However, someone

M. Vohnsen (*) Department of Languages, Technological University Dublin, Dublin, Ireland e-mail: [email protected] D. Mourenza Radboud Universiteit, Nijmegen, The Netherlands e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




moves the mirror, disrupting his gaze for the second time. By sharing the male gaze in these staring moments, the audience, like Diego de Zama and Dr. Jano, seem to be accused of voyeurism. In these instances, Martel robs the audience of the visual pleasure that she has created, making us aware of the position that we hold as spectators. In stressing and disrupting the male gaze at the beginning of the two films, Martel de-centres the perception of her characters and thereby ours as viewers. From then on, other sense perceptions will dominate the mise-en-scène, and sight will not have the controlling function that Laura Mulvey (1975) associated with the male gaze. The cinema of Martel has been critically acclaimed for destabilising “the hegemony of the visual” (Martin 2016, 21) in favour of other senses, particularly sound. In fact, Martel herself has criticised that film schools put the emphasis on the visual aspects, a field that, she argues, “está mucho más viciado [it is much more tainted]”, whereas sound “sigue siendo un mundo mucho más salvaje, porque los referentes no son tan directos como en la imagen [is a much more savage sphere, because referents are not as direct as in the image]” (Bettendorf and Pérez Rial 2014a, 188–189). Similarly, in another interview, Martel underscores that, epistemologically, we are more colonised visually than in terms of hearing (quoted in Gemünden, 24). Martel’s unique aesthetics have attracted the critical attention of many scholars, who have labelled it as “polyphonic cinema” (Russell 2008), “a poetics of the senses” (Ríos 2008; Gemünden 2019), “realismo sinestético [synesthetic realism]” (Bettendorf and Pérez Rial 2014b) and “queer-haptic aesthetics” (Molloy 2017), thus reflecting Martel’s shift from the visual to a more haptic and sensorial cinema. The disjunction of sound and image, the perceptual experimentation by teenage female characters, the heightening of senses such as touch and hearing have all been conceived as part of a feminist and queer destabilisation of the dominance of the male gaze in cinema. Deborah Martin argues that Martel’s films have been addressed as feminist and queer filmmaking because of their aesthetics, their attention to the domestic space, often considered a reworking and subversion of the melodrama, as well as their “focus on the intimate lives and subversive desires of girls and women” (2016, 15). Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers is based on the premise that Martel is not alone in reworking the aesthetics of film. There is an increasing number of women filmmakers in Argentina who employ senses such as touch, hearing and proprioception to define their aesthetics. In



doing so, these cineastes have brought about a different type of perception: one closer to women’s multiple and intersecting bodily experiences. Although far from being restricted to cinema directed by women, recent scholarship on “women’s films”—a controversial term to which we will return later in this chapter—has detected a surge in the relevance that senses other than sight play in their aesthetics. It is, therefore, not surprising that many of the chapters in this volume engage with “haptics” to refer to the way that women filmmakers represent their characters’ perception and transmit this to the audience, whereas other essays pay attention to the relevance of sound in shaping female subjectivities. Innovating the aesthetics of film is undoubtedly one of the major contributions to cinema, but Argentine female filmmakers have also spearheaded the examination of new themes, such as incest, intersexuality, family violence and dissident eroticism; the expansion of the boundaries of film genres; the exploration of new geographies and environments; as well as the focus on women’s experiences and voices (Bettendorf and Pérez Rial 2016, 105–108). Although the presence of women behind the camera in Argentine cinema dates back to 1915—the year Angélica García de García Mansilla directed Un romance argentino—Argentine female directors have only increased their participation in the film industry notably since the mid-1990s. The most recent wave of women filmmakers has changed the face of cinema because, among other reasons, they have been able to craft more and more  complex female characters than their male counterparts, a fact that should not be ignored. According to the UN Women report on global film industries, “while women represent half of the world’s population, less than one third of all speaking characters in film are female” (UN Women 2014). Argentine cinema is not faring much better in this respect: in a study carried out in 2016, slightly more than a third of all speaking characters were female (Duhau and Wenceslau 2016). Aware of both the imbalance in gender equality onscreen and the stereotyping of female characters, we seek, in this volume, to shed light on the ways Argentine women filmmakers have redressed the under-­representation of women and girls onscreen and the perpetuation of stereotypes, arguing that contemporary women directors in Argentina have reworked cinematic practices by questioning, challenging and debunking hegemonic patriarchal systems of representation. The volume has been motivated by a desire to create a gendered textual space; that is, an arena to both discuss films by women directors and afford them the recognition that they deserve, in response to B. Ruby Rich’s



argument on the importance of examining films directed by women. As she puts it, “only writing keeps history alive. Only criticism can create a place for these works in today’s memory, today’s curricula, today’s filmographies” (Rich 2017, xviii). In crafting a gendered textual space, our project, then, expands the current scholarship on women-led films, not least because it sets out to look beyond the study of the most celebrated Argentine female filmmakers and their work, but also because it surveys how women have shared their stories and their perception of the world through film. The book offers a snapshot of women’s contribution to filmmaking in Argentina by bringing together highly acclaimed and more established filmmakers like Lucía Puenzo and Albertina Carri, and emerging directors like Cecilia Atán and Sol Berruezo Pichon-Rivière, who offer equally important perspectives. In doing so, the collection both acknowledges the increasing number of women in the Argentine film industry and contributes to disseminating these females’ work beyond the borders of their country. While the selection of chapters that make up the volume reflects the specialism of each of the contributors, the study provides a cross-generational image of Argentine cinema, spanning roughly four decades, from the 1980s to 2020. In featuring the work of filmmakers who emerged at different stages, the book shows, on the one hand, how Argentine women directors have deftly captured a broad range of themes, created new and original narratives, employed innovative techniques, approached aesthetics, delved into different genres and transformed the cinematic landscape from the post-dictatorship era to the present. On the other hand, our intention is to shed light on the stories that women have crafted in order to balance out the gender inequality that permeates the Argentine film industry.

In Context Policies for inclusion, visibility and acknowledgement of women’s filmmaking together with initiatives to mitigate gender inequality have begun to reconfigure the landscape of the film sector both in Argentina and beyond in recent years, especially in terms of film festivals and awards. One of the latest initiatives is the “5050×2020” pledge for gender parity which was launched at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018 to call for measures that would ensure greater gender equality in the film industry by 2020. Several national film institutes and festivals, including the Argentine Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales [INCAA, National Institute of



Cinema and Audiovisual Arts] and the Mar del Plata International Film Festival,1 have since committed to the goal of the pledge. In terms of awards, whereas films directed by women have secured the coveted Oscar statuette for Best Picture in the Academy Awards ceremonies of 2021 and 2022, in Argentina, filmmaker Paula Hernández won the Silver Condor for Best Director and Best Film for Los sonámbulos/The Sleepwalkers (2019) in 2020 and for Las siamesas/The Siamese Bond (2020) in 2021. Prior to this, three female directors were awarded the Silver Condor for Best Director: Lucía Puenzo for Wakolda/The German Doctor (2013), Lorena Muñoz for Gilda, no me arrepiento de este amor/I’m Gilda (2016) and Lucrecia Martel for Zama. These awards constitute a belated recognition of the impact women directors have had on the Argentine film industry. Although women are still a minority in directing roles, some of the most acclaimed Argentine filmmakers of today are in fact women. Lucrecia Martel, who has attracted much critical and scholarly attention worldwide, is probably the most celebrated Argentine director. All her films have been released at the major film festivals: La ciénaga/The Swamp (2001) at Berlin, La niña santa and La mujer sin cabeza/The Headless Woman (2008) at Cannes and Zama at Venice. She has served as a member of the jury at all of them and presided over the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 2019. Albertina Carri, whose work has been the subject of scholarly debates not only about memory, particularly after the release of her ground-breaking documentary Los rubios/The Blonds (2003), but also about violence, sexuality and gender, has been awarded accolades in the Americas and Europe. In 2008, she won the prestigious Best Director award for La rabia/Anger (2008) at the Havana Film Festival. Lucía Puenzo’s films have been well received by the public and won domestic and Ibero-American awards. Milagros Mumenthaler was garnered the Golden Leopard at Locarno in 2011 for her debut film Abrir puertas y 1  As part of the I Foro de Cine y Perspectiva de Género during the 33rd edition of the Mar del Plata International Film Festival, held in November 2018, the agreement was signed by the festival’s Art Director, Cecilia Barrionuevo, and the Deputy President of the INCAA, Fernando Juan Lima. The document called for the parity of women and men in the Argentine cinema industry by 2020 and the Mar del Plata International Film Festival pledged to compile statistics on gender about the number of films received and selected; make public the members of the selection and programming committees; and scheduling the changes in the different boards and committees of the festival to guarantee gender balance (Dlugi and Gallego 2019, 23 and 108).



ventanas/Back to Stay (2011) and Anahí Berneri, the Silver Shell for Best Director at the San Sebastián Film Festival in 2017 for Alanis (2017). The recent literature on Argentine women filmmakers demonstrates growing interest in this field, as is the case with scholarly studies exclusively devoted to the most celebrated individual filmmakers in Argentina, María Luisa Bemberg (Fontana 1993; King et al. 2000; Kratje and Visconti 2020) and Lucrecia Martel (Christofoletti Barrenha 2014; Martin 2016; Gemünden 2019; Christofoletti Barrenha et al. 2022). Our project, however, focuses on a larger group of Argentine women filmmakers and responds to the need for critical analysis as expressed by Viviana Rangil in Otro punto de vista: mujer y cine en la Argentina (2005), the first academic endeavour to showcase the work of women film directors in Argentina through a series of interviews. In the introduction to her book, Rangil explains that “la etapa siguiente a esta primera aproximación, que individualiza las voces por medio de las entrevistas, debe necesariamente incluir un estudio crítico de las películas realizadas por mujeres. Tal trabajo deberá desarrollar un análisis de las estructuras narrativas, del lenguaje fílmico y de las estrategias de representación [the next stage after this first approach, which personalises the voices through interviews, must necessarily include a critical study of the films made by women. Such a study should develop an analysis of the narrative structures, the cinematic language and the strategies of representation]” (2005, 11). This is precisely what Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers sets out to do by providing a close analysis of feature films that put women at the centre of their narratives. As such, the collection is also in keeping with Rich’s view on narrative films: “it is in the arena of fiction”, Rich argues, “that the influence of women directors and feminist ideas regarding behaviour, gesture and pacing, is most pronounced” (1997, 284). The need for research on Argentine women’s filmmaking has spawned several academic publications: Paulina Bettendorf and Agustina Pérez Rial’s Tránsitos de la mirada: mujeres que hacen cine (2014a), a collected volume that provides both critical analysis of films and interviews with female filmmakers; Ana Forcinito’s Óyeme con los ojos: cine, mujeres, visiones y voces (2018),2 a study of the voice and the sounds in the films of a group of Argentine female filmmakers; Inela Selimović’s Affective Moments in the Films of Martel, Carri, and Puenzo (2018), a monograph on the role of 2  An English translation of the book was published in 2022 under the title of Hear Me with Your Eyes: Women Visions and Voices in Argentine Cinema.



affect in the films of the three most celebrated contemporary Argentine women filmmakers; Matt Losada’s Before Bemberg: Women Filmmakers in Argentina (2020), a volume that offers a panoramic view of the role of women in Argentine cinema before the emergence of the renowned Argentine director María Luisa Bemberg in the 1980s and Lucio Mafud’s Entre preceptos y derechos: directoras y guionistas en el cine mudo argentino (1915–1933) (2021), a publication that vindicates the work of Argentine women in the film industry during the silent period. To this list we should add the recent publications on Latin American women directors. In 2017 alone, two academic books were published on this topic under similar titles: Deborah Martin and Deborah Shaw’s Latin American Women Filmmakers: Production, Politics, Poetics (2017b) and Traci Roberts-­ Camps’s Latin American Women Filmmakers: Social and Cultural Perspectives (2017). Our book, which builds on and furthers the narrative initiated by Losada (2020), is the first collected volume in English to offer a wide-ranging picture of Argentine women filmmakers’ contribution to the film industry from the 1980s to the present.

Women Filmmakers A volume such as this one that explores “women’s cinema” or “cinema made by women” runs the risk of falling into essentialist understandings of “woman”. It may also create a sub-category of cinema that could be potentially damaging women filmmakers, drawing attention to their films solely because of the director’s gender and not because of the intrinsic artistic value of the cinematic works. Writing in the 1980s on literature, Elaine Showalter reflected on how women writers rejected the label of “women’s art” to defend that not only men’s but also their writing captured the human condition. By doing so, these women writers, Showalter argued, implied that “writing transcends sexual identity, that it takes place outside of the social”. Nonetheless, aware of the dangers of obliging female writers to deliver “women’s art” and of dictating them specific themes, styles and, even worse, “womanly” concerns, she argued that the category of “woman’s art” needed to be redefined, particularly if it ever was “to change the prejudices that seem to place ‘female’ and ‘universal’ at opposite ends of the critical lexicon”. Finally, she concluded that “[w]omen writers must affirm both their womanhood and their esthetic freedom” (1984, 1). Continuing the debate, Toril Moi similarly lamented that those women writers who were asked to eliminate their gendered



subjectivity to represent “some kind of generic universal human being” were at the same time constrained to “devalue their actual experiences as embodied human beings in the world” (2008, 265). In terms of feminist film criticism, the work of women filmmakers should be considered as departing from their own embodied experiences as women, while at the same time they should be conceded the aesthetic freedom that men are usually automatically granted. In defending the view that “the existence of a women’s cinema need not be premised on an essentialist understanding of the category ‘women’ ”, Alison Butler holds that “the communities imagined by women’s cinema are as many and varied as the films it comprises, and each is involved in its own historical moment” (2005, 21). Following this line of thought, we take an intersectional approach, contending that the historical, class, ethnic and cultural experiences of being a woman—at a particular time in a particular country—are lived differently than those of a man. Drawing once again from literature, this volume aligns with Moi’s statement: “every writer will have to find her own voice, and her own vision. Inevitably, a woman writer writes as a woman, not as a generic woman, but as the (highly specific and idiosyncratic) woman she is” (2008, 268). Moi’s view can be applied to women filmmakers, who may find in filmmaking a space where their distinct voices are heard and thereby bring their creative works into the cultural narrative alongside their male counterparts. Nevertheless, many women filmmakers have rejected the label of “women’s cinema”, for they think that it may lead to the ghettoisation of their filmmaking. In this regard, Martin and Shaw claim that “while aware of the dangers of ghettoising women and their work, [they] believe that— since gender categories are still pervasive in (Latin American) society and culture—there continue to exist important reasons to spotlight the work of women filmmakers”, and one of the reasons they give is that “the film historical landscape looks very different when we shift our focus to women’s filmmaking” (2017a, 2). If, as Moi asserts, “no account can ever be neutral” (2003, xiii), then having a woman behind the camera opens up an avenue to feature more nuanced women experiences onscreen. Indeed, the literature abounds in examples of women who acknowledge that one easily recognises when a woman is behind the camera. Lucía Puenzo’s words aptly sum up the tension between the label and women’s filmmaking: “Rechazo que nos pongan en el cine de mujeres […], no nos hace bien a las mujeres, no tiene que estar sectorizado [I reject that we fall under the category of women’s cinema …, it does not do us women any



good, it doesn’t need to be divided into sectors]”, but she concurrently admits that there is a difference in the way that women make films: “Cuando veo una película me doy cuenta si hay una mujer detrás. Y esto es como una contradicción. Hay algo que uno reconoce [When I see a film, I know if there is a woman behind it. And this is like a contradiction. There is something that one recognises]” (Dlugi and Gallego 2019, 48). Likewise, actor and founder of La Mujer y el Cine Marta Bianchi asserts: “Sí creo que sin hablar de un cine de mujer, se nota sobre muchas cosas la mirada de la mujer que es diferente porque tenemos una historia y una experiencia cotidiana diferente [Yes, I believe that without speaking about women’s cinema, one can note above many things the female gaze, which is different because we have a different history and everyday experience]” (Dlugi and Gallego 2019, 53).3 Here it is important to bring in Alison Butler’s statement that women’s cinema—the title of her book—is “always an inflected mode, incorporating, reworking and contesting the conventions of established traditions” (2005, 22) to understand that the intersecting experiences of being a woman have led to different modes of representing particular issues, both thematically and aesthetically. Indeed, this volume bears witness to the fact that Argentine women filmmakers tend to escape essentialist and monolithic notions of female subjectivity in their stories. When these cineastes turn the camera to screen women, they position them as social subjects with agency. Actor and director Mónica Lairana contends that, in the past, it was often said that a special “sensibility” could be found in the cinema directed by women, but now these films are rather recognised for their positive representation of women, escaping from stereotypes and a normative male gaze (Dlugi and Gallego 2019, 49). In fact, many women filmmakers have addressed themes traditionally considered either feminine or masculine from their own embodied and gendered experience and, by doing so, have challenged previous representations. For example, in films such as Mi amiga del parque/My Friend from the Park (Ana Katz 2015), La idea de un lago/The Idea of a Lake (Milagros Mumenthaler 2016), Alanis (Anahí Berneri 2017), De nuevo otra vez/Again Once Again (Romina Paula and Rosario Cervio 2019) and Mamá, mamá, mamá (Sol Berruezo 3  La Mujer y el Cine has promoted films made by women through the organisation of festivals since its foundation, has its own section in the Mar del Plata International Film Festival and has created the award Ópera Prima Mujer together with the INCAA to fund the first films of female filmmakers.



Pichon-Rivière 2020), motherhood is not treated archetypically or idealised. Mothers are represented in their day-to-day experiences as women who have doubts, make mistakes and, often, re-consider their relationship with their own mothers. The traumatic memory of the last dictatorship (1976–1983), one of the pervasive themes in Argentine cinema since the country’s return to democratic rule, has also been represented innovatively by women filmmakers. It is featured obliquely in Martel’s La mujer sin cabeza, as silences and secrets within the family in Hermanas/Sisters (Julia Solomonoff 2005), as memories filtered through a photograph and childhood fantasies in La idea de un lago and through the use of toys in Carri’s Los rubios. By pioneering new trends in filmmaking, Argentine female directors have not only changed the representation of the dictatorship but also contributed to giving a voice to those who were oppressed and marginalised. Exploring genres that are considered “male” has also proved to be a challenging undertaking because women have often been restricted to work on a limited range of “feminine” genres. Isabel Maurer Queipo argues that Argentine women filmmakers rarely use “big” genres such as epic films and historical dramas, horror films and westerns, but rather film comedies, documentaries and hybrid genres (2016, 234). Part of the answer to this conundrum lies in the words of Tamae Garateguy, who complains that every time she tries to convince a male producer, she needs to demonstrate her ability to make an action movie: “No importa, sigo adelante haciendo ‘lo que no se supone que hacen las mujeres’, es decir cine de género: policiales, películas de mafia, thrillers eróticos, acción… [It doesn’t matter, I continue doing ‘what is not supposed to be done by women’, that is, genre films: crime, mafia films, erotic thrillers, action…]” (Dlugi and Gallego 2019, 54). Eventually, it is always women who produce Garateguy’s films, as discussed by Jonathan Risner in his chapter. Garateguy is not alone in her quest to debunk the divide between “male” and “feminine” genres. The number of women who have directed thrillers and horror films has grown remarkably in recent years. Along with Garateguy, we can consider the films of Verónica Chen, Jimena Monteoliva, Sofía Brockenshire, Verena Kuri and Laura Casabé. Despite the significant gender imbalance in the industry, since the turn of the millennium, the number of films directed by women has experienced exponential growth. In the year 2000, only one film directed by a woman, Acrobacias del corazón (Teresa Constantini), was released, whereas in 2005, 11 women directed films, three of them being co-directed



(Bettendorf and Pérez Rial 2014a, 34). The big leap occurred between 2007 and 2017, when women’s share in film direction rose to 17.5 percent (Dlugi and Gallego 2019, 24). During those years, women made significant strides in Argentine society: in 2009, the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner enacted the “women’s comprehensive protection law”, which pledged to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women; while in 2015, the women’s movement Ni una menos [Not one less] emerged as a mass protest against femicides.4 Women’s increasing participation in society permeates every single sector, including of course the film industry. Although female directors are still outnumbered by their male counterparts, in 2021 the percentage of women directing films spiked to 31 percent (DEISICA Report 2022, 54–59). It remains to be seen whether the upward trend will continue, but as Bettendorf and Pérez Rial note, “the problems are not related to whether women are visible in Argentine cinema, but to what types of production they have access and whether this conditions, in a way, the narratives and poetics they develop” (2016, 108). The lack of gender parity does not only affect the number of women directing films but has also an impact on the technical roles in the film industry. The 2019 OAVA Report on gender balance shows that 81 percent of the roles in makeup and hairdressing and 79 percent in costume and art design were filled by women, whereas women only occupied 24 percent of the roles in cinematography and 16 percent in sound. In an attempt to reverse this situation, some women directors have recently challenged the male-dominated technical positions and hired all-female crews instead. This is the case of Albertina Carri’s Las hijas del fuego/The Daughters of Fire (2018), Majo Staffolani’s Román (2018) and Sol Berruezo Pichon-Rivière’s Mamá, mama, mama.5 While the “male” and “feminine” genre divide as well as the statistics in direction and technical 4  Ni una menos is one of the most important feminist movements in Latin America. Taking its name from a verse used by the Mexican poet and human rights activist Susana Chávez Castillo, who was brutally murdered for denouncing the death of women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, the movement emerged in Argentina in June 2015, when the tweet #NiUnaMenos went viral, sparking a massive protest against gender-based violence. 5  More specifically, in Román, 95 percent of women filled the technical roles, whereas in Mamá, mamá, mamá all members of the crew were women during the shooting, but some men joined the team at post-production.



roles distil the film industry’s gender inequities and its signs of progress, women’s visibility in the industry, or lack thereof, can be traced back to its beginnings.

The Pioneers Until the mid-1990s, female representation in filmmaking was very scarce in Argentina. Before María Luisa Bemberg pursued a career in film directing in the 1980s, no woman had managed to direct more than three feature-­length films. Such a gender inequality, however, was not so pronounced in the early years of cinema in Argentina. The silent period saw five women directors: Emilia Saleny, María B. de Celestini, Elena Sansinena de Elizalde, Renée Oro and Angélica García de García Mansilla. The latter directed Un romance argentino (1915) which, as Lucio Mafud and Matt Losada have recently pointed out, is the first film directed by a woman in Argentina but also one of the earliest Argentine films ever made (Mafud 2017, 56; Losada 2020, 10). Nevertheless, the arrival of sound film and the inception of the studio system, which led to the classical period of Argentine cinema (roughly from 1933 to 1956), proved to be disastrous for women. Losada argues that the shift from a semi-artisanal to an industrial mode of production also involved a gendered division of labour. Women were relegated to “feminine” tasks, such as sewing in the costume department, applying makeup, hairdressing, cutting negative and acting as “script girls” (2020, 14) and, as a result, there was little room for them in the creative roles. Nonetheless, some women managed to participate in scriptwriting, whether on their own or in partnership with other (generally male) screenwriters. Among those women, we should emphasise the role of Niní Marshall and Olga Casares Pearson, two actresses who wrote and adapted scripts for films in which they starred; María Teresa León and May Nilsson, who wrote scripts along with their husbands Rafael Alberti and Leopoldo Torres Ríos, respectively; as well as María Luz Regás, Lola Pita Martínez and Nené Cascallar (Bettendorf and Pérez Rial 2014a, 20). The first woman to direct a sound film in Argentina was Vlasta Lah. After working as an assistant director to her husband Catrano Catrani and other directors in at least 19 films during the studio system era, she directed Las furias (1960), an adaptation of a play by Enrique Suárez de Deza. A family melodrama, Las furias revolves around the relationship between four women—the wife, the daughter, the mother and the sister to an absent man, Marcelo—and his mistress. Whereas the four women are subjected to, and victims of, a patriarchal code of values that they reproduce,



the mistress is represented as a successful, independent businesswoman who is in an equal relationship with Marcelo. Although the film received negative reviews from critics at the time, it offers an insightful exploration of women’s conditions under a patriarchal system. Las furias is in fact a film from the latter stages of the classical Argentine cinema, produced in the remnants of the industrial studio system by the Lumiton Studios, a company that was already in decline. Her second and final film, Las modelos (1963), co-written with queer novelist and editor Abelardo Arias, is instead much closer to the aesthetics and themes of the Generación del 60.6 Exploring the life of two young women who work as models in a fashion store, the film shows the scarce possibilities of independence afforded to working-class women. In the 1960s, a very modest integration of women into filmmaking roles began to take place, particularly through a boom in the production of short films, permitted by technological advances, the opening of new film schools in the mid-1950s and the role of the Fondo Nacional de las Artes [FNA, National Endowment of the Arts], a state institution that has supported and distributed short films made by inexperienced filmmakers since its foundation in 1958. The opening of the first film schools in Argentina saw the enrolment of a few women in their courses. Lita Stantic, who began her studies at the Asociación de Cine Experimental [ACE, Association for Experimental Film] in 1963, recounts that in the first year of study there were 60 students but only four were women (Bettendorf and Pérez Rial 2014a, 23). Apart from ACE, founded in 1956, other film schools were open around the same years—the Escuela de Cine de la Universidad de la Plata in 1955, the Escuela Documental de Santa Fe in 1956 and the Centro Experimental de Realización Cinematográfica in 1965—giving the opportunity to many young filmmakers, including Elena de Azcuénaga, Marilyn Contardi, Dolly Pussi and Silvia Oroz, to make short films. However, among all the women who began to direct shorts in the 1960s, including the independent filmmaker Mabel Itzcovich, only Lita Stantic and Eva Landeck managed to direct their own feature films. Landeck is indeed one of the greatest examples of the politicised cinema that, against all odds, was made in the 1970s in Argentina. Her first film, Gente en Buenos Aires/People in Buenos Aires (1974), was produced as a 6  The “Generación del 60” refers to a transformation in the Argentine film industry, in terms of acting, narrative time, collaboration and distribution of films, that departs from previous practices in filmmaking (Aguilar 2003, 83).



co-operative by herself, the leading actor Luis Brandoni and the rest of the crew. The film is a story of urban alienation of two domestic migrants in the capital city of Buenos Aires, who embark on an unlikely romance and gain political consciousness after, among other things, witnessing the brutal disappearance of a neighbour. Significantly, the plot is punctuated with footage of political protest and police violence. Matt Losada argues that the film was a product of the optimism of the “primavera camporista” of 1973 (2020, 56) but notes that its release, which was delayed until 1974, had to face the adverse climate of Isabel Martínez de Perón’s government (1974–1976). Whereas her debut film did not face harsh censorship, her subsequent one, Ese loco amor loco/Crazy Love (1979), produced under the military dictatorship, was conditioned by strict surveillance from the authorities. Although the film is full of indirect references to disappearances and the purges at the university, it had to resort to the impossibility of their representation and appeal to the audience’s awareness of the situation. Landeck’s final film, El lugar del humo (1979), was directed in Uruguay, after some wealthy film students contracted her to learn from an experienced filmmaker. Landeck had to apply self-censorship to pull the project off the ground without the interferences of the Uruguayan military dictatorship and the result was, according to the director, a flaw. After the harsh situation in which Landeck had to shoot these films, she decided to give up filmmaking (Losada 2020, 50–78). Also in the 1970s, María Herminia Avellaneda, a television and theatre director, directed Juguemos en el mundo/Let’s Play in the World (1971). The film is based on two characters, Anémona Disparate and Bambuco, as well as songs created by her then partner, the famous children-song singer María Elena Walsh. A children’s fable with a fierce political satire, the film received good critical reviews and did well at the box office, but the notable breakthrough of an Argentine female filmmaker came in 1984 when María Luisa Bemberg directed Camila.

María Luisa Bemberg According to Dlugi and Gallego, the label “women’s cinema” began to be used in Argentina with the emergence of film director María Luisa Bemberg (2019, 16). Although Bemberg came from a conservative family, she became a well-known feminist figure in Argentine society as early as 1970, the year she co-founded the Unión Feminista Argentina with Gabriella Christeller. The organisation ran meetings and reading groups to



discuss texts and personal experiences, influenced by the North American and European second-wave feminism. Bemberg began her career in cinema with the script of Crónica de una señora/Chronicle of a Lady (Raúl de la Torre 1971), but she was not happy with the result because the director, according to her, had no sympathy for the woman protagonist (Losada 2020, 140). For this reason, she decided to make her own films. Her two shorts, El mundo de la mujer (1972) and Juguetes (1978), are fine examples of feminist activism because they denounce the role of consumer society in the creation of an image of woman that enforces gender division and is always subjected to men. In the 1980s, her partnership with Lita Stantic enabled Bemberg to establish some continuity and build a career in the field of fiction feature films. Beginning with Momentos (1981), they made six films together in the following 13 years, an endeavour that brought Bemberg international renown as a leading director. Bemberg employed the melodrama to criticise the traditional and conservative bourgeois family from within and at critical moments of Argentine history. In her melodramas, she features strong women who defy the restricted opportunities that patriarchy has imposed upon them, even if they need to stand up against ideological obstacles. Camila (Susú Pecoraro) escapes with her lover, the Jesuit priest Ladislao Gutiérrez (Imanol Arias), from her Rosista family in Camila (1984). In Yo, la peor de todas/I, the Worst of All (1990), her only film set away from Argentina, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Assumpta Serna) needs to fight the growing conservatism of the Archbishop of Mexico to continue her writing career. In De eso no se habla/I Don’t Want to Talk About It (1993), Leonor is a strong, independent mother who does not allow the town’s chatterbox women to pity her dwarf daughter. Bemberg and Stantic were also among the founders of La Mujer y el Cine in 1988, an association that has made its mission to ensure women’s participation in the Argentine film industry. However, Bemberg left the organisation years later because she believed the group was creating ghettos instead of encouraging the inclusion of women in the industry, but La Mujer y el Cine is very much active to this day under the direction of Annamaría Muchnik (Dlugi and Gallego 2019, 19). Bemberg has had a strong influence on contemporary Argentine women filmmakers. Lucrecia Martel once told that, when Bemberg’s Camila was released, Bemberg and Stantic appeared continuously on television, which led her to think that they were the most successful professionals in Argentine cinema and that it was natural that women were



leading the industry (Bettendorf and Pérez Rial 2014a, 195). This impression was reinforced when, a few years later, Martel wrote a letter to Bemberg to take part in the production of Yo, la peor de todas. Bemberg called her by phone and explained that the production of the film was at a standstill but asked her to meet Stantic to consider other options. When she went to the offices of Stantic’s production company, GEA Cinematográfica, she found out that all the staff were women. Martel argues that she and other women filmmakers of her generation—such as Vanessa Ragone and Julia Solomonoff—entered the world of cinema because they misunderstood how the industry worked: “toda esa generación de chicas, para mí, todas tuvimos la percepción torcida de que el cine era de las mujeres [all that generation of girls, I believe, we all had the skewed perception that filmmaking was a woman-dominated field]” (Bettendorf and Pérez Rial 2014a, 196). Martel never met Bemberg in person but established another of the most fruitful artistic partnerships in Argentine cinema with Stantic, who produced her first feature film, La ciénaga.

After Bemberg The 1990s was a turning point in Argentine cinema as it paved the way for the emergence of new women filmmakers, including María Victoria Menis, Ana Poliak, Gabriela David, Carmen Guarini, Paula Hernández, Julia Solomonoff, Inés de Oliveira Cézar and, of course, Lucrecia Martel. Although the decade began with a stark crisis for Argentine cinema, with only eight films released in 1994, the approval of the Ley de Fomento y Regulación de la Actividad Cinematográfica that year, in tandem with the opening of new film schools, entailed a dramatic change that fuelled the surge of new filmmakers. The release of the first edition of Historias breves in 1996, with shorts by, among others, Adrián Caetano, Bruno Stagnaro, Daniel Burman, Lucrecia Martel and Sandra Gugliotta, became a launching platform for this new generation of filmmakers who in turn propelled the emergence of what has come to be known as the New Argentine Cinema (or second New Argentine Cinema). This heterogenous but influential movement gave a great impetus to the film industry, crafting innovative storylines and images that appealed to young cinemagoers (Falicov 2007, 120). Concurrently, the Mar del Plata International Film Festival was relaunched in 1996 after a hiatus of 26 years and the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema (BAFICI) was launched in



1999. The section Work in Progress of the BAFICI screened fragments of films that would become the debuts of some of the most renowned women filmmakers in the 2000s, as is the case with Albertina Carri’s No quiero volver a casa/I Won’t Go Back Home (2000) and Lucrecia Martel’s La ciénaga. Because this new generation of filmmakers attracted international attention, a number of institutions from France, the Netherlands and Spain began to fund their projects. Among the emergent young filmmakers of the 1990s, the figure of Lucrecia Martel stands out. With only four feature-length films, she has arguably become not only the most acclaimed Argentine director worldwide, but also one of the leading auteurs in Latin America and, indeed, the world. A poll conducted by Cinema Tropical among film critics, scholars and film professionals selected La ciénaga as the best Latin American film of the noughties, placing La mujer sin cabeza and La niña santa also on the top 10. In the same poll for the 2010s, Zama was leading the list. Zama also ranked as best film of the decade in the polls of the Toronto Film Festival and Film Comment, whereas it appears in the seventh position in the poll of the International Cinephile Society and nineth in the poll of the best 100 films of the twenty-first century conducted by The Guardian. The release of La ciénaga at the Berlin Film Festival on 8 February 2001 marked a turning point for Argentine cinema and, especially, for Argentine women filmmakers. Martel was awarded the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize, becoming the first woman ever to receive such a prestigious accolade. The distinctive aesthetics that Martel first developed in La ciénaga have influenced the cinema of many women directors, including Julia Solomonoff, Celina Murga, Milagros Mumenthaler, María Alché and Sol Berruezo Pichon-Rivière in Argentina, as well as Dominga Sotomayor, Marcela Said, Diana Montenegro, Pilar Palomero and Clara Roquet abroad, among many others. Martel’s representation of transgressive sexualities, through incestuous and unchanneled desires, has arguably influenced other women filmmakers who are approaching sex in much more fluid terms than their predecessors. These filmmakers are presenting a more queer understanding of sex, gender and sexuality. By queer we mean a conception that complicates sex, gender and sexuality as stable identity factors, one that “severs the notion of identity from any stable reference points” (Morland and Willox 2004, 4). For Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, queer refers to the gaps, dissonances and excess of meaning when the factors that make up one’s gender or one’s



sexuality cannot be taken as monolithic signifiers (1999, 8). The complication of gender, sex and sexuality identities in Argentine cinema reached a climax in two films that challenge the binary conception of bodies: Lucía Puenzo’s XXY (2007) and Julia Solomonoff’s El último verano de la Boyita/The Last Summer of La Boyita (2009). In these two films, the teenage protagonists do not conform to a single biological sex but are brought up according to traditional gender roles, thus creating a conflict in the very bodies and identities of the leading characters. Moreover, non-­ normative sexuality is a theme that is gaining ground among women filmmakers in Argentina. Lucía Puenzo includes a lesbian romance in El niño pez/The Fish Child (2009). Clarisa Navas naturalises homosexuality first in a football women’s team in Hoy partido a las 3/Today Match at 3 (2017) and, later, in a working-class neighbourhood from Corrientes in Las mil y una/One in a Thousand (2020), where ignorance about sex education leads to fears and misunderstandings. Agustina Comedi researches the homosexuality of her father in the documentary El silencio es un cuerpo que cae/Silence Is a Falling Body (2017) through the video tapes that he recorded through his lifetime. In the queer melodrama Román, Majo Staffolani tells the story of a married man who, at the age of 50, feels attracted to a man 20 years younger. Carri makes a lesbian porn film disguised as a road movie in Las hijas del fuego. Finally, Liliana Paolinelli films in Margen de error/Margin of Error (2019) a comedy of errors with lesbian characters. Through their approach to gender, sex and sexuality, these filmmakers invite us to view female subjectivities as a way of revolting against male-dominated narrative structures. In doing so, they challenge an industry that is male dominated and assert their belonging to it.

The Chapters If Losada’s book Before Bemberg: Women Filmmakers in Argentina aimed to recuperate the work of the few women filmmakers who, before María Luisa Bemberg, managed to make films and received little critical and scholarly attention, this volume seeks to explore the much more fruitful period for women filmmakers in Argentina set up after Bemberg’s success. Through the 13 chapters that make up the book, our intention, then, is to show how women-led films have evolved on the Argentine screen from the period after Bemberg to date. The chapters are divided into four sections, in line with our desire to offer both a thematic categorisation and a loosely chronological order of the filmmakers’ trajectories and the release



of the films. The book begins with an essay on the highly regarded filmmaker Lita Stantic and concluding with a text on the youngest female director in Argentina, Sol Berruezo Pichon-Rivière. While we consider this structure to be productive, we also acknowledge the slippages that exist between categories because the films studied go against any sort of reductionist classification. The first section surveys the work of three significant filmmakers, Lita Stantic, Jeanine Meerapfel and María Victoria Menis, who, each in their own way, have left an indelible mark on the cinema of Argentina. The section opens with a chapter by Constanza Burucúa, who addresses the work of Stantic by examining her role as a producer and analysing the only feature-­length film she directed, the highly reflective Un muro de silencio/A Wall of Silence (1993), as an example of “emotional labour”. Taking a feminine stance in her study, Burucúa contends that, in the case of Stantic, there is a personal-professional-political continuum that has marked her life. Matt Losada looks at the cinema of the most prolific Argentina woman filmmaker ever, the German-Argentine director Jeanine Meerapfel, who made her first feature-length film in 1981. Drawing on Meerapfel’s entire filmography, Losada’s interest lies in how the representation of female subjectivities have been shaped by the upheavals of the twentieth century. Carolina Rocha analyses two films directed by María Victoria Menis, La cámara oscura/Camera Obscura (2008) and María y el Araña/María and the Spiderman (2013), as examples of what Claire Johnston calls “counter cinema”. These films, Rocha argues, do not represent women as mythical or eternal figures, but in their day-to-day existence, as active subjects. Of note in both films is the introduction of some positive examples of masculinity. The second section includes four chapters that address how screen women, adolescent and children grapple with traumatic situations. Mirna Vohnsen’s concern is the reunion of the Levin sisters in a suburban Texas house in Julia Solomonoff’s Hermanas. Paying particular attention to the liminal space of the house, Vohnsen discusses how liminality facilitates the reshaping of the sisters’ subjectivities in order to come to terms with their traumatic past during the period of state terrorism in Argentina. Fiona Clancy analyses Albertina Carri’s representation of trauma and its intergenerational transmission in Los rubios and La rabia. Clancy argues that, whereas Los rubios is a personal-political project to address the trauma experienced by the filmmaker as a child, La rabia becomes an ethical expression of witnessing. Ana Forcinito addresses trauma in the



household. Following her ground-breaking research on sound in Argentine cinema, she explores the embodiment of the voice in two films, Gabriela David’s Taxi, un encuentro/Taxi, an Encounter (2001) and Lucía Puenzo’s El niño pez/The Fish Child (2009), to analyse the relationship between women’s voices and the trauma caused by gender-based violence. Closing this section, Traci Roberts-Camps examines the characters of La mosca en la ceniza/A Fly in the Ashes (Gabriela David, 2009) at the intersection of different identity markers, which include not only their gender but also their age, their rural and socioeconomic background and their cognitive abilities. Based on this intersectional approach, Roberts-Camps explores the way that the characters are made victims of a sex trafficking network and, more broadly, of a patriarchal society that turns the blind eye to the exploitation of women. The third section deals with the aesthetic decisions made by the filmmakers to convey pain and reconfigure the gaze. Guillermo Severiche discusses Paula Markovitch’s debut film El premio/The Prize (2011) drawing on the theories by Louis Althusser and Laura Marks. He proposes that Markovitch makes both an evident point by bringing in a parallelism between the army and the school as State Repressive Apparatuses and a more elusive one by conveying sensorially, through haptic images, the state’s painful management of bodies during the last military dictatorship. Pedro Cabello del Moral and Roberto Elvira Mathez read Nele Wohlatz’s film El futuro perfecto/The Future Perfect (2016) through bell hooks’s concept of the “oppositional gaze”. According to them, Wohlatz challenges colonial practices of seeing and being seen by affording the Chinese migrant protagonist, Xiaobin Zhang, an active gaze that counteracts the diminishing looks that migrant people endure every day. Andrea Meador Smith centres on Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato’s subversion of the live-in maid subgenre in La novia del desierto/The Desert Bride (2017) by moving the focus away from the domestic sphere to a desert and, more importantly, by stressing the maid’s (Paulina García) agency through a cinematography in which the woman protagonist has the control of what the audience can and cannot see. The final section is devoted to genre films in order to disclose how women filmmakers have reshaped genre conventions. Beatriz Urraca analyses the last three films of Verónica Chen, Mujer conejo/Rabbit Woman (2013), Rosita (2019) and Marea alta/High Tide (2020), as expressions of intercultural cinema. Urraca examines the way that Chen subverts genre conventions and plays with the film’s form to explore different female



identities. Jonathan Risner also explores genre cinema made by women, but in this case the focus in on the horror films by Tamae Garateguy and Jimena Monteoliva. Although traditionally horror has been considered not only a male genre but also a misogynistic one, Risner discusses how these two filmmakers make use of horror to explore feminine and queer themes. He concludes that the films made by these filmmakers, for the low-budget production company Crudo Films, can be considered women’s cinema both in aesthetic and production terms. The section closes with an essay by Daniel Mourenza that analyses and compares the debut films of Milagros Mumenthaler, Abrir puertas y ventanas, and Sol Berruezo Pichon-Rivière, Mamá, mamá, mamá, as examples of a trend in Argentine women filmmaking arguably initiated by Martel’s La ciénaga in 2001. Both films are coming-of-age stories confined to the family home, privilege the perception of young female characters, are set during a process of mourning and have the capacity to render the familiar strange, denaturalising what is usually taken for granted by male adults.

References Aguilar, Gonzalo. “La generación del 60. La gran transformación del modelo.” In Cine argentino: Modernidad y vanguardias II. 1957–1983, edited by Claudio España, 83–93. Buenos Aires: Fondo Nacional de las Artes, 2003. Bettendorf, Paulina and Agustina Pérez Rial, eds. Tránsitos de la mirada. Mujeres que hacen cine. Buenos Aires: Libraria, 2014a. Bettendorf, Paulina and Agustina Pérez Rial. “Imagen y percepción: la apuesta por un realismo sinestésico en el nuevo cine argentino realizado por mujeres.” Cinémas d'Amérique Latine 22 (2014b): 90–103. Bettendorf, Paulina and Agustina Pérez Rial. “Women.” In Directory of World Cinema Argentina 2, edited by Beatriz Urraca and Gary M. Kramer, 105–108. Bristol: Intellect, 2016. Butler, Alison. Women’s Cinema: The Contested Screen. London: Wallflower, 2005. Christofoletti Barrenha, Natalia. A experiência do cinema de Lucrecia Martel: Resíduos do tempo e sons à beira da piscina. São Paulo: Editora Alameda, 2014. Christofoletti Barrenha, Natalia, Julia Kratje, and Paul Merchant, eds. The Films of Lucrecia Martel. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2022. DEISICA Report. Buenos Aires: DEISICA/INCAA, 2022. Dlugi Catalina and Rolando Gallego. Mujeres, cámara, acción. Empoderamiento y feminismo en el cine argentino. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Continente, 2019. Duhau, Bárbara and Taluana Wenceslau. Representaciones de género en el cine argentino: un análisis de los personajes femeninos en las películas argentinas más



vistas. Buenos Aires: Un Pastiche, 2016. doc-­especialidades/informe2-­4.pdf (accessed December 11, 2022). Falicov, Tamara. The Cinematic Tango: Contemporary Argentine Cinema. London: Wallflower Press, 2007. Fontana, Clara. María Luisa Bemberg. Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1993. Gemünden, Gerd. Lucrecia Martel. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2019. “Global Film Industries Perpetuates Discrimination against Women.” UN Report (2014).­and-­events/stories/2014/9/global-­f ilm-­i ndustries-­p erpetuates-­d iscrimination-­a gainst-­ women (accessed December 11, 2022). King, John, Sheila Whitaker, and Rosa Bosch. An Argentine Passion: María Luisa Bemberg and Her Films. London: Verso, 2000. Kratje, Julia and Marcela Visconti. El asombro y la audacia: el cine de María Luisa Bemberg. Buenos Aires: IPESA, 2020. Losada, Matt. Before Bemberg: Women Filmmakers in Argentina. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2020. Mafud, Lucio. “Mujeres cineastas en el período mudo argentino: los films de las sociedades de beneficencia (1915–1919).” Imagofagia 16 (2017): 51–76. Mafud, Lucio. Entre preceptos y derechos: directoras y guionistas en el cine mudo argentino (1915–1933). Buenos Aires: INCAA, 2021. Martin, Deborah. The Cinema of Lucrecia Martel. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016. Martin, Deborah and Deborah Shaw, eds. Latin American Women Filmmakers: Production, Politics, Poetics. London: I. B. Tauris, 2017a. Martin, Deborah and Deborah Shaw. “Introduction.” In Latin American Women Filmmakers: Production, Politics, Poetics, edited by Deborah Martin and Deborah Shaw, 1–28. London: I. B. Tauris, 2017b. Maurer Queipo, Isabel. “Breve panorama del cine actual de mujeres en Argentina.” In Cine argentino contemporáneo: visiones y discursos, edited by Bernhard Chappuzeau and Christian von Tschilschke, 217–241. Madrid/Berlin: Iberoamericana/Vervuert, 2016. Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16, no. 3 (1975): 6–19. Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. New  York: Routledge, 2003. Moi, Toril. “‘I am not a woman writer’: About Women, Literature and Feminist Theory Today.” Feminist Theory 9, no. 3 (2008): 259–271. Molloy, Missy. “Queer-Haptic Aesthetics in the Films of Lucrecia Martel and Albertina Carri.” Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas 14, no. 1 (2017): 95–111. Morland, Ian and Annabelle Willox, eds. Queer Theory. London: Bloomsbury, 2004.



Rangil, Viviana. Otro punto de vista: mujer y cine en Argentina. Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo, 2005. Rich, B. Ruby. “An/Other View of the New Latin American Cinema.” In New Latin American Cinema, Vol. 1: Theory, Practices and Transcontinental Articulations, edited by Michael T.  Martin, 273–297. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1997. Rich, B.  Ruby. “Preface: Performing the Impossible in Plain Sight.” In Latin American Women Filmmakers: Production, Politics, Poetics, edited by Deborah Martin and Deborah Shaw, xv–xx. London: I. B. Tauris, 2017. Ríos, Hugo. “La poética de los sentidos en los filmes de Lucrecia Martel.” Atenea XVIII, no. 2 (2008): 9–22. Roberts-Camps, Traci. Latin American Women Filmmakers: Social and Cultural Perspectives. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017. Russell, Dominique. “Lucrecia Martel—‘A Decidedly Polyphonic Cinema’.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 50 (2008). https://www.ejumpcut. org/archive/jc50.2008/LMartelAudio/index.html (accessed April 4, 2022). Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Tendencies. London: Routledge, 1999. Selimović, Inela. Affective Moments in the Films of Martel, Carri, and Puenzo. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. Showalter, Elaine. “Women Who Write Are Women.” The New York Times Book Review, December 16, 1984: 1.




Lita Stantic: “The Personal Is Political” Is Professional Constanza Burucúa

With a career that includes credits as producer, writer and director, Lita Stantic has been a leading voice at every turn of Argentina’s film culture from the mid-1960s to date. The history and the periodisation of Argentine cinema since the emergence of watershed movements like Grupo Cine Liberación, of which Stantic was a member, can be studied and understood in the light of her body of work. Equally, the complex ties between a feminist praxis and feminist film theory can be conceptualised by looking at her extensive and multifaceted oeuvre. Scholarship on Stantic abounds: there are studies on the significance of her collaborations with María Luisa Bemberg, others on her impact on the formation of the so-called New Argentine Cinema, when she produced landmark titles such as Mundo grúa/Crane World (Pablo Trapero, 1999), La ciénaga/The Swamp (Lucrecia Martel, 2001) and Bolivia (Israel Adrián Caetano, 2001) among

C. Burucúa (*) University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




other film, and publications that focus on Un muro de silencio/A Wall of Silence (1993), the only feature-length film that she directed (see King 1995; Grant 1997; Burucúa 2009, 2014; Eseverri and Peña 2013). However, the wide arc of her trajectory has seldom been studied from a strictly feminist perspective. To that end, this chapter conceives Stantic’s work as exemplary of the complexities and the nuances entailed in the very notion of women’s cinema, proving that Claire Johnston’s (1973) now classic conceptualisation of this cinema as a space for counter-hegemonic discursive disruptions is still relevant and productive. Moreover, whereas the analysis of specific textual features allows for speculations on the creative and ideological implications of the self-reflexive aspects of Un muro de silencio, the reading of her work in view of more current lines of enquiry in feminist research, which look at textual practices within specific social and historical conjunctures, provides a more comprehensive understanding of the full range and the long-lasting impact of Stantic’s legacy.

Stantic the Filmmaker Perhaps the term that most accurately summarises the kind of work that Stantic has been performing since the mid-1960s is “filmmaker”. Lacking a technical definition and still critically and theoretically untarnished, this denomination remains ambiguous enough to refer, indistinctly, to both the producer and the director. In this section, I ponder this characterisation by complicating the seeming simplicity of this descriptor—filmmaker, maker of films—in the light of ideas surrounding the much-debated notion of auteur and, more specifically, those concerning women and authorship. While in previous writings I focused on the analysis of Un muro de silencio (2009) and on her career as a producer (2014), in this chapter I look at her body of work as an organic whole: one that simultaneously draws on and illuminates a non-linear range of ideas, all of which, however dissimilar, understand filmmaking by women as a practice that contests the status quo whilst expanding the horizons of what is visible and allowing other voices to become audible. Stantic’s first collaboration as both co-producer and co-director is El bombero está triste y llora [The Fireman Is Sad and Cries], a 1965 short film that she directed together with her then partner Pablo Szir. Spanning over 50 years, her professional trajectory can be read not only as exemplary of the twists and turns of the Argentine film industry since the 1960s to date but also as representative of some of the most salient debates



concerning ideology, identity and gender politics, in both their textual and inter-textual manifestations, as well as in their extra textual implications (i.e., film industry, film culture and beyond). In hindsight, one can see that Stantic’s formal education (at the Asociación de Cine Experimental) and her early career ran in parallel to the conformation of a feminist film theory around matters concerning the representation of women in dominant cinema (Rosen 1973; Haskell 1974). Around the same time as scholars like Johnston (1973) and Laura Mulvey (1975, 1979) were pondering the potential of women filmmakers to counter the patriarchal underpinnings of mainstream filmic discourses, Stantic was actively participating in subversive and counter-hegemonic projects, such as Octavio Getino and Fernando Solana’s Grupo Cine Liberación. In other words, Stantic’s initial commitment to a cinema that was simultaneously experimental and political was very much in tune with the propositions of the early feminist debates. However, it was not until she joined forces with María Luisa Bemberg to carry out their first creative project together, Momentos (1981), that Stantic’s contesting exercise of cinema was harnessed to a feminist one, becoming an integral part of her work. Both GEA Cinematográfica—Stantic and Bemberg’s own production company—and La Mujer y el Cine, the association that they formed in 1988 with other women working in the film industry,1 were conceived as spaces where new conversations about female experiences could be fostered with the aim of (re)shaping the traditionally patriarchal system of representation, be it at a national or regional level. In this sense, Stantic’s status as an authorial voice can, and should, be thought of along the lines of Angela Martin’s revisionist take on auteur theory and its formulation by the male critics of the Cahiers du Cinéma (2002). While acknowledging a tradition within feminist scholarship that focuses on female authorship around specific characteristics concerning self-referentiality— to which I will turn my attention in the next section of this chapter— Martin advocates for a definition of authorship that recognises the creative work involved in the production of a film as a dialogical process within a specific context, hence a positioned “practice of writing” that is not necessarily circumscribed to one individual but can be thought of as an authorial collaborative effort (2003, 35–36). Throughout her career, Stantic has 1  Apart from Stantic and Bemberg, the other founding members of La Mujer y el Cine were Sara Facio, Beatriz Villalba Welsh, Susana López Merino, Gabriela Massuh and Marta Bianchi.



cultivated this understanding of cinema as a collective practice, paired and indissolubly intertwined with the strong conviction—acquired during her years as a militant filmmaker—in the power of the medium to effect change. As guiding principles at the core of her creative thinking and professional decisions, these ideas have informed her choices vis-à-vis the projects to which she has committed. A quick look at their line-up—collaborations with Adolfo Aristarain and Alejandro Doria during the years under military rule, with Bemberg throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, with Pablo Trapero, Lucrecia Martel, Israel Adrián Caetano and Diego Lerman at the turn of the century, with Paz Encina and Lucía Cedrón later on, and with Santiago Mitre and Gustavo Fontán more recently—allows for the argument that throughout her career Stantic has actively contributed to the subsequent re-configurations of Argentine cinema. In so doing, she has been a driving force behind the changes that the industry has gone through in terms of a progressively more equitable gendered division of labour during the last couple of decades, as well as a key agent in the shaping of that very context that she believes can be ameliorated by the kind of films that she makes and believes in.2

Stantic the Director Up to this point, I have looked at Stantic’s ability to carve out her own model of production while simultaneously impacting the industry and, more broadly, the context within which the films that she makes are received. I have also established a parallel between the founding debates within feminist film theory on one hand and, on the other, Stantic’s political commitment to the medium and its subsequent canvassing into a quest for gender equality (both in terms of representation and labour division within the film industry). In line with this, the authorial traits of her work were read as resulting from collaborative and collective efforts, something that she had first learnt and practiced as an activist filmmaker during the early stages of her career, when working with Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas, who were at the time articulating their thoughts on film and political action in the ground-breaking “Hacia un tercer cine [Towards a Third Cinema]” manifesto (1969).

2  For a comprehensive account of the gendered division of labour in Argentine cinema from its origins until the 1970s, see Losada (2020).



In this section, I consider another set of questions around female authorship and its textual inscriptions by following a different line of enquiry, the one pioneered by Judith Mayne (1990), which focuses on the tracing of autobiographical and self-reflexive components to underscore and locate the subjectivity of the director within the film’s narrative and textuality. Far from arbitrary, this change of approach is called for when turning our attention to the only film that Stantic directed. A play on mise-en-abyme, Un muro de silencio is both a highly self-reflexive film—a film about a film—and an extremely autobiographic one—a film about a woman filmmaker, as well as a film about a woman whose partner is kidnapped and disappeared during the repressive years of the military dictatorship in Argentina (1976–1983). Thus, the film reproduces the events surrounding Szir’s kidnapping and a captivity that included several excruciating visits to relatives (even if Stantic and Szir were not together anymore by the time that he disappeared, they were in frequent contact because of their daughter). Szir’s disappearance was and remains a traumatic event for Stantic. Set in Buenos Aires, the action takes place in the year 1990. Kate Benson (Vanessa Redgrave) is directing a film about the years under the military rule that is centred on the disappearance of Julio (Julio Chávez), and his wife Ana’s (Soledad Villamil) struggle to survive while trying to find out what happened to him. In the meantime, re-married widow Silvia (Ofelia Medina) finds out that a book by her former mentor (Bruno) is being filmed, and that the script bears an uncanny resemblance to her own story. Silvia meets Bruno (Lautaro Murúa), who tells her that Kate wants to see her, but she refuses. The whole situation brings back Silvia’s anxieties and she resumes her search for Jaime, her disappeared husband. Meanwhile, trying to understand what happened to her father and to herself as an infant, María Elisa (Silvia’s daughter, played by Marina Fondeville) visits the set of the film. Contacted by her London producers, Kate needs to leave immediately to focus on a new project on the Irish conflict, while Silvia and María Elisa return to the site of what once was the detention camp where they were held captive after the family’s kidnapping. The echoing and interlocking of the different narrative lines—Kate’s and Silvia’s, Silvia’s and Ana’s3—seem to reproduce the impossibility of grasping the last image in the endless sequence when two mirrors face 3  The film’s first working title was, precisely, Ana, Silvia, Kate (Eseverri and Peña 2013, 144).



each other. Equally elusive and inaccessible is the answer to the question at the core of the film, and the one that holds its structure together, concerning the fate of the disappeared. Without deceased bodies to occupy the graves that literally ground the separation between those who live and those who die, the existence of the disappeared remains suspended and, as such, endlessly de-stabilising. It is precisely this void at the centre of the film that we need to explore to comprehend both Stantic’s self-inscription as the articulating voice and the persistence of the film as a text that supports and continues to generate new readings, as I will address in the third section of this chapter. In her notes on women and authorship, Alison Butler argues that “[i]n its most sophisticated manifestations, the purpose of self-inscription is not the construction of a coherent subject position for the author, but the construction of a viable speaking position which, nonetheless, mirrors and enacts the author’s experience of selfhood and embodiment as multiple and fragmented” (2002, 61). In keeping with this idea, I think that Stantic’s self-positioning in Un muro de silencio becomes coherent only when understood as the aggregate of the three adult female characters: Kate (the filmmaker), Silvia (the writer/widow) and Ana (Silvia’s fictional character in Kate’s film). Equally, the mirroring and enacting that Butler refers to is literal in a film that simultaneously stages and reflects on the very nature of identity as performative, multifaceted and dynamic.4 Hence, by inscribing herself as a fragmented self, Stantic can meditate on the many facets—past and present—of her own identity: the committed filmmaker who seeks understanding, the “widow” who struggles with loss, grief and acceptance, and the young woman that she was once, captured in the happy memory of a bicycle ride with her husband and her child. As a meditation on herself—at different moments of her life, occupying different roles and positions (filmmaker, wife, mother), and at different times in history (before, during and after the military dictatorship)—the film inextricably ties to each other the self-reflexive and the autobiographical, since the possibility to meditate on one’s own identity inherently implies an act of self-reflexivity. What follows is that this conscious exploration of one’s identity produces an inevitable distancing from it, which in the film translates into the suspension of the possibility to identify with any one character, an impossibility not just for Stantic but also for the 4  For a concise definition of how the notion of identity is understood and debated within Film Studies see Kuhn and Westwell (2020).



spectator. Far from unintentional, this was a calculated outcome pursued by the filmmaker, whose intentions were precisely to inhibit any kind of emotional identification with the purpose of inducing in the viewer a sense of distance and detachment that critical thinking requires, and that Stantic deemed necessary not just to understand the film but, more importantly, to reflect on the legacy of the military dictatorship and the memory of the disappeared.5 In consonance with these ideas, Alison Ribeiro de Menezes provides interesting insights into how questions of self-reflexivity are treated in Un muro de silencio, even if her analysis does not engage at any point with self-­ referentiality and the film’s autobiographical component. According to her, this is a film that deals with “the legacies of traumatic memory [by downplaying] affective appeals in favour of a more distanced, structural and architectural approach” (2018, 147). In this reading, the distancing is achieved by means of a narrative organised around duality—of plots on one hand and character surrogates, doubles and replacement on the other—as a strategy that allows to simultaneously reflect on the spectral presence of the disappeared and on the tensions between past and present (2018, 148). The correspondences between the present and a still “unmastered past”6 are also discussed in relation to how architecture and its ruins signify within the film’s textuality. Hence, in the light of the Romantic literary tradition, memory is understood in architectural terms (157) and ruins interpreted as signifiers of a past that persists and continues to manifest itself in the present. To weave Ribeiro de Menezes’s ideas into a study that sees self-­ reflexivity in Un muro de silencio as indivisibly tied to aspects concerning the director’s self-referentiality (i.e., the autobiographical component), in the next section I propose to build on her considerations on the meaning 5  In an interview with the author in April 2012, the director explained: “Nosotros no estábamos haciendo negocio con el tema, al contrario; y lo más interesante era que después de verla, te hacía pensar; era una película distanciada, no había explotación, era sobre la memoria y la necesidad y la imposibilidad de olvidar [We were not doing business with the topic, on the contrary; and what was interesting about it was that after watching it, it made you think; it was a distanced film, there was no exploitation, it was about memory and about the necessity and the impossibility to forget]” (Stantic 2012). 6  In the use of this expression, I follow Thomas Elsaesser’s ideas on the possibility of historical discourses on film to “master the past”, or their coming to terms with a fascist past (1996, 179).



and uses of architecture by discussing the dynamics between an exteriority and an interiority to the film, in what I will refer to as Stantic’s “in-betweenness”.

Un muro de silencio: A Film Made by a Director Who Is a Producer As Catherine Grant eloquently explained in one of the earliest writings on Un muro de silencio, the film’s self-reflexive component ranges as far as to address—and critique—its own financing structure under the model of the co-production, and its workings regarding how said model informs the plot and the overall production of meaning, both in relation to this specific film and, more broadly, in the context of Argentine cinema (1997, 324).7 While Grant centres her arguments on the role that Kate Benson, the English filmmaker, plays in terms of being capable of understanding and providing a narrative that would explain the roots of political violence and state terrorism in Argentina (1997, 323), I propose to think about matters concerning Stantic’s positioning within the industry, and the larger context of the national film industry at a specific moment in time, by focusing on the images that the film’s title convey. By the time that shooting began, in May 1992, Stantic’s debut film had already changed its name from Flores negras/Black Flowers (a title retained in the British release, together with A Wall of Silence) to El muro (The Wall). Three months later, in August 1992, the director finally settled on the definitive Un muro de silencio. Both nouns, muro/wall and silencio/ silence, are not just quite powerful (unfortunately the nuance of the term muro is lost in its English translation as “wall”),8 but they also imply a divide: walls separate spaces, silence differentiates the spoken from the  Un muro de silencio is an Argentine, Mexican and British co-production. The protagonists, Kate and Silvia, are respectively played by British actress Vanessa Redgrave and Mexican actress Ofelia Medina. Their casting was made possible by the fact that this was a co-produced film, and it was expected to have an impact on the film’s international distribution and exhibition. 8  Whereas in English the term wall is indistinctly used for interior or exterior walls, and regardless of their actual structure and historical relevance, in Spanish there are different terms: pared, muro and muralla, with the latter two used to refer to both heavier structures and, occasionally, culturally significant spaces: for example, the Chinese Wall in Spanish translates as “la Muralla China”, Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall is “el Muro de los Lamentos” and Berlin’s Wall is “el Muro de Berlín”. In other words, in Spanish the term “muro” denotes a sense of resistance to time, of immovability, that “pared” lacks. 7



unspoken. And also in relation to this, as a self-reflexive text, the film multiplies these divides, as well as their interpretations. Hence, in its most literal sense, the wall can be seen in the carcass and the ruins of the illegal detention centre that Silvia and María Elisa visit at the end of the film. This is an ominous space that Menezes de Ribeiro has also read as “evoking the absent, ruined bodies of the disappeared and the emotional fractures that their absence creates within families and in Argentine society as a whole” (2018, 157). In this sense, this is a wall both inhabited by the spectres of those who are not there anymore and that separates them—as presumably dead—from the living. As a metaphor, the title of the film also works as an oxymoron, in which the materiality of the wall is contrasted with the intangibility of silence, in clear allusion to the thick barrier of indifference in the public discourse towards the unsolved matter of the disappeared. By the year of the film’s release (1993), this apathy was understood by many as an inevitable consequence—like a decanting effect—of the officially imposed pardon to those responsible of state terrorism and human rights violations. In this way, the laws of Punto Final and Obediencia Debida granted by the Alfonsín government in 1987, and Menem’s subsequent Indulto (1990), were clearly informing the public debate, leading to the progressive obliteration of the traumatic legacy of the dictatorship from the public discourse. We can think of Stantic wandering around the wall, even standing on it and staring at both sides: not just trying to understand (like Kate) and daring to grieve (like Silvia), but also defiantly resisting a silence that was and felt inflicted. In her own words: La película no terminaba con la frase “todos sabían” pero yo la agregué a propósito, porque estaba furiosa… Fue la peor época para la gente que había luchado por los derechos humanos desde 1977. Y 1992 fue el año más triste para las Madres, las Abuelas y otras organizaciones de derechos humanos porque estaban solos. Fue el período del silencio. A la gente no le interesaba. Ellos, la gran mayoría, había dejado eso atrás, así nomás. [The film did not finish with the phrase “they all knew” but I added it on purpose, because I was enraged … It was the worst period for the people who had fought for human rights since 1977. And 1992 was the saddest year for the Madres, the Abuelas and other human rights organizations because they were alone. It was a period of silence. People were not interested in it. They, the big majority, had left that theme behind, just like that.] (Stantic 2012)



Unbeknown to Stantic at the time, Un muro de silencio was meant to close a period of introspection and historical enquiry in Argentine cinema; that wall of silence was not to be lifted until the release of Garage Olimpo (Marco Bechis, 1999), and definitely blown up in 2003 by Alberina Carri’s Los rubios/The Blonds, when the children of the disappeared began to speak for themselves, asking their own questions, eventually finding out that, indeed, “they all knew”.9 9  In the same interview, in what feels like a magical, sad and eerie coincidence, Stantic referred to how she met Albertina Carri as follows: “Conozco muy bien a Albertina. Cuando dirigí Un muro de silencio ella era meritorio y durante el rodaje fue segunda asistente de cámara. Fue su primera película. Lo que fue realmente impactante para mí fue que yo no sabía que Albertina estaba en mi película. Conocí a Roberto Carri, porque conocía a Ana María Caruso, su esposa, y a sus dos hijas, que son las hermanas mayores de Albertina. Una vez incluso viajamos juntos a Mar del Plata. Íbamos a proyectar la película El Cordobazo. Después, cuando Pablo y yo nos separamos, dejé de ver a los Carri, y Albertina nació en esos años. Ella llegó a mi película por intermedio del director de fotografía, Félix Monti. ... Yo me enteré en medio del rodaje, y fue un shock porque la maquilladora me comentó lo difícil que había sido la escena que habíamos filmado el día antes para Albertina. Era la escena en la que la chica, la hija de la protagonista, mira cómo se filma el último encuentro entre su mamá y su papá. Entonces me dijo: ‘Albertina se tuvo que ir, se fue del set, porque es hija de desaparecidos’. Yo le pregunté: ‘¿de quién?’, ‘de Carri’. Fue un impacto brutal, porque ella no me había dicho nada, y era el último día de rodaje con Vanessa Redgrave. Y fui y le pregunté, ‘¿por qué no me dijiste?’ y bueno… Creo que la manera en la que se acercó a la película, sin decirme nada, es un poco lo que ves en Los rubios. Tiene esta especie de confianza, de garra. A mí la película me conmovió mucho, me gustó… tiene cosas que me gustan más que otras. Pero creo que está bien que su mirada, su postura, sea distinta [I know Albertina very well. When I directed Un muro de silencio, she was an intern and then during the shooting she became second camera assistant. It was her first film. What was really shocking for me was that I didn’t know that Albertina was in my film. I knew Roberto Carri, as I knew Ana María Caruso, his wife, when they only had two daughters, who are Albertina’s elder sisters. Once we even travelled together with them and Pablo to Mar del Plata. We were going to project the film El Cordobazo. Then, when Pablo and I separated, I stopped seeing the Carris and Albertina was born around those years. She came to my film through the director of photography, Félix Monti. … I found out halfway through the shooting and it was a shock because the make-up artist told me how difficult the scene that we had shot the day before had been for Albertina. It was the scene in which the girl, the daughter of the protagonist, watches the filming of the last encounter between her mother and her father. So, she told me, ‘Albertina had to leave, she left the set, because she is the daughter of disappeared’. I asked, ‘of who?’, ‘Carri’. It was a brutal impact, because she didn’t tell me anything, it was the last day of shooting with Vanessa Redgrave. And I went to her and asked, ‘why didn’t you tell me?’ and well… I think that the way in which she approached the film, without saying anything to me is a bit what you see in Los rubios. There is this kind of self-confidence, this nerve in it. I was very moved by the film, I liked it… there are things that I like more than others. But I think it’s ok that her gaze, her take on things is a different one]” (Stantic 2012).



In this sense, and also in retrospect, one can think about the wall as a divider in relation to the history of Argentine cinema and its periodisation. Stantic’s anger and discomfort was probably not circumscribed to the political landscape, but it also extended to the dire circumstances that the industry was going through at the time, to the financial and creative consequences and limitations imposed by the co-production model, as well as to its exhaustion, which implied the industry’s stagnation (see Aguilar 2010, 13–38; Aprea 2008, 20–25; Andermann 2012, ix–xx and 1–25). Certainly not a clairvoyant, but with the intuition of someone who had been working in the film sector for three decades, and who had had a fair share of ups and steep downs, she must have known that despite the hopelessness of the present, there had to be something to look forward in the horizon, like the slit of light that María Elisa (Silvia’s daughter) devises at the end of the film. Finally, in terms of periodisation but in a different domain, I think of Stantic’s in-betweenness in relation to her ability to surf between what has been identified and discussed by feminist scholarship in the second and third waves of feminism, the latter emerging very much simultaneously with the release of Stantic’s film.10 Once again, I do not believe that this was a conscious choice by Stantic. At the time, those who later theorised about the formation of the third wave were only beginning to suspect that the previous generation had been debating around a somewhat monolithic understanding of women and that, consequently, their conceptual tools were insufficient to account for identity nuances or, more broadly, for any kind of intersectionality.11 As feminist debates and feminist subjects changed and evolved, so did Stantic, who remained attuned with the times and went on to produce, among others, the earliest films of Lucrecia Martel, perhaps one of the brightest women filmmakers to date, well beyond the boundaries of Argentine cinema. After Un muro de silencio, Stantic co-wrote two more scripts, thinking that she would direct them, but then she had a change of heart and realised that, in her own words, “yo iba a ser más funcional para el cine argentino como productora que como directora [I was going to be more functional to Argentine cinema as a producer than as a director]” (Stantic 2012). 10  For scholarship on the history of feminism(s) understood as waves and the debates surrounding the third wave, see Gillis et al. (2004). 11  This notion was first formulated around the same time by critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991).



These words are from an interview I had with her in 2012 and that lasted for three days. Whereas she was extremely generous in her answers, indulging in digressions and meanderings, her answer to the question about why she had not directed again was as sparse as what I have just transcribed. Without claiming to know or comprehend what only Stantic knows about her innermost self, I will bring this chapter to an end by further examining this professional and personal decision, one that had direct consequences in the emergence of a new generation of directors whose films were to reconfigure the national cinema by the end of the 1990s, the same decade in which she directed her only film and made the decision not to direct anymore.

Conclusion: On Emotional Labour First formulated by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in The Managed Heart: The Commercialization of Human Feeling (1983), emotional labour is a concept employed to ponder the need to perform or withhold certain emotions to be able to fulfil professional duties. Generally associated with specific sectors (i.e., social work, services, frontline workers, teachers), feminists have also used it to refer to the role that women have traditionally played in the domestic sphere as partners, parents and relatives (Harris and White 2018). Can we think of Stantic’s work as a maker of films—as previously defined—in the light of this notion, and without falling into any kind of psychoanalytic speculation? The answer to this question is neither simple nor straightforward because, while the idea seems to resonate, it is not easy to pinpoint exactly how or where it can be anchored in relation to Stantic’s work. However, once posed, another set of questions emerges: does the job of the producer entail emotional labour as a means to allow the more permissible sentiments and creative outbursts of directors, star actors, writers, directors of photography (a production’s “creative costs”) to be properly canvassed? Would this be something that we can think about in relation to any producer, or would it depend on personality? Would it be more associated to women producers in general, or would it also vary according to temperament or disposition? And, finally, can we think of Stantic’s realisation— serving Argentine cinema better as a producer than as a director—not only as a choice on how to best canvass other people’s emotions but also her own?



For a woman whose personal life is so intimately tied to her profession, it is difficult to fathom what it must have been like to complete Un muro de silencio, the emotional draining that it must have implied to accomplish such cinematic tour de force around her own grieving process, at a moment in time that she experienced as quite a desolate one: on top of personally enduring the impact that the successive amnesty laws had on society, rendering it numb and indifferent to the still unresolved traumas of the recent past, Stantic was also aware that María Luisa Bemberg would soon die of cancer, which she did in 1995. Perhaps, she realised that she could not afford doing anything like it again, that she was better at withholding her own emotions while enabling others’. As previously mentioned, at this point, it is necessary to refrain from speculating about what only Stantic would probably be able to answer befittingly. Second-wave feminists gathered around the slogan “the personal is political”, challenging the assumption that the public and private spheres are clearly divided, and underscoring how private life is also moulded and informed by politics. For Stantic, whose life has been lived within the industry and pretty much shaped by the conviction that filmmaking cannot be but a political act, the personal is as political as it is professional.

References Aguilar, Gonzalo. Otros mundos: un ensayo sobre el nuevo cine argentino. Buenos Aires: Santiago Arcos, 2010. Andermann, Jens. New Argentine Cinema. London/New York: I. B. Tauris, 2012. Aprea, Gustavo. Cine y políticas en Argentina. Buenos Aires: Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento/Biblioteca Nacional, 2008. Burucúa, Constanza. Confronting the Dirty War in Argentine Cinema, 1983–1993. Memory and Gender in Historical Representations. London: Tamesis, 2009. Burucúa, Constanza. “Lita Stantic: Auteur Producer/Producer of Auteurs.” In Beyond the Bottom-Line: The Producer in Film and Television Studies, edited by Andrew Spicer, A.T.  McKenna, and Christopher Meir, 215–228. London: Continuum, 2014. Butler, Alison. Women’s Cinema: The Contested Screen. London: Wallflower, 2002. Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (1991): 1241–1299. Elsaesser, Thomas. “Subject Positions, Speaking Positions: From Holocaust, Our Hitler, and Heimat to Shoa and Schindler’s List.” In The Persistence of History:



Cinema, Television and the Modern Event, edited by Vivian Sobchack, 145–183. New York/London: Routledge, 1996. Eseverri, Máximo, and Fernando M.  Peña. Lita Stantic: el cine es automóvil y poema. Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 2013. Getino, Octavio, and Fernando Solanas. “Toward a Third Cinema.” Tricontinental 14 (1969): 107–132. Gillis, Stacy, Gillian Howie, and Rebecca Munford. Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration. Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Grant, Catherine. “Camera Solidaria.” Screen 38, no. 4 (1997): 311–328. Harris, John, and Vicky White. “Emotional Labor.” In A Dictionary of Social Work and Social Care (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Haskell, Molly. From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1974. Hochschild, Arlie. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983. Johnston, Claire. “Women’s Cinema as Counter Cinema.” In Notes on Women’s Cinema, edited by Claire Johnston, 24–31. London: Society for Education in Film and Television, 1973. King, John. “Breaching the Walls of Silence: Lita Stantic’s Un muro de silencio.” Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos XX, no. 1 (1995): 43–53. Khun, Annette, and Guy Westwell. “Identity.” In A Dictionary of Film Studies (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. Losada, Matt. Before Bemberg: Women Filmmakers in Argentina. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2020. Martin, Angela. “Refocusing Authorship in Women’s Filmmaking.” In Women Filmmakers: Refocusing, edited by Jacqueline Levitin, Judith Plessis and Valerie Raoul, 29–37. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2003. Mayne, Judith. “Female Authorship Reconsidered.” In The Woman at the Keyhole: Feminism and Women’s Cinema. Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990. Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16, no. 3 (1975): 6–19. Mulvey, Laura. “Film, Feminism and the Avant-Garde.” Framework 10 (1979): 3–10. Ribeiro de Menezes, Alison. “Remembering the Disappeared in Lita Stantic’s Un muro de silencio.” In On Replacement: Cultural, Social and Psychological Representations, edited by Jean Owen and Naomi Segal, 147–158. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. Rosen, Marjorie. Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies and the American Dream. New York: Coward McCann and Geoghegan, 1973. Stantic, Lita. Interview by Constanza Burucúa. April 25 and 26, 2012.


Jeanine Meerapfel, Cosmopolitan Auteur of the Immigrant Condition Matt Losada

Jeanine Meerapfel is well-known for her 1988 feature La amiga/The Girlfriend, but since 1980 she has directed over a dozen fiction and documentary films, an output that makes her arguably the most prolific Argentine woman filmmaker.1 Her work often centres on the subjective experience of minority individuals, mostly women and frequently Jewish, in contexts of authoritarianism and displacement. This focus, as well as the filmic poetics to which she would return insistently in the following decades, is announced in the first shot of her feature debut, Malou (1981).

1  Strictly speaking, the Argentine woman who has made most films is undoubtedly Nelly Kaplan, who, like Meerapfel, began her film career in Europe. In 1952, at age 20, she moved to France, where she made at least nine documentaries and eight fiction features, in addition to writing a dozen books. Unlike Meerapfel, she did not film in Argentina and expressed disinterest in doing so (Colaux 2002).

M. Losada (*) University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




The shot is a carefully descriptive panoramic in which the tight frame slides to the left to survey a sequence of objects strewn on a table, the camera’s purposeful movement motivated by their significance. German books, old photo albums, Jorge Luis Borges’s Evaristo Carriego in Spanish, the family silver, passports, loose photos, a box full of letters and a Langenscheidt dictionary are registered as the movement continues in an arc that slowly swoops downwards, veers towards the right, stops and holds on a portrait of the title character for the duration of the credits. The shot then goes on to survey more objects while completing the circular trajectory. The objects registered will trigger memories and flashbacks from the present of the film’s protagonist to the past of her mother and create fields of tension that extend in two intertwined directions. One is temporal, tying the present to a familial past; while the other is geographic, linking Germany and Argentina, tracing the route migrated in opposite directions by the fictional daughter, Hannah, and mother, Malou, as well as by the director of the film and her own mother. As elsewhere in Meerapfel’s filmography, faced with the pressure exerted on the present by an insistent yet inaccessible past, the illusion of her protagonists’ stable identity crumbles. The director’s films will consistently return to the immigrant condition that reflects both her personal and familial story, often employing female narrative focalisers living under authoritarianism and suffering anti-­ minority oppression that result in what Elena Goity refers to as “voyages of imposition” (1994, 278).2 The loss brought about by these displacements and the resulting uprootedness pass from generation to generation. As Hannah comments, in a conversation about Malou, “I don’t know where I belong either.” Identity in Meerapfel’s work, then, lies neither in the present tense narration nor in the flashback, but in the irreconcilable tension between the two. Neither Hannah nor Malou are able to exist unproblematically in the present, subjected as they are to the pressure of the past. This establishes a clear link between Meerapfel’s personal and familial history and a body of work that represents like few others the subjectivities of displaced persons, especially women, in a modernity of frequent intercontinental migrations brought about by persecution and 2  All translations are mine, except those from German in Meerapfel’s films, which are taken from subtitles.



conflict. Such concerns, which make Meerapfel’s work a powerful cinematic antidote to xenophobia, also make particularly timely her election in 2015 to the position of President of Berlin’s Akademie der Künste, the state cultural institute founded in 1696. In order to trace the singularity of Meerapfel’s body of work, I will examine her documentary and narrative films set in Argentina and Europe. If considered as an auteur in the specific sense of establishing a connection between her biography and films, her body of work endeavours like few others to represent female subjectivities in the cruel context of a twentieth century that brought about major conflicts and mass displacements of populations. I will explore how Meerapfel’s films represent the pressures these exert on subjectivities forced to negotiate the effects of power on global, local and domestic scales. Meerapfel was born in Argentina in 1943 to German Jewish parents who had fled Nazism. After studying filmmaking in Buenos Aires with Simón Feldman, she moved to Germany at the age of 21, where she studied under Alexander Kluge and Edgar Reitz from 1964 to 1968 at the Ulm Institute (Goity 1994, 278). West Germany’s first film school, the Ulm Institute was founded in the wake of the Oberhausen Manifesto, which sparked a creative flowering and marked the beginning of the New German Cinema. Meerapfel then worked as a freelance film critic in Germany (Knight 1992), made her first feature film, Malou, in 1980, and has since filmed in Argentina, Germany, Montenegro, Bolivia, Ecuador, Turkey and Greece, among other countries. Meerapfel has the infrequent distinction of being marginal to two national film traditions, the Argentine and the German, despite having made half a dozen films in each. This is a remarkable level of production, given the well-known difficulties faced by women directors, but she goes unmentioned in many otherwise exhaustive histories, and despite having made films starring such figures as Ingrid Caven, Ivan Desny and Barbara Sukowa, she is only occasionally mentioned in accounts of German cinema. Such critical neglect could be attributed to the transnationality of her work, which makes it an uneasy fit in either national tradition, along with the connotations of inauthenticity frequently associated with international co-productions and the preconditions they often bring. Yet it is precisely Meerapfel’s movement between continents that has made possible her career in direction, as she asserted in an interview conducted in the 1990s: “Living in Europe now, I’ve had the privilege of being able to have a career in cinema, a privilege many colleagues in Latin



America do not have” (Trelles Plazaola 1992, 52). In the same interview, she specifically referenced the fact that her films were subsidised by the German state. Asked if they were profitable enough to recover their production costs, she answered frankly: “In general, no. Malou, somewhat. The documentaries, yes, because they sell to television. The economic aspect is difficult, difficult in general. My films are subsidized by the German state and that makes possible the continuation of the work” (65). Due to German state funding, then, this Argentine woman has found opportunities in the cinema that would have been impossible in her birth country. In the same interview, asked whether she preferred to work in German or Argentine cinema, Meerapfel addressed this transnational option in pragmatic terms: I’d rather stay in Argentine cinema, in Latin American cinema, but I suspect that won’t be possible, due to the means of production, simply because to make a film we need a lot of money and over here [in Germany] with tenacity and struggle one can still get the money, but in Argentina, in Latin America, it’s almost impossible. Today almost all the films being made in Argentina are co-productions with other countries … That is one of the tragedies of Latin American cinema in general and that’s why I think I’ll continue to bridge Europe and Latin America. (59)

This bridge between continents is not only financial in Meerapfel’s filmography, but, as we saw, also thematic. As such, her transnationality warrants further examination. Her work shares very little of the inauthenticity of the many international co-productions of convenience often referred to pejoratively as “Euro pudding,” but is closer to what Mette Hjort calls “cosmopolitan transnationalism,” which “emerges as the virtually unshakeable effect of a lived experience of the limits of national belonging and citizenship” (2010, 23). In cosmopolitan transnationalism, (m)ultiple belonging linked to ethnicity and various trajectories of migration … becomes the basis for a form of transnationalism that is oriented toward the ideal of film as a medium capable of strengthening certain social imaginaries. The emphasis is on the exploration of issues relevant to particular communities situated in a number of different national or subnational locations to which the cosmopolitan auteur has a certain privileged access. (20)



The issues explored by Meerapfel are principally those of minority women in situations of displacement and the resulting immigrant condition, which makes her transnationalism not only a production strategy, but a vital inevitability. The historical events of the twentieth century that contributed to her own identity also spun the threads that run cyclically through her work. Uprootedness, loss and the search for identity bring about, and are themselves brought about by, a movement between cultures that generates deep subjective crises in her protagonists. While this could be considered an ever more universal modern condition, in Meerapfel’s work it is depicted through the specific lens of the subjectivity of women who are usually members of a minoritarian collectivity in relation to hegemonic groups. This is an unsurprising choice, given the director’s own Jewish background and her upbringing in a time of increased consciousness of the rights of women and minority groups seen in the US civil rights movement, social movements in favour of the oppressed in Latin America and feminism. The collectivities depicted are most often those of Argentine or German Jews, but the list of her protagonists also includes Turks, Montenegrins and Greeks. The resulting body of work is both diverse—in its settings and protagonists—and consistent in its depiction of subjectivities immersed in tensions between past and present. Formally, the frequent movement between nations and continents is articulated through Meerapfel’s meticulous poetics of the flashback, through which she represents the subjective persistence of memory as an inevitable pressure of the past on the present. Meerapfel’s recollection of the teachings of Kluge both locates an origin for and theorises her use of the flashback: “What most stuck with me was what Kluge used to tell us: ‘a film exists in the interstices between one scene and another, in the cuts. It exists, that is, in the brain of the spectator, it’s the spectator who makes the film through the interstices between one scene and the next’” (Trelles Plazaola 1992, 55).

Germany: First Films The title character of Malou, for example, marries into comfort in Germany before her flight from the Nazis to Argentina forces her into poverty and prostitution. In Die Verliebten/Days to Remember (1987), the protagonist Katharina is a woman of multiple, simultaneous identities, able to shift between these depending on location, yet unable to free herself from the resulting subjective conflicts. She is alternatively a Montenegrin daughter



in a rigidly patriarchal rural community, a German who has overcome her status as economic immigrant to achieve success as a television reporter and, potentially, an utterly uprooted international media star based in New York. These three possibilities are all riven by the tension between a homely rootedness and the professional success possible for a woman who accepts the uprooted condition of the modern capitalist order. Meerapfel’s work, then, deeply examines the displaced condition by subjecting her characters to its unresolvable tensions. This brings about resolutions that, in some of her films, might appear unsatisfactory to a viewer expecting a grand pronouncement, but this lack of closure is in fact itself an eloquent commentary on the impossibility of satisfactorily resolving such tensions on an existential level. If we consider Meerapfel’s films in terms of identity, then, they are fundamentally deconstructive, since instead of seeking to construct an identity, they show it as a lived process, always fluid and never convincingly grounded in an origin. These themes appear in Meerapfel’s first fiction and documentary films, which she made in Germany, setting a precedent for her later work and enabling her emblematic trope: shifts between different continents and historical moments through flashbacks that are sometimes interior to her protagonists, other times imposed by an external narrator. This use of the flashback, though articulated formally in various ways, will consistently allow her to put different times and places into contact and thus dramatise the destabilisation of the identities of her characters. Meerapfel’s use of female narrative focalisers was somewhat unconventional at the beginning of her career, though it has since become less so as more women have directed films. In Malou, the story of Hannah is set in the present (of around 1980), while the story of her mother is told in flashbacks. Hannah was born and raised in Argentina and, like her mother, is a hard drinker. In one episode, she fights with her husband, leaves the apartment, gets drunk and has an unsentimental one-night stand with a man she meets in a bar. This episode, which would be morally pivotal for a female character in a more conventional film, is told matter-of-factly and has no repercussions on Hannah and her husband’s relationship, going unacknowledged by the characters. The story of the mother is told in intercalated flashbacks. We find out she is French, also a drinker, marries a German Jew during the rise of anti-­ Semitism under Nazism and the two are forced to emigrate. In Argentina, Hannah’s father soon leaves her mother, who has no option but to work as a prostitute to support herself and her daughter and eventually dies an



alcoholic. Her mother’s tragedy haunts Hannah in the present, a dilemma reflected in the film’s constant flashing back and forth between past and present. Janice Mouton writes that Meerapfel’s project in Malou is to “assemble the pieces of an identity, to ‘piece together’ the life-story of a mother, and in so doing, to begin to construct the life-story of a daughter” (1997, 236). Mouton goes on to argue that the work carried out by the character Hannah, “piecing together her mother’s story, seeking to constitute her own identity in the process” is “duplicated by Meerapfel herself, who through her filmmaking also engages in identity-construction” (236). But Mouton perceptively points out that for Hannah, Malou is a “forever-lost and forever-desired fantasy object” (237). Hannah, then, attempts to construct an identity for her mother, only to find that that identity, and by extension her own, is inevitably fragmentary and partial. This impulse and recognition will return in many of Meerapfel’s subsequent films, both fiction and documentary. In 1995, Michael Renov described the emergence in the previous decades of documentary filmmaking in an increasingly subjective mode, the “growing prominence of work by women and men of diverse cultural backgrounds in which the representation of the historical world is inextricably bound up with self-inscription” (2004, 176). In this emergent mode, “the documentative stance that had previously been valorised as informed but objective was now being replaced by a more personalist perspective in which the maker’s stake and commitment to the subject matter were foregrounded” (176). While he does not reference Meerapfel, Renov’s words formulate an apt description of her documentary practice in three films of the 1980s, two made in Germany, Im Land meiner Eltern/In the Land of My Parents (1981) and Die Kümmeltürkin geht/Melek Leaves (1985), and one in Argentina, Desembarcos/When Memory Speaks (1986). The films centre on distinct themes while sharing a foregrounding of Meerapfel’s perspective on these. In the Land of My Parents centres on the experience of being Jewish in Germany several decades after the Shoah—Meerapfel’s own situation— and the fractured, fragmentary heritage that implies. Along with the director’s own presence and words, she interviews several other Jews living in Berlin before the film takes a surprising, inclusive turn that reconceptualises its own argument, generously finding a commonality of outsiders when it examines the condition of Turkish immigrant workers in Germany.



The film is, then, in keeping with Renov’s location of an origin of the subjective documentary in minoritarian identities, of which at least four intersect in Meerapfel herself, as a Jewish Latin American immigrant woman. As the film begins, the cosmopolitan auteur thematises her own troubled identity. As the tango “Mi Buenos Aires querido” (in the well-­ known version sung by Carlos Gardel) fades into classical music, conversation is overheard between Meerapfel and another, unidentified woman, sitting on the grass in a park next to a Jewish cemetery. The other woman states in German: “I believe that the Jews have always been a people on the move. Moving from country to country, often not sure if they could settle. So they developed roots in the air, as that was their only way to survive.” Meerapfel’s response expresses her dissatisfaction with such a condition: I want to have roots in one place and a sense of belonging there. This cemetery reflects that idea. Our forefathers are buried here, our great grandparents, five generations of our people. That provides a feeling of tradition and continuity. And I very much wish that they hadn’t had to leave, and that I had an aunt I could visit sometimes for tea … Maybe it’s because they lived here and I wish it hadn’t happened, that the generations weren’t missing. And I would belong to them.

Despite her desire for a sense of belonging in Germany, Meerapfel goes on to describe in depth the experience of discomfort she feels there as a person brought up in Argentina: I often feel cold in Germany. I see people who seem to regard their bodies as being a fortress. No physical contact. No open emotions. No give and take. This lack of obligation is known as demeanor. If you show feelings, you’re vulnerable. Feelings can change. They aren’t reliable. And in Germany we do want safe values. This land seems to be founded on security. Sensuality, which causes unrest, must be banished. Sensuality, corporeity, are too contradictory for this country, which has such difficulties with contradictions.

From this initial exposition of her own lived experience, Meerapfel will soon expand the film’s focus by conducting a series of interviews with Jews living in Germany, but it first references the evocative power of objects through an interlude in a museum containing German objects, but nothing Jewish. This lack of objects through which one can identify themselves



disconcerts the filmmaker whose family lived in Germany for at least five generations. Many of the Jews interviewed are apprehensive about their status in Germany, but others profess a greater concern for newer forms of xenophobia against, for example, Turkish immigrants. As Meerapfel comments on a friend: “Hazel says, ‘when I look around at the Turks, I must say there are worse things than being Jewish in Germany now.’ I agree with her.” With this, the film opens out to the conditions of other minority groups, especially Turks, faced with resurgent xenophobia in Germany, and to a more holistic social concern. This shift of focus from the Jewish minority to that of Turks reveals Meerapfel’s project to be less about identity than about denouncing the cyclical return of the mechanisms of social exclusion proper to Germany. Throughout In the Land of My Parents, the subtly probing interviews, reflexive reconstructions and associative editing reveal Meerapfel’s complex craft as a documentary filmmaker and prefigure her later works. Her next film more deeply explores social exclusion as subjectively perceived by Germany’s Turkish population, in a move from the personal to the universal that would define much of her filmography to come. Melek Leaves focuses on Melek, a Turkish woman who has lived in Berlin for 14 years and is preparing to return to Turkey. She originally migrated under the Gastarbeiter programme, for which an agreement between West Germany and Turkey was signed in 1961 that made the latter the first source country of guest workers outside of Western Europe. The film documents the condition of Turkish workers, but it is primarily about Melek herself, disillusioned and deeply embittered with her time in Germany and, it seems, with the trajectory of her own life. Unlike many documentaries that might attempt to establish sympathetic identification between viewer and subject, this film presents a challenge, since, in the many interviews with Melek and her interactions with others, she is often sarcastic, quick to anger and unsympathetic. Nevertheless, through the interviews and documentary footage of xenophobic interactions and graffiti, Melek’s anger is gradually presented as a result of the conditions of Turkish workers under the Gastarbeiter programme and the tensions between Germans and their “guests” that are exacerbated by opportunistic politicians. The film’s editing jumps between documentary portrayals of Germany and Turkey, both inflected with the subjectivity of Melek. Germany is shown as cold and bureaucratic, while Turkey appears warm and convivial.



Nostalgia for her home country notwithstanding, the present in Germany is clearly not optimal for Melek. She is shown at work, washing dishes in a restaurant and cleaning an office at night, as well as suffering through bureaucracy in waiting rooms and grumpily interacting with government functionaries. In the latter scenes, Melek’s antipathy towards those working in state offices borders on aggression, further challenging the viewer’s capacity to identify with her. Meerapfel accompanies Melek when she returns to Turkey. When she addresses Melek’s imagined happiness there, Meerapfel states what the viewer has likely been thinking: “I think the more Melek felt hurt as a Turk in Berlin, the more she sought refuge in the Turkey of her imagination. I had my doubts whether she’d really be happy there, but I kept them to myself. What right did I have to question her dreams?” Through her spoken commentary, Meerapfel expands the relationship of migrants with their home country beyond Melek and addresses the power of nostalgia to generate illusions that foreclose the possibility of satisfaction in the present, a predicament shared by nearly all the protagonists of her fiction features. Meerapfel’s second fiction film, Die Verliebten/Days to Remember (1987), tells the story of Katharina (played by New German Cinema star Barbara Sukowa), a woman who was born in Montenegro but emigrated at ten with her Gastarbeiter father to Germany, where she eventually found success as a television producer and presenter. The story takes place during a visit to her hometown in Montenegro. The use of a bi-cultured female character as narrative focaliser allows Meerapfel to examine the vastly different possibilities for a woman in the tightly knit community of her birth, with its rigidly traditional gender expectations, and a modern Germany where women enjoy far greater workplace opportunities and lifestyle choices. A romance seen from Katharina’s perspective gives Meerapfel an opportunity to again overturn the conventional expectations of a viewer perhaps unaccustomed to representations of women’s sexual freedom. Die Verliebten is Meerapfel’s last film before her return to Argentina.

The Return to Argentina In Argentina, Meerapfel’s work took on an immediate urgency in the context of societal upheaval surrounding the enactment, under the threat of military violence, of the 1986 Ley de Punto Final (Full Stop Law), which set a time limit within which prosecutions of human rights abuses during



the dictatorship had to be initiated, and the 1987 Ley de Obediencia Debida (Due Obedience Law), which protected military and other security personnel from prosecution for crimes committed under orders from their superiors. The Ley de Punto Final was initially conceived as an attempt to spur hesitant judges into prosecuting the most serious crimes and to atomise resistance to these prosecutions on the part of the military by absolving most members of the armed forces. However, when the number of prosecutions rapidly exceeded the government’s expectations, many of those prosecuted refused to appear in court and sectors of the army mutinied. Despite mass protests, the impunity laws were passed (Novaro 2016, 212–217). This sequence of events represented a rapid shift in the state’s approach to dealing with the military, about which Constanza Burucúa writes that between 1985 and 1989, the official approach towards the reassessment of the legacy left by the military, translated into policies, laws and the administration of justice, changed radically. As Sandrine Lefranc explains … in periods of transition to democracy the question of justice brings face-to-face two different kinds of logic, an ‘ethical-symbolic logic’ and a ‘state-political logic’: ‘[t]he former demand[s], in the name of justice, the sanction against the committed crimes; the latter subordinate[s] this question to the consolidation of the democratic system.’ (2009, 144)

The co-productions Meerapfel made upon her return are immersed in this tension between opposed logics, and adamantly defend the ethical-­ symbolic. While the international co-production model is often criticised for the conditions it imposes on filmmakers, in Meerapfel’s Argentine co-­ productions—Desembarcos and La amiga, especially—she turns the format to her advantage. This made possible her incisive critique within a political climate in which certain treatments of contemporary national reality, like her films’ courageous takes on the passing of laws that impeded the prosecutions of dictatorship-era repressors, were difficult to produce and distribute. Desembarcos/When Memory Speaks (1986–1989), coproduced by the Goethe Institute of Buenos Aires and Argentina’s Instituto Nacional de Cinematografía (INC), is what José Miguel Palacios calls a “homecoming documentary,” a film that “renders visible a consciousness of the self or ‘exilic subjectivity’ produced by the tensions between … exiles themselves and their nation-state” (2015, 148). Instead of an optimistic paean to the



return to democracy or an indictment of the recently ended dictatorship, Meerapfel’s film engages deeply with the present. Her decisions upon her return to her home country—what to film, who to interview, what questions to ask, how to edit—respond to her perspective on the tensions between a newly democratic Argentina attempting to prosecute the dictatorship’s human rights abusers and the continued threat of the military to put democracy in check. The consciousness that guides the narration is that of a Meerapfel recently returned to Argentina to film La amiga and teaching a workshop sponsored by the Goethe Institute in which three student documentaries are being made. She recounts the national events parallel to the making of Desembarcos, emphasising the debates around the Ley de Punto Final and, particularly, the resistance by human rights groups. The fear of a still-­ intact repressive apparatus is palpable, and though the film acknowledges the difficulty of representing the crimes of the dictatorship, all three shorts made by groups of young film students explore state repression and human rights abuses. As a product of its very specific moment, then, Desembarcos belongs to a group of films that, as Paola Margulis writes, “highlight the closure of a regime of expectations opened up by democratic restoration” (2017, 261). Meerapfel does not limit Desembarcos to her own perspective but seeks out those of individuals who suffered under the dictatorship. The workshop’s sound engineer, Alcides Chiesa—who is also credited as the film’s co-director and who would work with Meerapfel on several other films— had been detained by the military and held clandestinely for four years. Asked by Meerapfel for his opinion as an ex-detainee on the way they were filming the short Chamamé (1987), set in a clandestine detention centre, Chiesa answers with what would be a valid criticism of many Argentine films of the immediate post-dictatorship: What I saw in the work was that the good guys were totally good and the bad guys totally bad. Bad even when they laugh, all bad. On the one hand, I see there’s a kind of complex related to the theme, because it has enormous political and sentimental connotations, but on the other hand it’s detrimental, because it dehumanizes the characters.

For Chiesa, the Manichaean treatment brought about by the lack of emotional distance, so soon after the end of the dictatorship, results in an inability to effectively represent it, and he states that he is not ready to



make a film about his experience: “It’s difficult for me, being so close to everything, to see it more clearly, distanced from my emotions, so I still prefer to not do so.” The young director of Chamamé, Laura Couto, agrees with Chiesa: “You’re right about the complex. Personally, I didn’t suffer arrest. I do have family members who were disappeared, and I think the complex exists and I have to be very respectful of those who were disappeared.” Couto’s comment prefigures the films made two decades later by children of disappeared in which that generation would call into question the imperatives imposed on it by that of their parents. When news breaks of the proposal of the Punto Final legislation, the film shifts direction, documenting the debates around the law and the popular reaction against it, centring on the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Meerapfel and Chiesa’s position, critical of that of the government of Raúl Alfonsín, which had strayed from an ethical-symbolic logic towards a state-political logic, led to many difficulties for the film. It took two years after the completion of filming for Desembarcos to be screened, according to Tim Girven, who sees the film as “a victim of the instability of the country’s fledgling democracy, [whose] ultimate reception revealed the depths of the scars left by the Dirty War” (1991, 34). Filming was completed in December of 1986, but while Meerapfel was in pre-production for La amiga, the filmed footage was taken from the Goethe Institute by the INC, which claimed Meerapfel was planning to take it back to Germany for editing. To get the footage back, she had to agree “that post-­production would be financed by the Goethe Institute in Buenos Aires and that the finished film would only be used for ‘cultural purposes’” (34).3 The film was finished in 1989 yet ran into further problems. Girven quoted Meerapfel herself on the reasons for the obstruction by the INC: “When they … realized what the film was about, that it was critical of the laws that had been passed by the Radical Party government … they didn’t want the film to be finished … This Argentina is not the Argentina of 1986, it is no longer possible to make this film” (34). In other words, the optimism regarding the possibility of trying and sentencing human rights abusers had lost out to the society-wide fear of violence at the hands of the military. Meerapfel’s next project, La amiga/The Girlfriend (1988), would become her most well-known film. It tells the story of two friends from girlhood to middle age. María (Liv Ullmann) is Catholic while Raquel 3  Jonathan Smith reports that the Madres de Plaza de Mayo have shown Desembarcos during demonstrations (Smith and Lee 2013).



(Cipe Lincovsky) is Jewish. When young, their friendship proves stronger than religious differences but, as the years pass, they drift apart. María is married with children, living in a working-class neighbourhood in southern Buenos Aires, while Raquel, who has no children, has become famous as a stage actress. Under the dictatorship, María becomes politically active with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo after her activist son, Carlos, is abducted by the military. Raquel, by contrast, tries to avoid politics and dedicates herself to her art. She is unable to do so when, in the openly anti-Semitic climate of the dictatorship, she is threatened, and a bomb explodes in the theatre  where she is performing. She flees to Germany, while María continues to fearlessly protest in front of the presidential palace in Buenos Aires. The friends eventually reunite when Raquel returns to Argentina. La amiga was produced by Alma Film, Journal Film (both of Berlin) and the Buenos Aires-based producer Jorge Estrada Mora. As is typical of the preconditions imposed by producers on international co-productions, a well-known European star (Ullmann) anchors the cast to attract international audiences. Nonetheless, despite the compromises, Meerapfel was able to turn the format to her advantage and incisively address the power struggle between the emergent democratic forces and remnant power of the military to set limits on democracy, centring on the role of women in resistance during the dictatorship and in its aftermath. The details of La amiga’s context are key. The optimism of the return to democracy was already lost, so the film was produced in a context of a depressed economy and a bleak political outlook. Hyperinflation was ravaging the country just as the democratic government’s efforts to investigate and punish those responsible for the dictatorship’s crimes had been undermined by the amnesty laws that made very evident the continued power of the military to contain the reach of a democratic society (Grant, 315). In this tense climate, few filmmakers engaged with this dynamic. By contrast, La amiga’s confrontational spirit results precisely from a seldom-­ discussed advantage of the international co-production model. While the use of a European star and multiple language versions are often seen as limiting conditions of the co-production, in foreign markets attention to the dictatorship often provides a critical and commercial advantage—see, for example, the international success of La historia oficial/The Official Story (Luis Puenzo, 1985) or El secreto de sus ojos/The Secret in Their Eyes (Juan José Campanella, 2009)—and La amiga engages with the theme in



a depth that had not been done before. It is the first feature film to focus on the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and criticise the amnesty laws (Burucúa 2009, 117). As Julieta Zarco points out, its representation of the political commitment of some desaparecidos is groundbreaking in the context of the cinema of the 1980s, which had generally portrayed those suffering from the state repression as apolitical innocents (2016, 28–29). The film does this by depicting Carlos as an activist deeply committed to bettering the condition of the poor, going so far as to live among them in a villa miseria, or shantytown.4 Burucúa addresses another, perhaps more immediately uncomfortable, aspect of the film’s political commitment: “What is implied by [María’s] rejection [of the idea that her son’s remains are found in a common grave] is the impossibility of acquiescing in the official mood of oblivious pacification promoted and even legislated for … by the Alfonsín government in its later stages” (2009, 141). Burucúa pinpoints the politically troublesome aspect of La amiga when she writes that its main aim is to privilege the presentation of history from the point of view of those women who, after partly failing in their biggest task, namely to prevent the amnesty of the military … still represent that ‘ethical-symbolic logic’ upon which many Argentines thought and hoped that the regained democracy was to be built. (146)

Meerapfel’s refusal to acquiesce to the state-political logic by renouncing the ethical-symbolic logic resulted in a series of difficulties for La amiga. Girven reports that she “had difficulty obtaining permission to film on location, people were intimidated and, although sabotage was never proved, it was suspected when the negative was found slashed” (1991, 34). Yet this does not exhaust the prickliness of the film in its context. La amiga goes beyond challenging the state, it ruffles the feathers of the Argentine public by refusing the more comfortable approach of films such as La historia oficial. For Meerapfel, that film

4  Quoting from Octavio Getino, Fernando Martín Peña succinctly addresses the specific relationship between the cinema and official discourse in the 1980s: “the so-called ‘theory of the two demons’ encouraged vagueness in the representation of the politics of the victims of the dictatorship, alluded to in most of the films of the period as ‘idealists’ who ‘thought differently’ because the admission of a militancy in the leftist organizations was in a way criminalized” (2012, 212–213).



shows exactly the Argentina that did not exist. It was impossible for people not to know what was going on at that time. To show a teacher supposedly ignorant of events despite having an orphan child, fosters the idea that people could live in total ignorance of what was going on. Yet the film was very successful with the general public, it even won an Oscar. (Girven 1991, 34)

Meerapfel here refers to the tacit imperative to soothe the ticket-buying audience’s complicit conscience by presenting as verisimilar the idea that it could have lived through the dictatorship without knowing about its abuses. Her refusal to conform to this fiction with La amiga led to problems during its filming and in its distribution in Argentina, as well as to its international critical and commercial success. The film is both visually and aurally saturated with meaning. Objects, such as a portrait of the abducted son or others of Eva Perón and José de San Martín, are carefully inserted in the frame away from the focal point of the image, serving, in a way, as flashbacks internal to the frame. As in Malou’s opening shot, the meticulously purposeful framing and camera movement carefully points out meaningful details in the image while the music underlines their importance. This saturation makes for a heavily loaded artifice at times, but it also functions as an associative montage  within the shot that puts past and present in contact and creates supplementary meaning that underlines their irreconcilability. As throughout Meerapfel’s work, temporal flashbacks serve the similar purpose of producing contact between far-off lands, different generations of a single family and the resulting richness of associations. This saturation with meaning makes evident the intensity of the conviction behind the film as an intervention in the political conjuncture of its time and the conflict between justice and wilful forgetting. This is most evident in the positions of the two protagonists, who personify the desire to bring to justice those who inflicted such violence and the fear of the military’s continued ability to take control of Argentine society. While such a meaning-saturated mise-en-scène might appear heavy-handed to many of today’s viewers, it both serves to solidly anchor the film in, and inform the viewer ignorant of, the complex recent Argentine history.5 5  Catherine Grant reports that “in some ‘non-commercial’ showings in Argentina, La amiga and Desembarcos were shown together, making the intertextual connection between the two films’ use of the [Quilmes] location explicit for local audiences” (1997, 327n51). Grant also reports that, internationally, La amiga “was critically and popularly successful, more than recovering its costs through television and video sales” (328).



Amigomío (1995) is a road movie co-directed by Meerapfel and Chiesa. The title is the nickname of a young boy growing up with his father, Carlos, in Buenos Aires during the last military dictatorship. Carlos is the son of Jewish immigrants from Germany (his father is played by the legendary Mario Adorf), but the darker-skinned Amigomío physically takes after his mestiza mother. When she, a leftist militant, is detained by the military, father and son go into exile by land, travelling through Bolivia and Peru to finally arrive in Ecuador, where a well-paying job awaits Carlos. The tension in the road-movie section of the film is produced by the son finding a comfortable affinity with the indigenous and mestizos of the Andean nations and finally embracing an Ecuadorian identity, even if his father finds himself alienated and nostalgic for Buenos Aires. In this voyage, Sophie Dufays sees “a clear allegory of the Argentine people’s search for identity, torn between its gaze toward Europe—its historic desire to whiten the population—and its ‘internal debt’” (2014, 267). Such an allegory might not bode well for the nation, since father and son are alienated by their diverging identities, but a final sequence (which returns to the opening scene of the film) in which they watch a home movie of happier times brings about a possible reconciliation.

International Co-productions Annas Sommer/Anna’s Summer (2001) is Meerapfel’s film that most undermines the male gaze through its narrative focalisation. The men of the cast are contemplated by Anna, played by Ángela Molina. Anna is a multi-cultured woman spending a summer on a Greek island in order to sell her family home. Her beautifully weathering face seems as much a part of the place as the stone buildings and spectacular Mediterranean landscape. Her father was a Greek Sephardic Jew and her mother Galician, while she was brought up in Spain but met her husband in Germany and has lived there for the last decades. She is melancholic after the recent death of her husband, trying to live in the present but constantly distracted by memories of her many deceased family members, including her husband, her father and a grandmother who was killed in Auschwitz. The film is entertaining and very polished in terms of production values, but the co-production compromises are more evident here than elsewhere in Meerapfel’s work. The film pushes Euro-pudding buttons with an international cast, magical realist moments, exotic food tourism—featuring freshly caught octopus, figs eaten off the tree and freshly squeezed



orange juice in the Mediterranean morning—and a tango dancing scene. Nonetheless, the film transcends these superficial attractions through Meerapfel’s use of Molina to focalise the narration and explore her subjectivity in very original ways. As elsewhere in Meerapfel’s filmography, objects—children’s ballet shoes, an old diary, a song—trigger flashbacks that invade the present. These are, as happens often in her work, either omniscient or internal, but here they also take the form of long-dead characters appearing in sequences set in the present, with whom Anna can speak. This is yet another mechanism through which Meerapfel represents the insistent presence of memory that renders identity closure impossible. El amigo alemán/The German Friend (2012) is Meerapfel’s return to filmmaking in Argentina, two decades after Amigomío. It engages critically with Argentine history, running from the Peronist 1950s, detouring through the 1960s student movements in Germany, then returning to the last dictatorship in Argentina and the restoration of democracy. A love story retains spectatorial interest by sparking the desire to see a couple finally form, which is thwarted by differing cultures and priorities, as well as geographic separation. Sulamit, the daughter of German Jewish refugees, grows up across the street from Friedrich, the son of a high-ranking Nazi who fled to Argentina, and from a young age they strike up a friendship that soon becomes a romance. When Friedrich discovers his father’s past, he breaks all ties with his family and moves to Germany to attend university, where he investigates his father’s actions under Nazism. Sulamit receives a scholarship to study in Germany but, on arrival, she finds a politically radicalised Friedrich less interested in romance than in returning to Argentina to take part in the armed revolutionary struggle. She stays and eventually becomes a university professor, while Friedrich returns to Argentina. He joins the armed resistance, is arrested by the military and held in prison in the far south of the country. With the return of democracy, Friedrich is released and chooses to live in an indigenous community, where Sulamit eventually travels to reunite with him. As in Meerapfel’s other films, the characters’ past weighs heavily on their present. In the case of Friedrich, his politicisation is shown to be a reaction to his father’s history, while Sulamit, torn between a professorship in Germany and her love for Friedrich, eventually chooses the latter. The film contains much historically specific detail, especially as regards the continuity of the extreme right in Argentina. There are references to



the post-War immigration of high-level Nazis, the rise of violent anti-­ Semitic militants in the 1950s (and the 1962 attack on the 19-year-old Graciela Sirota by members of Tacuara, a violent far-right movement), the last military dictatorship and the armed resistance, as well as contemporary conflicts surrounding indigenous ancestral lands and extractivism. As of this writing, El amigo alemán is Meerapfel’s most recently released feature film, but she continues to direct and has been very active in the cultural field in Germany as a professor at the Academy of Media Arts at Cologne from 1990 to 2008 and as current President of Berlin’s Akademie der Künste. She has made films in different traditions, but throughout her long career has retained a consistent focus on the effects of migration on female subjectivities, a theme to which her own family history and life experience of migration and belonging to multiple cultures has offered her privileged access. Her body of work has become more timely with the steady worldwide resurgence of authoritarian movements seeking popular support through the generation and political exploitation of racism and xenophobia.

References Burucúa, Constanza. Confronting the ‘Dirty War’ in Argentine Cinema, 1983–1993: Memory and Gender in Historical Representations. Woodbridge: Tamesis, 2009. Colaux, Denys-Louis. Nelly Kaplan, Portrait d’une Flibustière. Paris: Dreamland, 2002. Dufays, Sophie. El niño en el cine argentino de la postdictadura (1983–2008): Alegoría y nostalgia. Woodbridge: Tamesis, 2014. Girven, Tim. “When Memory Speaks.” Index on Censorship 20, no. 3 (1991): 34. Goity, Elena. “Las realizadoras del período.” In Cine argentino en democracia 1983/1993, edited by Claudio España, 273–283. Buenos Aires: Fondo Nacional de las Artes, 1994. Grant, Catherine. “Camera Solidaria.” Screen 38, no. 4 (1997): 311–328. Hjort, Mette. “On the Plurality of Cinematic Transnationalism.” In World Cinemas, Transnational Perspectives, edited by Natasa Durovicova and Kathleen Newman, 12–33. New York: Routledge, 2010. Knight, Julia. Women of the New German Cinema. London: Verso, 1992. Margulis, Paola. “Volver a filmar: un abordaje del ‘documental del retorno’ a través del caso de Desembarcos (un taller en Buenos Aires) de Jeanine Meerapfel.” Fotocinema 15 (2017): 261–282.



Mouton, Janice. “Pièces d’identité: Piecing Together Mother/Daughter Identities in Jeanine Meerapfel’s Malou.” In Other Germanies: Questioning Identity in Women’s Literature and Art, edited by Karen Hermine Jankowsky. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1997. Novaro, Marcos. Historia de la Argentina. 1955–2010. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2016. Palacios, José Miguel. “Chilean Exile Cinema and its Homecoming Documentaries.” In Cinematic Homecomings: Exile and Return in Transnational Cinema, edited by Rebecca Prime, 147–168. London: Bloomsbury, 2015. Peña, Fernando Martín. Cien años de cine argentino. Buenos Aires: Biblos-­ Fundación OSDE, 2012. Renov, Michael. The Subject of Documentary. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. Smith, Jonathan and Daryl Lee. “Jeanine Meerapfel and Her Films – An Interview.” Brigham Young University Journal of Undergraduate Research, August 26, 2013. (accessed December 30, 2020). Trelles Plazaola, Luis. Nostalgias y rebeldías: 5 directoras latinoamericanas de cine en Europa. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Plaza Mayor, 1992. Zarco, Julieta. Treinta años de cine, política y memoria en la Argentina, 1983–2013. Buenos Aires: Biblos, 2016.


María Victoria Menis’s Counter-Cinema: La cámara oscura (2008) and María y el Araña (2013) Carolina Rocha

A graduate, and later staff member, of the Argentine film school ENERC, María Victoria Menis has been directing films since the mid-1970s. She became better known in 2004 in the wake of the release of her third film, El cielito/Little Heaven, which garnered awards at festivals in Havana and San Sebastián. This film—shot and released in post-2001 Argentina, when the country was still reeling from a financial crisis of epic proportions— follows Félix, a young farmhand who takes an interest in his employer’s baby boy and flees with him to start a new life in Buenos Aires. For Gabriela Copertari, El cielito “explores … social exclusion and violence” (2010, 112). These two topics are also evident, albeit in different ways, in Menis’s La cámara oscura/Camera Obscura (2008) and María y el Araña/ María and the Spiderman (2013). In these films, the director makes visible previously unseen stories of marginal female characters in a patriarchal

C. Rocha (*) Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Edwardsville, IL, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




society: a Jewish immigrant and a working-class adolescent, respectively. Regarding visibility, Michel Foucault holds that to “make visible the unseen can also mean a change of level, addressing oneself to a layer of material which had hitherto had no pertinence for history and which had not been recognized as having any moral, aesthetic or historical value” (1980, 50). In La cámara oscura and María y el Araña, the director’s gaze prods women’s intimacy to reveal their well-guarded secrets as victims of repressive gender roles and traumatising sexual violence. Menis’s interest in representing women as victims of gender violence is shared by other contemporary Argentine female filmmakers. Visual anthropologist Carmen Guarini, who has directed and produced numerous films since the mid-1980s, has recently stated: En nuestro campo de acción, la industria audiovisual, vemos que abundan los vínculos interpersonales de subordinación y de violencia en sus diversas formas (sexuales, laborales). Y salimos entonces a visibilizar esas formas de abuso que fueron durante mucho tiempo naturalizadas por el sistema económico capitalista en el que estamos inmersos todas y todos, como parte de las relaciones que en él se gestan. [In our field of action, the media industry, interpersonal ties of subordination and different forms of violence (sexual, in the workplace) abound. And we started to make visible those types of abuse that have been normalised by the capitalist system in which we are all engulfed, as part of the relationships that are produced within it.] (2019, 50)

Despite the fact that more Argentine women are able to study cinema and make films, they still direct 30 percent of the fiction films produced annually in Argentina (Guarini 2019, 53). Moreover, Argentine female filmmakers face numerous hurdles to produce their films, distribute them both in Argentina and abroad, and cast recognised actors. Their relegation to a “minor” cinema—in the sense of low-budgets, non-professional actors and small audiences—makes them empathise with other women who are victims of patriarchal power and oppression. Scholar Ana Forcinito sees Menis as part of a group made up of two other famous Argentine filmmakers: María Luisa Bemberg and Lucrecia Martel. For Forcinito, the films of all three directors evince “[un] acercamiento a lo doméstico como espacio central de opresión y marginalización femenina [(an) exploration of the domestic sphere as a central space of female oppression and marginalisation]” (2008, 47). While El cielito, La cámara oscura and María y el Araña represent the family as a site in which women are subordinated to



men who are heads of the family, the two latter films prominently deal with female protagonists who are sidelined either because of their manual labour, gender or age. In La cámara oscura and María y el Araña, Menis presents women as objects of the cinematic gaze, but also shows their acts of liberation. In Argentina, the introduction of neoliberalism in the 1990s brought about profound societal changes: privatisations and deregulations led to high levels of unemployment that primarily affected men. In addition, the reduction of the welfare state increased poverty levels (Rocha 2012, 8–12). At the same time, more women entered the workforce and international pressure on the Argentine state propelled it to pass policies concerning gender issues (Di Marco 2010, 53). All these changes impacted the representation of men and women in contemporary Argentine cinema. The portrayal of women by Argentine directors was influenced by feminist film scholars. In the 1980s, feminist scholar Claire Johnston proposed that women’s cinema should be regarded as “counter cinema.” For Johnston, “the dominant ideology presented her [woman] as eternal and unchanging” (2000, 23). Thus, Johnston suggested that women’s cinema presents women not just as myths, but “women as women,” investigating their “career/home/motherhood/sexuality, an examination of women as the central figures in the narrative” (2000, 25). Menis’s films, released in the 2000s and 2010s, can be considered examples of counter-cinema since they focus on women who not only are the main characters, but are also depicted as victims of the patriarchal ideology. These female characters, however, are not eternal nor unchanging: they leave their families in their march towards empowerment and freedom from subjugation, thus disrupting the patriarchal order. In this chapter, I argue that both La cámara oscura and María y el Araña bring forth the hitherto invisible stories of two women in patriarchal families through two important innovations: first, by using fantasy to mitigate the female characters’ oppression and, secondly, by adopting the genre of romance drama, portraying sensitive men who contribute to the liberation of the female protagonists who survive domestic subjugation and sexual abuse. Menis’s use of the romance drama genre inspires the female protagonists to break free of their marginalisation and abuse. Michele Schreiber holds that in postfeminist romance dramas “love functions as a transformative agent” (2014, 9). While Menis’s films are not postfeminist, the female characters of La cámara oscura and María y el Araña expose the family as a site of oppression and reject the status quo in favour of romance and acts of empowerment and survival.



La cámara oscura La cámara oscura is an Argentine-French co-production that received several award nominations and circulated widely at Jewish film festivals around the world.1 This film registers the life of a Jewish woman as a symbol of repression, but also of resistance. While in recent decades, scholars have called attention to the feminisation of migration (Gabaccia 2016; Trouth Hofmann and Buckley 2013), female immigrants were largely unrepresented in Argentine cinema until the twenty-first century. Menis’s film, based on a short story by feminist writer Angélica Gorodischer, is illustrative of a different way of portraying women on the screen: it privileges the female protagonist’s gender and subjectivity in her two families—her maiden and married one—and presents the male gaze of the “liberator” as one that captures feminine beauty. La cámara oscura narrates different moments in Gertrudis’s life that show the stifling nature of families (Solorza 2012). A segment, which takes place in 1899, shows that despite the oppressive family dynamics Gertrudis manages to build a personal space thanks to her father’s love and encouragement. The seven-year-old girl, who expresses interest in literature and culture, reads a comic book while sitting on the toilet and plays with light and shadows. At that point, live action shifts into animation as a way of introducing the realm of fantasy. The space in which this takes place is far from arbitrary, given that in literature and cinema the bathroom is usually associated with a girl’s search for her own identity.2 In that enclosed space, Gertrudis shapes her fantasies through comic books. Sociologist Amal Treacher holds that “fantasy, the emotions and memories involve complex psychic processes through narratives, memory and fantasy work concurrently to deal with loss, absence and frustration” (2006, 98). Gertrudis’s make-believe helps her mitigate the effects of her lack of physical beauty and her difference within her family. Contrary to her mother’s indifference, the kiss given by the fairy that inhabits her fantasy turns her into a butterfly that, when resting on a flower, conveys its 1  Diego Batlle, in his review for La Nación, called it “una pequeña gran película [a small great film]” (2008, n.p.). 2  Joan Jacobs Brumberg argues that the bathroom has served as another important site of female adolescence, a place that affords girls the opportunity for self-scrutiny (qt. in Scheiner 2000, 13).



harmony with nature. This fantasy attempts to minimise her deficits—of beauty and maternal love—and allows the expression of her inner universe. Referring to this scene, Paola Solorza notes that its symbolism entails both “la necesidad de liberarse de un contexto opresor—la familia, que representa la percepción patriarcal—y el sueño del devenir-mariposa, pasaje de lo feo a lo bello, trayendo a colación la tradicional metáfora del gusano convertido en mariposa [the need to be liberated from an oppressive context—the family, which represents patriarchal perception—and the dream of becoming a butterfly, a passage from ugliness to beauty, bringing to the fore the traditional metaphor of the caterpillar turned into a butterfly]” (2012). Gertrudis is too young to perceive her family as oppressive, but the spectators recognise it as such. Her father is the girl’s only supporter because he appreciates her sensitive personality: as soon as she is out of the bathroom, she runs into his arms, showing trust and affection. He acts as a liberator of her lacklustre childhood, foregrounding the qualities of her ideal partner. Nonetheless, her mother continues to minimise her. When the whole family poses for a photograph, Gertrudis’s mother moves her away from the centre, a gesture seen by the resigned father. Gertrudis not only accepts her physical displacement from the centre, but she also highlights it by lowering her face and covering it with a doll, an action that indicates the internalisation of her marginality. Susan Sontag holds that “through photographs, each family constructs a portrait chronicle of itself—a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness” (1977, 8), but Gertrudis’s action of hiding her face shows the cracks in her family, disrupting the maternal wish of presenting a united family for posterity. Another part of La cámara oscura registers Gertrudis’s adolescence, in which the female character alternates between assertion and compliance. In a scene that takes place at a school, Gertrudis stands out for her dedication and interest in learning when she volunteers to answer a question posed by the teacher. She quotes her father’s words, evincing both her special sensibility and her guiltlessness, which makes her the target of her classmates’ jokes. This leads to self-censorship, a typical move of adolescent girls, according to Georganne Scheiner, who explains that “girls’ culture is built on both conformity and rebellion” (2000, 142). In the next scene, Gertrudis exhibits her rebellion when, instead of being still for the school group picture, she moves and becomes the only blurred image in



the photograph. If, as Sontag holds, “photographs really are experience captured” (1977, 3), Gertrudis’s flight from the portrait reveals her continued displacement, but also a small act of self-affirmation. La cámara oscura also shows Gertrudis (Mirta Bogdasarian) as a young woman still marked by her lack of physical beauty, but with a unique sensibility. At the town’s social gathering her keen eye for coordination is evident when she carefully arranges the buffet table, but this is not enough to earn her an invitation to dance. Surprisingly, Gertrudis’s unusual looks become an asset for the handsome and well-to-do Jewish widower León Cohen (Fernando Armani), whose first wife was a beautiful Jewish woman who failed to be loyal and honour her wedding vows. Cohen’s choice of Gertrudis as a bride underscores his desire for a compliant and faithful partner, but his pragmatism goes against her dreams of romantic love. Nevertheless, their arranged marriage does not leave Gertrudis any another option other than accepting. Despite Gertrudis’s family support her union with Cohen, the young woman resists the path set forth for her and reveals her subtle opposition. While traditionally virginal maidens wear white wedding gowns, Gertrudis wears a black dress, conveying an end to her freedom and autonomy. Although she refuses to follow long-standing customs regarding the colour of her wedding clothes, she accepts her status of object-woman when she flees her wedding celebrations and goes to her new home to start straightening it up. The final segment of La cámara oscura, set 20 years after Gertrudis’s marriage, presents her as a matron, a middle-aged woman, an exemplary wife and a selfless mother. Carole Pateman argues that “women’s service and duty to the state has been largely seen in terms of motherhood” (2005, 15). In this regard, Gertrudis has five children who not only help with work in the farm, but also with the role of populating the Argentine nation. Just as her marriage was characterised by duty, two decades later she still adheres to that ideal. By reproducing, she has fulfilled the promise made by her mother to have “a nice family” but, as a woman, she appears ignored by the members of her own nuclear family.3 She is always the first to get up, start the fire and make breakfast for her family. Her role within the family is marked by her submissiveness, isolation and lack of a voice to express her feelings. The strenuous work of a farm leaves her scarce leisure time, but she still manages to read, displaying intellectual curiosity and 3  Cynthia Tompkins holds that, “even as the wife of a well-to-do farmer, Gertrudis is subjected to multiple layers of oppression” (2015, 148).



sensitivity. Gertrudis’s views are undervalued within her family. She reads, almost furtively, and encourages her son David (Joaquín Berthold) to continue with his education, but he prefers to work on the farm. On one occasion, she tries to start a conversation about astronomy with her daughter, but the young rural teacher overlooks her and instead speaks about her professional success. This scene is crucial because even her own daughter fails to look at Gertrudis, an indifference that shows her bleak position in the family. Her routine and status, however, are altered by the arrival of a photographer—and his camera obscura—hired to take pictures of her farm and family. The French photographer’s entrance into the Cohens’ lives is significant for several reasons. First, Jean-Baptiste (Patrick Dell’Isola) represents the arrival of technology and modernity to the archaic and isolated universe of the farm. Secondly, he possesses a different perspective, illustrated by his catchphrase: “las cosas no siempre son lo que parecen [things are not always what they seem]”. In other words, because looks are deceiving, a hidden reality exists. Thirdly, he introduces another form of looking. Sontag refers to the act of taking photographs as a way of appropriating what is being shot: “it means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge—and, therefore, like power” (1977, 4). In his métier as a photographer, Jean-Baptiste knows that there are shades of colours and nuances that cannot be seen by the human eye. His knowledge of avant-garde art and technology stems from his experiences during War World I. He describes surrealism as “una nueva forma de belleza [a new form of beauty]” based on “los sueños y fantasías que todos temenos [the dreams and fantasies we all have]”. Therefore, his gaze is trained to discover alternative forms of beauty and he is attuned to repressed desires that manifest in dreams. His words acknowledging a shared humanity are particularly important for Gertrudis. Jean-Baptiste’s gaze zooms in on the unassuming Jewish housemaker, but without objectifying her. He first takes in the many jars of food that reveal Gertrudis’s hardworking and nurturing character, later he sees the order and harmony of her garden. He also appears interested in how she cooks, conflating the chore of preparing food to a creative art. By discovering Gertrudis’s many qualities that are invisible to her family, the photographer falls in love with the self-effacing Gertrudis. His growing affection for her is evident when her image appears upside down in the dark room in which he develops his photographs and he touches the image in a tender gesture. When the time comes for the family portrait, he



attempts to integrate her into her family. For the first time in her life, a reticent Gertrudis, still dressed in black, accepts being in the picture as Jean-Baptiste has gained her trust. Moreover, she consents to the fact that she is being looked at through his camera lenses, but even though she is the object of the male gaze, she is not eroticised. Mulvey holds that “in the traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness” (1988, 62). La cámara oscura underscores the fact that despite Gertrudis’s austere clothing and lack of appealing physical looks, she can attract a man’s admiration, but also and more importantly Jean-Baptiste’s gaze apprehends her whole self, restoring her self-confidence. In this sense, his gaze is a mediator for spectators who appreciate the work that maintaining a tidy and well-kept garden and taking care of a large family entail. Without denying the importance of the sight, Menis’s film points to the other senses, such as taste and smell, as enticing means. In La cámara oscura, the French photographer helps facilitate Gertrudis’s liberation. Her and León’s uneven marriage revolves around his needs and her subjugation. León makes the decisions for the family and is served by his wife. He sees her as a woman who has fulfilled her duty to bear his children and is the “angel of the home,” an allegorical creature that, according to the male-created myth, reflects “inferior brain weight, educated women’s tendency to brain fever, a ubiquitous maternal instinct, raging hormonal imbalance” (Auerbach 1981, 281). The “angel of the home” is, in other words, a human being who lives for the pleasure of others and, thus, is forever relegated and imprisoned catering for their needs. Gertrudis is this “angel” who has built her own domestic prison, but Jean-­ Baptiste’s appreciation of her virtues gradually cracks open her cage. By providing different opinions, he appeals to her intellect. When he narrates the horrors that he witnessed during the war, the camera shows the tension in her hands, revealing her empathy and reaction to new pieces of information. The film, then, presents Gertrudis and Jean-Baptiste sharing values and aesthetic tastes, underscoring a communion of minds and hearts. The process of liberation that Jean-Baptiste helps unleash alters the way Gertrudis thinks of herself. Just as the development of photographs exposes what is black and white, Jean-Baptiste “uncovers” her inner beauty: her memories, her creativity and her compassion. Contrary to the objectification of women in traditional Hollywood cinema, La cámara oscura deploys the photographer’s male gaze to capture the humanity and



subjectivity of the mature woman with whom the man shares desires, fears and fantasies. His gaze thus reverses the objectification that Gertrudis has experienced as the “angel of the home.” Writing about the resolution of the romance drama, Schreiber explains that “the transformation serves as both the impetus and the reward for a character’s willingness to progress beyond the emotional place in which he or she began the narrative” (2014, 9). For Gertrudis, her development entails leaving behind the ugly-­ duckling persona. As a result, she starts valuing her abilities and no longer hides from the camera. She even allows Jean-Baptiste to apprehend her sensuality. As she divests of her frumpy clothing, she gives up the insecurities that have rendered her invisible, even in the eyes of her loved ones. The pictures in which she poses for the photographer show the extent of her transformation from objectified matron to a mature yet sensual woman. Nonetheless, his mediation in restoring her confidence may be problematic. It continues to be an external stimulus, such as the one she received from her siblings and mother. As Sontag states, “there is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed” (1997, 14). Gertrudis poses for his pictures and flees from the home and the marriage that have stifled her for so long. There is no new marriage that closes this romance drama, as marriage for Gertrudis has been an institution that has suppressed her sensibility. Her happily ever after involves a healthy relationship with herself—and perhaps the photographer.

María y el Araña María y el Araña is an Argentine, Ecuadorian and French co-production that offers a grim commentary on the lives of disenfranchised children and adolescents, a topic already famously represented in another Argentine film, El polaquito/The Little Polish (Juan Carlos Desanzo, 2003). For film critic Victoria Varas, “la nueva película de María Victoria Menis se inscribe en esa línea de realismo descarnado [María Victoria Menis’s new film aligns with this form of brutal realism]” (2013). In one interview, Menis stated that: “El mundo de la infancia y la adolescencia siempre me conmueven [I have always been interested in childhood and adolescence]” (“La argentina María” 2011). Menis understands this universe as one characterised by vulnerability of dispossessed youth who, unlike their counterparts



in American films, are not defined by their access to consumption, but rather work part-time and do gigs to support themselves. In María y el Araña, the narrative follows María, a young girl from a working-class family, who falls in love with el Araña, a boy who has undertaken grown-up responsibilities. As in her previous films, Menis selected unknown and first-time actors: Florencia Salas (María) had never acted before, while Diego Vegezzi (el Araña) had studied theatre since he was 12 but had only taken part in one other film. The script of María y el Araña, written with long-time collaborator Alejandro Fernández Murray, centres on two adolescents based on real-life people who Menis knew: a 13-year-old pregnant girl and a male teenager who, dressed as a superhero, used to perform on the Buenos Aires metro’s D line. María y el Araña tackles the complex issues of intra-familial sexual abuse, parental neglect and adolescent pregnancy. Analía Losada explains that “el abuso sexual infantil es un problema frecuente en todas las sociedades y culturas [children sexual abuse is a frequent problem in all societies and cultures]” (2012, 202), but affects predominantly females: a 19.1 percent of females are victims of sexual abuse in their childhood versus a 9.3 percent of males (2012, 225). The film opens with several images of sleek skyscrapers in Buenos Aires, locating the film’s narrative in Argentina’s capital city, the epitome of progress and civilisation, according to the ideas of Domingo F. Sarmiento’s Facundo. Yet, the film also portrays the city’s shantytowns, located not far from the very modern buildings. These opening images, then, foreshadow the fact that the film discloses a reality hidden in plain view: that of the children who live in the unfinished, humble and ramshackle dwellings of the shantytowns, many of whom also experience sexual abuse and parental neglect. The film initially displays a scene of leisure in which a group of four teenage girls dance cumbia. Their sensual dancing and mimicking of the music, which provide a moment of liberation from adult supervision and an opportunity for self-expression, is observed by María, who does not engage in the dance. The next scene takes place in a classroom where a poster of “Los derechos del niño [The rights of children]” reinforces María’s innocence and her status as a child. Her teacher praises her for her homework and wants to meet the girl’s grandmother to talk about a scholarship for free tuition for María’s high school, which illustrates both her dedication and her academic potential. However, María’s reply that her grandmother is busy demonstrates that her education is an endeavour in which she succeeds on her own, given that her guardian has two jobs and



does not have time for parent-teacher conferences. Once she leaves the school, the camera follows her as she walks along railway tracks, crossing highways and streets and immersing herself in the narrow and twisted streets of the community in which she lives. As she enters her home, she conveys trepidation as she fearfully looks towards the darkened back room of the house. This scene contrasts with the opening one in which she looked relaxed as she enjoyed her friends’ performances outdoors. After a small meal, she is off to work in the metro. The metro stations are, for her, a place where she can play hopscotch and distance herself from her hostile domestic environment. It is at this point that María’s story intersects with that of el Araña [the Spiderman]. El Araña is a teenage boy who, although has to fend for himself, exudes goodness and a laid-back attitude. The film follows him in his routine. Like María’s, his home is far from being a place of comfort and family harmony. El Araña’s house is occupied by a sickly male adult for whom the teenager gently cares: he brings batteries to power his radio and carefully covers his skeleton-like body, showing that although el Araña is an adolescent, he has adult-like responsibilities. His first meeting with María takes place when she stumbles on the escalator of a metro station, and he gallantly jumps to hold her up, foreshadowing his supportive role in their relationship. He follows her and attempts to impress her by walking on his hands. Once in the train, after the girl has passed around the booklets that she attempts to sell, el Araña gathers them up, signalling that he is a team-player. Half an hour into the film, spectators learn that Garrido (Luciano Suardi), the partner of María’s grandmother, is not María’s biological grandfather. He is “the monster” who forces himself onto the young girl, an instance of sexual violence that is never shown on-screen. Instead, the film conveys the effects of his abusive behaviour. One night, he gets up and silently approaches her bed. As his shadow looms tall over the young girl, a close-up of her face reveals her alertness, and a big tear is a telling sign of her severe distress at his proximity. If her hours awake are nightmarish, the adolescent’s nocturnal dream, a very brief segment that explores her subjectivity, is imbued by a sense of freedom and achievement. Unlike the girl’s fantasy in La cámara oscura that entails an imaginary realm, in María’s dream she wears the uniform of a private school and strolls carefree in the open air. The closest María gets to that dream is when she is with el Araña.



María’s relationship with the adolescent boy is characterised by silences and gestures of tenderness and complicity. For him, a date with the shy girl entails putting extra effort into his toilette and washing his threadbare Spiderman sweater. Anticipation for the date greatly invigorates him as he sets off with a light step to meet her. This event also marks for María a change in her routine: despite being a Saturday, she travels to see el Araña. Their meeting even has the blessing of María’s best friend Nancy (Lucía Ruiz Ortiz), who generously contributes a packet of pastries to their field trip. Unlike Picado fino (Esteban Sapir, 1996), another film with working-­ class adolescents that shows a “waning of affect” (Podalsky 2007, 111), María y el Araña reveals the teenagers’ wordless understanding. María’s timid smiles are a reward for his juggling acts. Their locked gazes make it clear that el Araña performs for her admiration. Her approval of the adolescent leads her to take him to her favourite place. It is during this outing that el Araña’s personality becomes better defined for the audience. His preparation for the date may draw attention to his looks and vanity, but his anxiety when María is a few minutes late reveals his genuine interest in the girl. His living consists of juggling balls, a performance that attracts the gaze of the commuters and passengers, exposing a certain vulnerability, but he appears to be a “superhero” when performing. Nevertheless, as he approaches to kiss María, she gently withdraws. His acceptance of her limits demonstrates that his superhero persona does not demand privileges. His charisma is evident when they stroll around the museum of art and he lightens her mood. Without knowing it, he succeeds at passing the tests that the girl has set for him, and this earns him entrance into the shantytown where she lives. There, different groups are rehearsing dances and songs. Thrown into a different milieu, el Araña quickly adapts, invites her to dance and rapidly gets into the festive mood, but immediately notices that María tenses up when spotting Garrido. As she abruptly flees, the old man interrogates el Araña: “¿Quién sos? [Who are you?]”. Abandoning his relaxed attitude, the teenager holds his ground: “¿Y a vos qué te importa? [That’s none of your business]”. His change of attitude makes it clear that he can take care of himself and reject intimidation. Kathleen Rowe Karlyn holds that, in the classic Western love myth, “a desirable young woman is sought by a socially powerful older man who must compete with a younger and more virile rival for her attention” (2006, 71). In María y el Araña, el Araña becomes Garrido’s opponent.



Although the adolescents’ romance is based on respect, it is threatened by forces over which they have no power. In one scene, they passionately kiss in public, displaying María’s consent. For him, being fond of the young girl comes with the responsibility of caring for her well-being. When an older man bumps into her, he valiantly calls out the offender, demonstrating not only his instinct of protection for María, but also the fact that their relationship is one based on respect, not only desire. As seen later in the film, his actions are far from being those of bravado, they are rather guided by his courageous behaviour. His intention of giving her a glowing plastic bracelet further evinces that in his mind she represents childhood purity. Nonetheless, their romance abruptly ends. The film uses close-ups to frame the problems that conspire against their relationship. One close-up reveals el Araña’s disappointment when the girl fails to show up at their usual meeting point. Another exposes Nancy’s and María’s gloomy and tearful faces when they receive the news of María’s pregnancy, making abundantly clear that it brings about profound sadness. Her disconsolate crying when Nancy inquiries if she will tell el Araña about her condition indicates her shame. Finally, close-ups of the grandmother’s pensive and tired face convey the extent of her powerlessness: as an older woman, she is no longer attractive for Garrido and, as a working-class woman, she leads a numbing existence of multiple jobs, long commutes and never-ending housework. Despite being her granddaughter’s guardian, she has failed to protect her from sinister Garrido. Menis’s film provides an unfavourable portrayal of this sexual predator, despite his role as head of the family. He spends his days sleeping and sexually abusing the girl. In addition to his rape crimes, he is seen as a glutton who voraciously eats a piece of cake given for the whole family. Both his lack of sexual constraint and his excessive voracity present him as a greedy predator. He is unable to contribute financially to the family unit but expects to be served by others. He acts as an authoritarian when he orders María’s grandmother to stop asking the girl how she feels when she does not want to eat. In another scene, he objectifies María when, in a conversation with a teacher who invites her to come back, he asserts “Yo mismo se la traigo [I will bring her myself]” and, in a possessive gesture, grabs her by the shoulder. The same possessive motion is repeated when el Araña visits María, and Garrido forcefully grabs her arm to stake his dominion over her. The themes of incest and sexual abuse of minors, skilfully dealt with in the film have come to the forefront of child protection policies from around the world in recent years. In Argentina, Law 27,455 was modified



on 25 October 2018, transforming sexual abuse into a public crime. According to this law, the state has the duty to investigate any case of sexual violence against children and adolescents, without the need of parents or guardians to confirm the rape complaint, as the penal code previously required. María y el Araña was shot when the old law was still in effect and, within that legal context, María depended on her grandmother to accept and report Garrido’s abuse. The film offers several scenes of silent communication between grandmother and granddaughter which, following a psychoanalytical interpretation, may evince their location in a pre-­Symbolic Order, and thus can be interpreted as an instance of their undeveloped language skills. Irene Intebi, who has researched sexual abuse in children, notes that “la coerción emocional y/o física que ejerce el abusador sobre la víctima tiene como fin garantizar su silencio [the emotional and physical coercion that the perpetrator has over the victim aims to assure their silence]” (2008, 41). In the film, both women are subjected to Garrido’s emotional manipulation and despotic behaviour. Intebi also explains that “el familiar no perpetrador puede temer seriamente las consecuencias de la crisis familiar que generalmente desemboca en la separación [the non-­ abuser relative can seriouly be afraid of the consequences of the familiar crisis, which usually ends up in separation]” (2008, 43). The grandmother’s long-overdue decision to ask Garrido to leave—when María is already pregnant—indicates that she has wrestled with the knowledge that the girl was sexually abused. Her intervention is not easy but makes her regain her authority in her humble household. El Araña’s tender feelings for María noticeably help her in her first steps towards her liberation. When she fails to appear at their meeting point, the camera focuses on the two sandwiches he had brought and the plastic jewellery that he hoped to give her. Nancy tells him that María left for Corrientes. In one of the most poignant scenes in the film, el Araña is shown from behind sitting in the dark. Feeling despondent, he puts on the mask of Spiderman as if to block the sad reality of living without María. But, unlike the girl, he counts with an adult who, despite his weak physical state, comforts him. When he breaks out crying, his weak father gently hugs him. This adult figure is an important counterpoint to Garrido: despite their similar unemployed status, el Araña’s father is supportive and loving. Losing María changes el Araña from his goofy superhero persona to a more mature adolescent. When he visits the museum park where they once went together, he is no longer wearing his Spiderman attire. However,



he becomes as determined as the superhero to locate her. To his surprise, he finds her still living in the shantytown. There, el Araña is confronted by Garrido, “the monster” who imprisoned and abused her. El Araña stands up to him proving his heroism and courage. A knife fight between the two takes place off-camera. El Araña is hurt in this fight, stressing his commitment to María by spilling blood for her. This act of bravery prompts her to gather her own courage and abandon the place where she has endured so much pain and trauma. As in La cámara oscura, the young protagonist’s liberation involves her leaving her dysfunctional family. She impulsively runs away barefoot, putting an end to her status as a helpless victim of sexual violence. After a dissolve, the film presents the happy ending. María still works on the trains, now with a baby strapped to her body, conveying the hardships of being a teenage mother. She is required to balance multiple roles as mother and worker, but she smiles broadly when she sees el Araña approaching. In the happy ending of this romance drama, the teenagers are still together without the abuser hovering over them. While their lack of education and financial resources may lead to question how happy María y el Araña’s ending really is, the male adolescent’s values and love for the girl imply that he will continue to show up for her. The film frames his presence as a commitment to tackle whatever may come for them together and to continue loving and respecting each other.

Conclusion In La cámara oscura and María y el Araña, María Victoria Menis presents the family as a site of oppression for two sensitive women. La cámara oscura chronicles the life of Gertrudis, a Jewish immigrant in rural Argentina. Her marginal position in her families—maiden and married— foregrounds her invisibility, but during her adolescence, fantasies provide her with the material to dream about alternative universes. Despite her sensibility and love for learning, adult Gertrudis’s devotion to the family that she has formed with León conspires against her freedom and the expression of her sensuality. But like the butterfly that she saw in her childhood, the love of a French photographer imbues her with confidence and propels her to leave her oppressive family life. In María y el Araña, Menis touches on the delicate subjects of sexual violence, teenage pregnancy and cyclical poverty. María, who at a young age excels at school and works part-time, is an invisible figure for commuters in Buenos Aires. Her



pregnancy as a result of sexual abuse shatters her childhood and her dreams for more education. Nonetheless, when el Araña shows up for her, she dares to flee from the home in which she has been abused. His presence stands for commitment and stability. These two films revolve around cases of female subjugation in which the protagonists find male partners who love them and help them escape from their oppressive domestic lives. Menis’s interest in women’s untold stories rescues them from oblivion and places her as one of the few contemporary Argentine filmmakers whose films are examples of counter-cinema. This type of cinema presents women as women, that is to say, female characters who undergo profound transformations. Their stories end happily with empowering heterosexual romances and bold acts of liberation.

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Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” In Feminism and Film Theory, edited by Constance Penley, 57–68. New York: Routledge, 1988. Pateman, Carole. “Equality, Difference, Subordination: The Politics of Motherhood and Women’s Citizenship.” In Equality and Difference: Female Subjectivity, edited by Gisela Bock and Susan James, 14–28. New  York: Routledge, 2005. Podalsky, Laura. “Out of Depth: The Politics of Dissafected Youth and Contemporary Latin American Cinema.” In Youth Culture in Global Cinema, edited by Timothy Shary and Alexandre Seibel, 109–130. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. Rocha, Carolina. Masculinity in Popular Argentine Cinema. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Rowe Karlyn, Kathleen. “Film as Cultural Antidote: Thirteen and Maternal Melodrama.” Feminist Media Studies 6, no. 4 (2006): 453–468. Scheiner, Georganne. Signifying Female Adolescence: Female Representations and Fans 1920–1950. Westport: Praeger, 2000. Schreiber, Michele. American Postfeminist Cinema: Women, Romance, and Popular Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014. Solorza, Paola Susana. “El otro valorado. Hacia una percepción del cuerpo femenino.” Argus-a 2, no. 6 (2012): n.p. Sontag, Susan. On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977. Tompkins, Cynthia. “Wild Naked Ladies: Gendered Approaches to María Victoria Menis’s Camera Obscura (2008) and Albertina Carri’s Anger (2008).” In Teaching Gender through Latin American, Latino, and Iberian Texts and Cultures, edited by Leila Gómez and Asunción Horno-Delgado, 141–156. Rotterdam: Sense Publisher, 2015. Treacher, Amal. “Children’s Imaginings and Narratives: Inhabiting Complexity.” Feminist Review 82 (2006): 96–113. Trouth Hofmann, Erin and Cynthia Buckley. “Global Changes and Gendered Responses: The Feminization of Migration from Georgia.” International Migration Review 47, no. 3 (2013): 508–538. Varas, Victoria. “Ver o no ver María y el Araña.” Vos, November 2, 2013. https://­o-­no-­ver-­maria-­arana (accessed November 16, 2021).


Traumatic Experiences


Sisterhood on the Threshold in Julia Solomonoff’s Hermanas (2005) Mirna Vohnsen

Julia Solomonoff is a New York-based Argentine university lecturer, producer and filmmaker who has garnered more than 20 international film awards. A Fulbright grantee, she graduated with honours from Columbia University in 2001 and later taught film directing at the same institution, as well as at Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Brooklyn College. Since 2021, she has been Chair of the New York University Graduate Film Department at Tisch School of the Arts. Her credits as a producer include films directed by Alejandro Landes, Júlia Murat, Lucía Murat, Ana Piterbarg, Celina Murga and Lucrecia Martel. Solomonoff has directed several short films including Un día con Angela/A Day with Angela (1993), Siesta/Nap Time (1998), Scratch (2001), Ahora (2003) and Hecho a mano/hand, writing (2020); two documentary series for television, Paraná, biografía de un río/Paraná, Chronicles of a River (2012) and Aerocene Pacha: historia sustentable/Aerocene Pacha: Utopia Sustenable (2020); and three feature films, Hermanas/Sisters (2005), El último

M. Vohnsen (*) Department of Languages, Technological University Dublin, Dublin, Ireland e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




verano de la Boyita/The Last Summer of the Boyita (2009) and Nadie nos mira/Nobody’s Watching (2017). At the time of writing, she was working on her fourth feature, Sed/Thirst. Four years before the release of Solomonoff’s first feature film, Viviana Rangil noted that along with filmmakers Lucrecia Martel, Paula Hernández and Vanessa Ragone, Solomonoff belonged to “a new generation that [was] changing the face of cinema” (2001, 7). It is worth pointing out that, by 2001, Solomonoff had already received prestigious accolades for her shorts from La Mujer y el Cine, the FIPRESCI, the Director’s Guild of America and the Milos Forman Fund. In her article, Rangil claims that the films of the four filmmakers provide a fresh look at political, social, historical and identity questions as they tell their stories from a personal and innovative perspective. For Rangil, the four directors “share a cultural and theoretical/educational experience that makes them, in their individuality and uniqueness, outstanding representatives of the vitality, creativity and thoughtfulness of women filmmakers in Argentina” (2001, 9). More than 20 years have passed since the publication of Rangil’s article and during that period Solomonoff has solidified her filmmaking career, demonstrating that she is indeed one of the women filmmakers who has strengthened and revitalised not only the Argentine film industry but also Latin American cinema. In relation to the latter, Solomonoff herself has asserted: “Yo me siento que soy de la generación del cine latinoamericano, y por eso para mí es tan importante producir y apoyar películas de esa comunidad [I feel that I belong to the Latin American cinema generation, and that is why it is so important for me to produce and support films from that community]” (Domínguez Prost 2017). Indeed, her credentials and professional trajectory corroborate her strong commitment to the Latin American film industry. Solomonoff’s feature films deal with stories of exile and migration, questions of gender and sexuality, issues of identity formation and explorations of Argentina’s traumatic past. Despite the breadth of her stories, a re-occurring theme in her feature films is the liminality of her characters— a concept that refers to the intermediary stage in which an individual is on the threshold between their old and new identity (Turner 1991, 94). Inhabiting unsettling in-between zones, the main characters in Solomonoff’s narrative films manifest their liminality in different ways. In Hermanas, the Levin sisters, who are stuck in the past, are confined to the domestic space of a house in which the tension between them escalates, reaching a breaking point. In El último verano de la Boyita, Mario (Nicolás



Treise) and Jorgelina (Guadalupe Alonso), who navigate the boundaries between childhood and adulthood, embody the hybridity between male and female. In Nadie nos mira, Nico (Guillermo Pfening) lives a liminal life as an illegal immigrant from Argentina who struggles to find his place in New York. By focusing on liminal characters, Solomonoff sheds light not only on fear and uncertainty, as well as processes of change and transition, but also on the transformative power of liminality, which helps the characters of her films negotiate their identities and eventually step out of the liminal phase. This chapter examines Solomonoff’s debut feature, Hermanas, to discuss the way the film’s central characters chart their liminality. Hermanas is a family drama that narrates the story of Natalia (Ingrid Rubio) and Elena Levin (Valeria Bertuccelli), two Argentine sisters who meet for the first time after eight years in 1984. Their reunion takes place in Texas, where Elena, who is now a housewife, resides with her husband, Sebastián (Adrián Navarro), and their eight-year-old son, Tomás (Milton de la Canal). Natalia, who has lived in exile in Spain since 1976, travels to Texas to pay them a 10-day visit. During her visit, the discovery of an unpublished novel written by their late father serves as a catalyst for recalling the sisters’ traumatic past. As a result, their reunion gradually changes into a revisiting of their past lives in Argentina, particularly during 1975 and 1976, when the country was in shambles owing to civil unrest, political instability and state repression. To dramatise the past, the film resorts to flashbacks that feature the sisters amid a chaotic society. It soon transpires that the past has such a grip on the sisters’ present that old tensions and unanswered questions resurface, damaging their sister bond near a point of no return. Focusing on their spatial isolation in a suburban Texas neighbourhood and the interweaving of past and present, I contend that the protagonists of Hermanas experience their liminal position as tense and uneasy, but simultaneously as a state of regeneration. To provide a framework for this study, I draw on anthropologist Victor Turner’s concept of liminality, defined by him as representing “the midpoint of transition in a status-sequence between two positions” (1974, 237). These two positions refer to social structures that are suspended during the liminality phase. In other words, mundane life is abandoned in favour of introspection. Concurrently, as Gloria Anzaldúa explains, liminality entails social, personal and cultural change and growth (2009, 248). My interest here is to explore both the spatial liminality in which the sisters come to terms with



the past and the effect the liminality phase has on their lives, their sister bond and their personal identity.

The Levin Sisters The sisters’ family name, Levin, is recognisably Jewish, but the story does not draw attention to their Jewishness. As Amy Kaminsky observes, the Jewish surname of the sisters “serves only to enmesh the family wholly in the nondenominational Argentine problematic of a family split apart by state terror” (2021, 131). Nonetheless, their Jewish surname should not go unnoticed for two reasons. First, Hermanas is one of many films that feature Jewish characters in contemporary Argentine cinema, an unprecedented phenomenon that started to take shape after the key year of 1983— when Argentina returned to democratic rule following seven years of military dictatorship—and gained importance in the 2000s. Addressing such themes as identity issues, memory, family relations, the Shoah, migration and assimilation, among others, these films have given prominence to Jewish life in Argentine cinema (see Tal 2013; Glickman and Huberman 2018; Vohnsen 2019). By identifying the sisters as Jewish, Solomonoff contributes towards acknowledging the multi-ethnic trait of Argentine society, a feature that had been largely ignored by earlier filmmakers. In this way, Hermanas is part of a tendency in contemporary Argentine cinema that, as Tamara Falicov suggests, expands “the notion of Argentine citizenship to include subjects and characters who have traditionally been invisible or excluded from Argentine screens” (2017, 133). Second, the sisters’ surname can be read as a gesture towards both the notable presence of Jewish Argentines in guerrilla groups in the 1970s and the large number of Jews who went missing during the last military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Out of the estimated 30,000 disappeared, between 1,800 and 2,000 were Jewish victims (Vohnsen 2019, 34). Hermanas echoes these two issues by highlighting Natalia’s engagement with the leftist guerrilla group Montoneros and by dramatising the far-reaching consequences of the illegal detention of David Levin, the sisters’ father. The Levin sisters, then, are portrayed as young Argentine women whose conflicts and anxieties do not emerge as a direct consequence of their Jewishness, as in Daniel Burman’s Esperando al Mesías/ Waiting for the Messiah (2000) and El abrazo partido/Lost Embrace (2004), but rather due to the political climate of the turbulent 1970s in Argentina. It is Natalia’s active involvement in political action and Elena’s



complicity with the repressive regime that mark and change their lives forever. Although the last military dictatorship in Argentina is notorious for its vile human rights abuses and its fight against left-wing activists, the military offensive against the guerrilla groups can be traced back to the early 1970s. Unable to stave off the political unrest and terrorist activity engulfing the country in those years, Argentine president General Alejandro Lanusse (1971–1973) decided to restore constitutional democracy by 1973, a situation that propelled the return of an ailing Juan Domingo Perón to his native Argentina from his exile in Spain, but a deep dissension between left- and right-wing Peronist supporters awaited Perón (Vega et al. 2021, 47). Once he became president of Argentina in October 1973, Perón was determined to crush the Montoneros despite their affiliation with Peronism. As Edwin Williamson explains, Perón “openly repudiated the Montoneros, and passed harsher laws against political subversion” (1992, 476). Upon his death in July 1974, Perón was succeeded by his vice-president and wife, Isabel Martínez de Perón, whose mandate proved disastrous for the country. Her inability to control the escalation of political violence led her to declare Argentina to be under a state of siege in November 1974 (Servetto and Paiaro 2012, 202). By doing so, Martínez de Perón gave the military carte blanche to resort to any means to eliminate left-wing guerrillas, a move that in turn fuelled the military takeover in March 1976. It is against this politico-historical backdrop that Solomonoff constructs the dramatisation of the past in Hermanas. Using flashbacks to chronicle the 1970s, the film portrays the damaging effects of the clash between the Montoneros and state terrorism during the government of Martínez de Perón on the Levin family. David Levin is detained by the authorities for his leftist ideology; Natalia’s boyfriend, Martín (Nicolás Pauls), is abducted and disappeared for his active involvement in the Montoneros; and Natalia has to go into exile for supporting the guerrilla. These events, coupled with the unanswered question of who informed on Martín’s hideout and Elena’s guilt for giving out Martín’s location, come to bear on the present lives of the female protagonists. In addition to this, by featuring two sisters, Solomonoff juxtaposes two opposing ways in which women tackled both the 1970s in Argentina and the aftermath of the dictatorship. Accordingly, the filmmaker succeeds in shedding light on two distinct standpoints in relation to personal and interpersonal struggles to reconcile with the past, a topic I return to in the next sections. However



differently the sisters approach the past, Hermanas places both Natalia and Elena Levin on the threshold between past and present, a boundary they only manage to cross in the last scenes of the film. While the portrayal of the sisters on a temporal threshold is a prominent feature in the story, the pair’s liminality is communicated by the spaces in which they move, namely the airport, the house and the neighbourhood.

Entering Liminality The sisters’ first diegetic encounter, which takes place at an international airport in Texas, is prefaced by an indication that Elena is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. The film opens with a sequence of establishing shots that feature an early peaceful morning and the legend “Walnut Creek, Texas, 1984” over a white picket—in a clear reference to the American Dream. However, the peace and tranquillity communicated by these shots are interrupted by Elena waking up with a start. The image of a startled Elena sitting up in bed cuts to a close-up of a pensive Natalia on a plane. The editing links the two sisters, suggesting that whatever is bothering Elena is associated with Natalia’s imminent arrival. Although Elena’s uneasiness is soon dissipated by the warm welcome she gives Natalia at the airport, the viewer is left with the impression that Natalia’s arrival has stirred certain emotions up in Elena. The meeting between the sisters at the airport is the first instance in which both characters enter a liminal phase. For Marc Augé, airports alongside hotels, shopping centres, motorways and hospitals are non-­ places; that is, they are intended for the passage of faceless crowds but not for social interaction (1995, 79). Conversely, for John Urry, airports are “full of meeting places, they are places of ‘meetingness’ that transform them into strategic moments in constructing a global order” (2007, 148). Hermanas evokes both views. The images of the airport focus on the transit of anonymous passengers who, together with Natalia, leave the boarding bridge and enter the arrival hall. Furthermore, the name of the airport is never disclosed to the viewer, which renders it a generic space. Concurrently, the airport is a site of encounter and a gateway to symbolically enter a liminal period. The camera focuses on the embraces and kisses exchanged by the sisters and then captures Natalia’s incorporation into her sister’s family by means of a long shot featuring Natalia, Elena, Sebastián and Tomás as part of the same family unit. The newly configured family evokes Turner’s conception of communitas. Turner explains that, in the



liminal period, an “undifferentiated comitatus, community, or even communion of equal individuals” emerges (1991, 360). After eight years apart, Elena and Natalia are once again reworking their identity as sisters and reconfiguring a type of communitas. As they travel back to the house in the family car, the frame amplifies the notion that Natalia is now a member of the family, but her incorporation complicates this new configuration. It soon transpires that Natalia brings back memories of the past, something that Elena tries to steer clear of and, as a result, the communitas they create also incorporates conflict. Although Natalia and Elena could be regarded as equals in terms of their common past in Argentina and their experience of loss (they have both lost their father, Natalia lost her boyfriend too), the way they relate to the past differs strikingly. The first instance of this difference is disclosed in the brief interaction the sisters have during the ride from the airport to Elena’s home, when Natalia brings up the topic of their father’s novel: –– Che, me dijo mamá que te trajiste las cosas del viejo. ¿Sabías que estaba escribiendo una novela? [Hey, mum told me that you brought dad’s things with you. Did you know that he was writing a novel?] –– ¿En serio? [Is that right?] –– Sí. [Yes.] –– No. [No.] –– Me encantaría leerla. [I would love to read it.] –– Y bueno, la podríamos buscar después. [Well, we could look for it later.] –– Sí. [Yes.] Natalia’s inquisitiveness about her father’s “things”, as she calls them, contrasts with Elena’s reticence to give more details about them. That Natalia knows about the novel and wants to read it shows that she is eager to explore the past. Elena, on the contrary, displays little enthusiasm about the novel. Although she offers to look for it, it is probably only to please her sister. The viewer cannot fail to notice Elena’s sidelong glance and tight lips after offering her help, which indicates that she may not be comfortable with the idea of digging up the past. From the beginning, then, the film lays out a narrative structure based on the dichotomy between a wish to recover the past, embodied by Natalia, and a desire to bury it, represented by Elena, thus creating a tension that persists throughout the



narrative. Of great significance is that, by enacting the sisters’ divergent views in the space of the car, the film constructs this ride as the beginning of a symbolic journey into the past. Indeed, Natalia, Elena, Sebastián and Tomás find themselves engulfed in the past from the moment Natalia sets foot in Texas. In spatial terms, the airport and the car—Elena drives Natalia back to the airport at the end of her stay—bookend Natalia’s visit, a sojourn that unfolds almost entirely at Elena’s house.

Exploring Liminality Elena’s house is the main anchor of the film’s spatial dynamics. By deliberately setting the story in an isolated Texas neighbourhood, Solomonoff stresses the need to focalise on the pair’s reunion rather than on the surroundings, as the filmmaker herself admits in an interview with La Nación: Como una ecuación matemática, empecé a despejar incógnitas para llegar a la fundamental. Al tener a ambas en un lugar tan anodino, tan sin nada que ver con ellas como ese pueblo de Texas, aumentaba esa ecuación entre ellas dos. […] Había que aislarlas, en una especie de isla cultural, isla de la memoria. [As a mathematical equation, I started to solve unknown factors to get to the main one. Placing both sisters in such an uninspiring place that has nothing to do with them like this Texas neighbourhood, the equation between them increased. … They had to be isolated, in a kind of cultural island, a memory island.] (Montesoro 2005)

Precisely because the cookie-cutter neighbourhood where Elena lives is in stark contrast to any community the sisters have been familiar with previously, it offers the ideal setting for staging their liminality. Turner explains that liminality entails “the detachment of the individual or group either from an earlier fixed point in the social structure, from a set of cultural conditions (a ‘state’), or both” (1991, 94). Solomonoff’s conscious choice of locale is instrumental in featuring the separation phase that the sisters undergo. Moreover, the American state of Texas should not be overlooked. In her seminal work Borderlands/La frontera, Anzaldúa explains that the actual physical borderland that she deals with in her book is the Texas-U.S. Southwest/Mexican border (1987, 1). Although the Texas of Anzaldúa is a far cry from the Texas of Solomonoff, they both share similar traits, they are marked by migration and populated by border women; that



is, women who straddle different cultures, like the Levin sisters. By placing the characters in this borderland state, Solomonoff underscores the sisters’ marginalisation not only in geographical but also in socio-cultural terms. In isolating the sisters, Solomonoff taps into the capacity for spaces to either separate or unite people. If the Texas neighbourhood detaches Natalia and Elena from what Turner calls “an earlier fixed point” (1991, 94), the setting cuts the sisters off from the outside world. Except for a social occasion, a brief talk with Tomás’s teacher and the fling between Natalia and the attendant of a thrift store, the pair has no contact with the surrounding community. Talking about the film’s setting in an interview with Clarín, Solomonoff notes that, Si se hubieran encontrado en París o en Madrid hubieran ido a un museo, a tomar un café, ahí no había nada, están como mucho más confinadas a esa casa, que para mí se convierte en una cosa mucho más opresora. La sensación de desierto que hay alrededor de esa casa, no es un desierto con cactus, pero sí un desierto absoluto. No hay nada. [If they had met in Paris or Madrid, they would have gone to a museum or a café. There was nothing there. They are much more confined to that house, which, for me, becomes something much more oppressive. The feeling of desert that there is around that house is not a desert with cacti, but indeed an absolute desert. There is nothing.] (Anon 2005)

The house thus becomes a liminal space reminiscent of Michel Foucault’s heterotopias, which are to be found “outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate [its] location in reality” (1984, 3–4). Alienating the sisters from society, this heterotopic space emphasises their condition as exiles—a fate shared by thousands of Argentines who fled the country before and during the last military dictatorship. Natalia is indeed a political exile while Elena can be regarded as an economic exile. Although never made explicit in the film, the viewer can infer that Elena and her family moved to the United States for economic reasons. She lives a middle-­class life free from immediate economic concerns and sends remittance back home. In a telephone conversation Elena has with her mother back in Argentina, she lets her know that “Sebastián está ganando muy bien, así que mientras te pueda ayudar me alegra [Sebastián is earning good money so as long I can help you, I am happy]”. Elena’s condition as an exile is further enhanced by her language barrier. Newly arrived in the United States, Elena is not yet proficient in English, which shows in her



brief interaction with Tomás’s American teacher. The scene features an eager Elena who struggles to make herself understood in English when inquiring about Tomás’s performance at school. Her body language testifies to her frustration when she encounters a linguistic barrier that she is not able to overcome. Portraying the sisters as exiles and socially marginalised not only underscores their liminality but also serves the purpose of focalising on the events that unfold inside the house, namely the pair’s struggles to rebuild their sisterhood. As such, the film invites the audience to regard the domestic space as the critical locus from which to examine the sisters’ journey of reunion, thus transforming it into a site of introspection and negotiation in which liminal characters are set apart to shape their subjectivity and interpersonal relationship. Upon Natalia’s arrival, the house is depicted as a space of connection between the sisters. Exchanges of kisses, smiles and embraces convey the affection that the sisters feel for each other, but their closeness is gradually undermined by virtue of their divergent ways to cope with the traumatic past. While Elena’s intention is to put a lid on the past, Natalia’s goal is to keep it alive, and especially to find out who the informant of Martín’s hideout was back in 1976. As Susana Kaiser pinpoints, “Elena está borrando memorias. Natalia quiere recordar y buscar la verdad [Elena is erasing memories. Natalia wants to remember and search for the truth]” (2010, 116). One of the ways in which the story heightens their disagreement on how to respond to the past is through the sisters’ conflictive memories. To access these memories, the camera shoots the most intimate room in the house, Elena’s bedroom. While Elena is trying on one of her sister’s dresses—a clear allusion to their closeness and familiarity—a portrait of the sisters on a sunny day in Argentina suddenly catches the attention of Natalia, who remembers accurately the events that happened on the day it was taken. Elena, on the contrary, mixes up dates, people and events. No sooner has Natalia identified Martín as the person who took the picture than Elena experiences a sudden shift in mood, avoids continuing the conversation and leaves her sister on her own. If, as Antonius Robben argues, “deliberately shutting out the most inexplicable memories makes the traumatic event more manageable” (2005, 125), Elena’s false memory seems to constitute a defence mechanism that minimises her feeling of guilt. The next scene, which focuses on Elena, now lying in her bed, unable to fall asleep and fixated on the portrait, challenges the effectiveness of her defence mechanism as it only provides a temporary relief from her trauma. Because Elena has never shared her secret with anyone, except



with her late father, she bears the burden of guilt on her own. In highlighting the sisters’ divergent memories and reactions to the past, these scenes typify two distinct ways of inhabiting the house; for, while Natalia sees clues that can aid her in her quest to find the informant of Martín’s hideout, Elena is determined to erase any clue. An obsession with keeping the house spick and span in tandem with the fact that she always puts things around her in order communicates two significant issues. On the one hand, it points out the difference between the sisters, for while Elena has wanted to become a homemaker since she was young, Natalia’s aim has been to be independent and committed to politics and her work. On the other, Elena’s obsession could be read as a determination to leave the past behind. This, of course, creates a boundary between the sisters that fractures their relationship and, as a result, arguments ensue, reaching a boiling point. “¿Qué es lo que pretendés? [What is your intention?]”, Elena rebukes Natalia later in the film in an attempt to regain control over her household. “¡O sea, me estoy sintiendo incómoda en mi propia casa! [I mean, I am feeling uncomfortable in my own house!]”, she protests. Her words and tone of voice echo her frustration and indicate that the privileged life that the house has afforded her so far is eroded by the introduction of an inquisitive Natalia into the household. The presence of Natalia undoubtedly undermines Elena’s universe to the point that she is unable to escape the clutches of the past. Not even her suburban house, the epitome of the American Dream, can protect her, as every single room is imbued with it. Within the domestic space, the telephone conversations with two other women back in Argentina—the sisters’ and Martín’s mothers—the photographs, the shared memories and their father’s unpublished novel all work towards representing the inescapable presentness of the past. Of particular interest is their father’s novel, which Natalia reads with great enthusiasm as she soon finds out that it narrates none other than the tale of their family during the crucial years of 1975 and 1976 in Argentina, a discovery she unreservedly shares with her sister. This significant finding leads Natalia to believe that the novel can provide her with sufficient evidence as to who revealed the information about Martín’s hiding place or at least point her in the right direction. However, by secretly tearing out the last pages of the manuscript, Elena thwarts Natalia’s expectations and simultaneously misspends her own chance to unveil her unwitting cooperation with the repressive regime. Her deliberate action takes place significantly in the kitchen, a space that has been traditionally associated with nurturing and feeding the family,



but that here is transformed into a heterotopia of crisis. According to Foucault, heterotopias of crisis refer to places reserved for individuals who are in a state of crisis in relation to society (1984, 4). The secretive atmosphere of the kitchen conveyed by a distressed Elena reading the novel at night, while everybody else is asleep, stresses not only her internal crisis but also the crisis she has unintentionally impinged on her family. Later in the film the viewer learns that Martín’s abduction and the subsequent exile of Natalia happened as a direct consequence of Elena giving away Martín’s hideout. Arguably, the tearing out of the pages can be symbolically construed as a re-enactment of the family break-up back in 1976. Towards the end of the film, Solomonoff situates the pair on a breaking point as the boundary between them appears unsurmountable. A number of notable scenes reveal how they have reached this point, including a heated argument about the reason why Natalia suggested that her sister should name her son Tomás, namely because it was Martín’s nom de guerre; and Elena’s accusation that Natalia has not come to visit them but rather to investigate the past. Only when Elena confesses her long-held secret to her sister on the evening prior to Natalia’s departure can they reach a point of transformation. In a melodramatic scene played out in the sitting room of the house, Elena makes her last-minute revelation to Natalia; namely that she was the one who informed on Martín’s hideout. Revealing the secret signifies the crossing of an important threshold for both sisters and proves that Elena’s efforts to bury the past have been futile. Elena discloses her secret by handing up the missing pages of the novel to Natalia, a significant gesture that symbolically represents her wish to repair the familial fracture. Following the confession, a sequence of three flashbacks portraying the events that led Elena to be an informant back in 1976 showcases her as a victim of emotional blackmail. Depicted as a disempowered and desperate young woman who would do anything to have her father released from prison, Elena gives in when Sebastián’s uncle, Luis Morini (Eusebio Poncela), promises her that he will intercede with the authorities on behalf of her father provided she gives him information about Martín’s hideout. As Patrick Bégrand explains in his study on the role of secrecy and silence in Hermanas, “Julia Solomonoff no filma a una delatora complaciente, su dolor la disculpa, no le quedará sino vivir durante ocho años con el peso de su acto [Julia Solomonoff does not shoot an agreeable informant, her pain excuses her, she has no alternative but to live for eight years with the burden of her act]” (2013, 75). If breaking her silence in 1976 propels not only her father’s release but also



Martín’s enforced disappearance and Natalia’s exile, telling her sister the truth in 1984 serves the purpose of redeeming herself and coming to terms with her traumatic past. Judith Lewis Herman asserts that “remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims” (2015, 1). Truth telling marks the beginning of a healing process for both sisters. Up to this significant moment, Natalia has rejected the idea of going back to Argentina, but Elena’s confession ignites her decision to return to her roots and reunite with her mother following an eight-year lapse. Elena, who has been obsessed with keeping her house spotless and tidy, is portrayed distraught in a messy kitchen. The cathartic climax of the confession puts an end to the sisters’ liminality: Natalia leaves the house and, while Elena is still portrayed in the heterotopic space of the kitchen, she is shot through an open door, conveying that the choice to cross this physical threshold is in her hands.

Exiting Liminality After Elena’s confession, the tension between the sisters gradually subsides until they reach reconciliation. Solomonoff has opted for dramatising the sisters’ exit from their liminal phase by positioning them within the same frame in the space of the family car, a scene that provides two readings. On the one hand, sharing the frame arguably emphasises a sense of connection between them as both sisters sit in the front seats next to each other. On the other, their sisterhood seems to have come to a standstill as words are not uttered or glances exchanged, revealing the pair’s uneasiness with their transition from not knowing to knowing and from secret to confession. Although the sisters have crossed a significant boundary, forgiveness and reconciliation does not ensue before they reach the airport. If the sisters’ ride to Elena’s home was a journey into the past, as I have noted, this one is arguably a trip out of that past. The final scene of the film takes place at the airport, with the sisters sitting in silence on chairs apart one from another. Contrary to the depiction of the airport in the arrival scene, here the voices of other passengers are barely heard and neither Tomás nor Sebastián accompanies them. The quietness of the scene transmits a sense of expectation in the viewer who, like the sisters, is not sure as to whether they will cross the threshold of forgiveness. Gestures like Elena fetching a glass of water when she sees that Natalia is going to take a headache pill, a weak “gracias [thanks]”



uttered by Natalia, and their final embrace all work towards granting the viewer the comfort of closure. Sealing the exit of their liminality, the embrace bridges the gap between the sisters and has enormous potential for renovating their relationship, but it also challenges the idea of the airport as a no place. The embrace shows that the airport is indeed a place of connection and bonding. More importantly, having gained insight and perspective, the sisters can now continue with their lives. Natalia is on her way to Argentina to testify for the Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas [CONADEP, the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons]. Elena, for her part, will probably remain in Texas but without the pain of hiding her secret.

Conclusion How do we repair a severed sisterly bond? This is the question around which Hermanas revolves and the answer lies in entering a threshold in which a former state is cast off in order to prepare to embrace a future state of being. Painful as it may be, this new stage is necessary to keep on with life itself. Solomonoff seems to propose that the effect of excesses, abuses and violations of human rights in Argentina during the 1970s have had such a profound impact on the Argentine family that coming to terms with the past, however traumatic it may be, should start in the domestic space of the house. That said, Solomonoff is not merely focusing on the characters’ response to the traumatic past; she seems to point out to how radical transformation Argentines may be required to undergo both individually and as a society in order to recover a sense of reconciliation which has been absent in Argentina for such a long time. Released in 2005, Hermanas resonates with the changes that were taking place in the Argentine judicial system at the time. The trials against human rights abuses that had been committed by the military dictatorship were being reopened after years of government indifference. By offering a critical reflection on the past and notably on the long-lasting effects of authoritarianism and violations of human rights on the Argentine family, Hermanas inscribes itself within the narratives that have revisited the past and called for justice. Even though the film is not a political commentary per se, its message is unambiguous: truth is a necessary prerequisite to reconstruct a society, the Levin sisters constituting the vivid example of this view. The film speaks of the consequences of repression and, although it may fail to do full justice to the singularity of the harrowing past, it allows many people to remember what actually happened so that it may never happen again.



References Anon. “Nunca es fácil perdonar.” Clarín, April 28, 2005. https://www.clarin. com/ediciones-­anteriores/facil-­perdonar_0_H1pGI4tyCYe.html (accessed April 3, 2022). Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderland/La frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books,1987. Anzaldúa, Gloria. “(Un)natural Bridges, (Un)safe spaces.” In The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, edited by Analouise Keating, 243–248. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. Augé, Marc. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Translated by John Howe. London: Verso, 1995. Domínguez Prost, Micaela. “Julia Solomonoff, directora de Nadie nos mira.” LatAm Cinema, May 28, 2017. julia-­solomonoff-­directora-­de-­nadie-­nos-­mira/ (accessed January 15, 2022). Falicov, Tamara. The Cinematic Tango: Contemporary Argentine Film. London: Wallflower. 2017. Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias.” Translated by Jay Miskowiec. Architecture / Mouvement / Continuité 5 (1984): 2–9. Glickman, Nora and Ariana Huberman, eds. Evolving Images: Latin American Jewish Cinema. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018. Kaiser, Susana. “Escribiendo memorias de la dictadura: las asignaturas pendientes del cine argentino.” Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 88 (2010): 101–125. (accessed April 3, 2022). Kaminsky, Amy. The Other/Argentina: Jews, Gender, and Sexuality in the Making of a Modern Nation. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2021. Montesoro, Julia. “Una deuda del pasado.” La Nación, April 27, 2005. https://­deuda-­del-­pasado-­nid699390/ (accessed April 3, 2022). Rabadán Vega, María Belén and Mirna Vohnsen. Eva Perón: A Reference Guide to Her Life and Works. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2021. Rangil Viviana. “Changing the Face of Argentinean Cinema: The Vibrant Voices of Four Women.” Afterimage 28, no. 6 (2001): 7–9. Robben, Antonius. “How Traumatized Societies Remember: The Aftermath of Argentina’s Dirty War.” Cultural Critique 59 (2005): 120–164. Servetto, Alicia María and Melisa Paiaro. “Las palabras del terror: los discursos de la presidenta María Estela Martínez de Perón y su legitimación de los dispositivos de la violencia estatal y paraestatal.” Passagens: Revista Internacional de História Política e Cultura Jurídica 4, no. 2 (2012): 193–212. Tal, Tzvi. “The Other Becomes Mainstream: Jews in Contemporary Argentine Cinema.” In The New Jewish Argentina: Facets of Jewish Experiences in the



Southern Cone, edited by Adriana Brodsky and Raanan Rein, 365–391. Leiden: Brill, 2013. Turner, Victor. Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society. New York: Cornell University Press, 1974. Turner, Victor. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. New  York: Cornell University Press, 1991. Urry, John. Mobilities. Cambridge/Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2007. Vohnsen, Mirna. Portrayals of Jews in Contemporary Argentine Cinema: Rethinking Argentinidad. Woodbridge: Tamesis, 2019. Williamson, Edwin. The Penguin History of Latin America. Harmonsworth: Penguin, 1992.


Screaming into the Abyss: Trauma and Witnessing in Albertina Carri’s Los rubios (2003) and La rabia (2008) Fiona Clancy

Albertina Carri, one of the most distinguished directors to have emerged on the contemporary film scene in Argentina, is intimately connected with the struggle for human rights and justice that has been ongoing in Argentina since the end of the last military dictatorship (1976–1983). Her parents, Ana María Caruso and Roberto Carri, were left-wing intellectuals and active members of the Montonero Peronist Movement, an armed revolutionary group which formed in 1968 and had its roots in the Peronist Party. Organisations like the Montoneros and other revolutionary groups were subjected to violent repression under the right-wing military regime (Levey 2016, 46). Within this turbulent political context, Carri’s parents were forcibly disappeared in 1977, when she was just three years old, an event which was undoubtedly traumatic for her. This chapter suggests that the trauma resulting from the disappearance of her parents at

F. Clancy (*) South East Technological University, Waterford, Ireland e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




an age when she could scarcely speak, much less comprehend the political circumstances surrounding their deaths, influenced her artistic vision later in life. The chapter presents a comparative analysis of two of Carri’s films: her autobiographical documentary Los rubios/The Blonds (2003) and La rabia/Anger (2008), a dark tale of rural violence portrayed through the eyes of a young girl who cannot speak. In this chapter, I focus on how each film represents trauma and its intergenerational transmission. To this end, I outline how Carri’s ostensibly political project in Los rubios is intertwined with, and ultimately eclipsed by, a personal need to address the trauma inflicted upon her as a young child as a result of her parents’ political activism. Then, drawing on Sue Gerhardt’s (2004) interdisciplinary research on early emotional development and Karen Lury’s (2010) work on the screening of children in war films, I suggest that La rabia can be understood as Carri’s moral and ethical response to the powerlessness and voicelessness that children experience when faced with violence, abuse or neglect. Arguing that, in both films, the director speaks on behalf of the traumatised child in different ways, I make the case that the personal-­ political project that began with Los rubios culminates in an ethical expression of witnessing in La rabia.

The Cinematic Voice of Albertina Carri Carri’s controversial autobiographical debut, Los rubios, has become canonical in debates surrounding historical memory and representation in relation to the last dictatorship in Argentina, with one critic even comparing its impact within the field of political cinema to that of the groundbreaking La hora de los hornos/The Hour of the Furnaces (Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas 1968), an emblem of political “liberation” cinema (Andermann 2012, 107). Los rubios has also been central to the question of “postmemory” in Argentina—that is, a form of memory whose “connection to its object or source is mediated not through recollection but through an imaginative investment and creation” (Hirsch 1997, 22)—in terms of the transmission of dictatorship trauma to the next generation. Los rubios is a highly reflexive piece: a documentary that also self-­consciously documents its own making, thereby placing its supposed primary object of investigation always beyond reach and frustrating the viewer’s desire to know more. The film ostensibly investigates the disappearance of Carri’s parents and their lives as political activists but subverts its own agenda



along the way in order to reflect upon the uncertain nature of memory itself and the impact of her familial background on the shaping of Carri’s own identity as a filmmaker. In Los rubios, Carri takes to task her parents’ unreserved commitment to the political project that ultimately led to their death and her growing up as an orphan from the age of three.1 The film also raises questions about the construction of memory vis-à-vis the dictatorship and Argentina’s violent past more generally. It does this, in part, by exposing the constructed nature of testimonial forms, such as documentary, and the unreliability of memory. In one scene, for example, Carri (played by actress Analía Couceyro, who also plays the role of Alejandra in La rabia) writes in her diary: “Tengo que pensar en algo, algo que sea película. Lo único que tengo es mi recuerdo difuso y contaminado por todas estas versiones [I have to think of something, something that can be a film. All I have is a vague memory, contaminated by all these other versions]”. Carri unequivocally resists taking on the identities that have been assigned to her by political and human rights narratives. In one scene, for instance, the film crew reads out a letter that Carri has received from the INCAA, the Argentine national film institute, rejecting her request for funding for the film, citing the need for greater documentary rigour in its production. Carri admits that she is not making the kind of documentary about her parents that the INCAA wants and that, even though she understands the need for such a film, she has no desire to make it. Instead of attempting to represent an historical reality, the film articulates Carri’s personal sense of loss and abandonment against the current of political expectations of her as a daughter of disappeared activists, and the process of finding her own voice within the discourse relating to political violence and the dictatorship. Los rubios received mixed reactions at the time of its much-anticipated release, with some critics accusing the director of trivialising the political 1  Carri’s attitude to her parents’ activism, however, has softened over time. Speaking about her parents in an interview in 2017, she remarked: “Yo ya tengo más años que ellos cuando fueron secuestrados, así que los veo diferentes. Cuando hice Los rubios los miraba un poco como una niña y les hacía unos cuantos reproches; ahora ya los veo como una adulta y me conmueve muchísimo todo lo que hicieron esos jóvenes revolucionarios. Ya no hay reclamo [I’m older now than they were when they were abducted, so I view them differently now. When I made Los rubios I was looking at them more as a child and I reproached them to an extent; now I look at them as an adult and I’m very moved by everything those young revolutionaries did. There is no more reproach]” (Lingenti 2017).



activism of her parents and giving frivolous treatment to the military violence of the dictatorship era (Kohan 2004; Sarlo 2005). The brunt of this criticism focused on the use of stop-motion animation sequences in which children’s plastic Playmobil figures are used to represent key memories and past events: Carri’s home, her family and the abduction of her parents. However, more nuanced critiques of the film were put forward by, among others, Aguilar (2011), Page (2009) and Andermann (2012). Aguilar, for example, makes a salient observation regarding this controversial choice in approaching such sensitive events: When her parents were kidnapped, Carri was 3 years old; that is, she had learned to speak recently, she had a natural inclination to believe in magic, and she had no understanding of politics. This is why she sets up a reading of the kidnapping with what she has at hand: little dolls, fantasy, and action B-movies. Film, which is now her trade, provided her during her childhood with both company and the shaping of a sensibility. (2011, 165)

These animated sequences can also be understood as a form of distancing technique, several of which are employed throughout the film: for example, the use of an actress to play the role of Carri, who also appears in the film as herself, the director; the wearing of blonde wigs by the film crew draws attention to the artifice of film as a medium for documenting “facts”; and, finally, behind-the-scenes footage and rehearsals. The stop-­ motion animation sequences using plastic toys represent key memories and past events. Jordana Blejmar (2016, 45–68) has interpreted this in terms of the generational distancing of the “second  generation”—sons and daughters of the disappeared—who show approximation with the traumatic legacy of the past but adopt a critical distance, often in a playful manner, thus engaging with the past without replicating their parents’ struggles. Such devices draw the viewer’s attention to the difficulty, or even impossibility, of accurately representing traumatic memory through any kind of narrative medium. I propose that, in view of this difficulty, Carri explores alternative, more visceral, ways in which trauma can be expressed and witnessed to in her 2008 film La rabia.



Traumatic Dehumanisation and Psychic Contagion La rabia is a dark and brutally realist film, set in a rural location similar to that in which Carri was raised by her aunt and uncle after the disappearance of her parents, and to which she returns in Los rubios. The temporality of the film is ambiguous, offering few markers that link it to a particular timeframe, but there are some visual nods to the 1970s and 1980s period, such as a Sony Walkman and clothing reminiscent of that era. The film’s primary point of view is that of Nati (Nazarena Duarte), a mute girl who is witness to at least three distinct violent relationships in the family domain: the physical and verbal abuse of her mother, Alejandra (Analía Couceyro), by her authoritarian husband, Poldo (Víctor Hugo Carrizo); frequent bouts of brutal sadomasochistic sex between Nati’s mother and their neighbour, Pichón (Javier Lorenzo); and Pichón’s violent physical abuse of his adolescent son, Ladeado (Gonzalo Pérez). The trauma Nati experiences is made manifest by way of three main behaviours, or symptoms, which, although not directly acknowledged as such within the film, have been interpreted by some scholars as falling within the spectrum of autism (Tompkins 2012; Josiowicz 2014): an intolerance for clothing, which she tears off when she is upset; fits of prolonged, inarticulate screaming when she is distressed; and the ability to express her disturbing memories, emotions and imagination through drawings and sketches.2 Nati’s inner world is also figuratively brought to life by means of animated scenes, which are interwoven into the live action of the film and represent Nati’s imagination expressed in images. Her drawings and sketches also function as plot devices that help to bring the narrative to its climax, since her father interprets their sexually explicit content as evidence that she has been abused by Pichón. Enraged, he attempts to kill Pichón, but it is Poldo who ends up being killed. The scenery and landscape in the opening scene of La rabia are almost identical to the final scenes of Los rubios. Both scenes were shot in the countryside of Carri’s childhood, immediately suggesting a thematic continuity between the two films. Scholarship on La rabia has drawn attention to possible political influences in the film, such as the state terror of the last dictatorship. In this regard, Inela Selimović makes the salient 2  Although the film never explicitly attributes autism to Nati, Carri has acknowledged that she researched autism in preparation for the film and that she deliberately endowed the character of Nati with “ciertos rasgos autísticos [certain autistic traits]” (Pinto Veas 2008).



observation that “the subjects in the film are brutally beaten, harshly penetrated, tied up, physically and verbally abused, silenced, and in some cases killed either arbitrarily, wrongfully, or for having challenged repressive orders” (2015, 531). Carri has stated that her primary intention with the film, however, was to examine the naturalisation of violence, that is, “cómo es que somos capaces de naturalizar la violencia en su máxima expresión [how it is that we are able to naturalise violence at its most extreme]” (Pinto Veas 2008). This can be read within the wider context of dehumanisation associated with authoritarian systems and state repression, such as that which led to the death of Carri’s parents. However, in this film, the violence stems from within the domestic sphere itself, rather than from without. In this way, the film draws attention to the way trauma not only affects those who experience it first-hand but is also transmitted to future generations and those who witness violence and dehumanisation, thus dovetailing with Los rubios. Aside from examining the naturalisation of violence, Carri’s intention with the film was to explore the idea of “la rabia [rabies or anger]” as a pestilence, with its connotations of contagion. The idea of contagion permeates La rabia, as the title of the film suggests, since in addition to “anger” or “rage”, the term also denotes the contagious (and fatal) disease associated with wild animals—a nuance that the film’s official English title, Anger, regrettably fails to capture. However, the promotional artwork for the film is very effective in conveying this double meaning. In a large close-up of Nati’s face, contorted with rage, her eyes closed and her mouth wide open in one of her infamous screams, the words of the film’s title are positioned inside her mouth, with the credit titles appearing to drip from the main title, like fangs or threads of saliva that fill the space of her gaping mouth. The graphic vividly captures and conveys the idea of the child’s rage as both pathology and protest, and of the film itself as her testimony. The concept of psychic contagion engaged with here is that articulated by German phenomenologist Edith Stein as a form of interpersonal relation whereby mental energy is transmitted between psyches without the intervention of intentionality or an individual’s value response, a common example of which is what we refer to as a “herd mentality” (Stein 2000, 174–188). The concept is helpful for understanding how Nati is more exposed and vulnerable to the crude sex and violence she witnesses in the adult world because she lacks the capacity to verbalise her experience, which would act as a protective mechanism against traumatisation.



Animality features prominently in La rabia; the sounds of both wild and domesticated creatures permeate the soundtrack. Children, in particular, are frequently seen interacting with weasels, dogs, hens, sheep and pigs. The film forecloses any expectations of sentimentality with regard to its portrayal of animals with a disclosure statement immediately following the opening titles. In a jarring reversal of the typical ethical statement that accompanies productions that feature animals, promising that no animal has been harmed in the filming process, La rabia’s disclosure notice states “los animales que aparecen en esta película vivieron y murieron de acuerdo a su hábitat [the animals that appear in this film lived and died in accordance with their habitat]”. The implications of this unsettling disclosure become apparent as early as the second sequence, in which an adolescent boy (Ladeado) is seen swinging a canvas sack against a tree trunk, before flinging it into a body of water. The internal movements perceivable in a close-up shot of the sinking sack suggest his efforts to kill whatever was inside it have not been entirely successful. Figuratively, this shot also offers an early indication that, like the young animals contained within that canvas, the children in La rabia also possess the spirit of survival, despite the odds that are stacked against them. The film establishes a strong association between animality and sexuality in key scenes through related images, such as guns that also function as phallic symbols, in an association characterised by suffering and violence. In one of these scenes, Alejandra and Pichón are in the bedroom of an old farmhouse, the homestead of the (notably absent) landowners of the area, which Alejandra is employed to clean. She opens the door of the wardrobe and begins to remove and examine various garments, some of which she tries on, while Pichón grins and nods encouragement. He then also removes items from the wardrobe: a polo shirt and riding helmet, which he puts on, and a riding crop, which he tests on Alejandra’s behind, eliciting a small cry from her. The camera then cuts to Nati, who is outside in the garden removing her dress. The sound of a gunshot coming from the farmhouse startles her and she moves, naked from the waist up, towards the open window of the bedroom, staying close to the wall in order to remain out of sight. Pichón, also shirtless, is standing at the open window, holding a rifle, and Alejandra is behind him, wearing only underwear. Nati runs away. At home that evening, her father tells her a story, designed to frighten her, about her maternal grandaunt, whose habit of taking off her clothes in public (like Nati does) caused her brother to go mad and get himself murdered. His spirit sometimes returns, Poldo warns, in order to



hunt down little girls who undress in public: he covers them with his cape and eats them alive. Soon after this scene, following an altercation between Poldo and Pichón over the latter’s dog having killed one of Poldo’s sheep, Alejandra and Pichón are shown having rough sex in the farmhouse, their bodies tethered together by a leather equestrian halter fastened around their necks. Although Alejandra twice utters “pará [stop]”, the sex continues and it is unclear to what extent it remains consensual throughout, thus connoting a sense of powerlessness and paralysis. Ending with an overhead shot of Alejandra’s face, contorted in what could equally be pleasure or pain, the scene jump-cuts to the outdoors, where a hare is being pursued relentlessly by a pack of dogs. In a scene shortly subsequent, Nati again approaches the window of the farmhouse and peers inside. Her mother is lying naked and front down on the bed, looking up at Pichón who is standing over her; he is also naked and has a visible erection. As he climbs on top of her, the shot cuts to Nati’s gaze, and only the sound of the couple’s breathing is heard. Nati’s inability to process what she is witnessing is then expressed figuratively by means of a semi-abstract animated sequence representing her disturbed imagination, in which imagery of her father’s ghost story, Pichón’s erection (conflated now with the rifle he was seen holding earlier) and her mother’s ambiguous cries are mingled and interwoven. The (mis)understanding of sexuality, animality and violence that is crystallising in Nati’s imagination becomes solidified and externalised in the subsequent, visceral scene. The neighbours have gathered to slaughter a pig, a process which is presented with detached, unapologetic realism. This recalls an earlier scene in which Alejandra compares her daughter to a pig when she exclaims, in frustration: “¿Qué esperás que diga la gente si esta no habla y grita como un chancho? ¡Eso no es normal! [What do you expect people to say when the girl doesn’t speak and screeches like a pig? That’s not normal!]”. Nati and Alejandra watch as the men truss up the legs of the screaming animal, before a knife is plunged into the loose flesh of its throat. As the animal noticeably weakens, and its blood gushes into a basin, its cries fade and its body goes still. After the head and trotters have been removed, the animal is hoisted into a hanging position and its belly cut open, the immense innards spilling out in an obscene profusion. As Nati assists her mother in cleaning out the carcass, she utters little porcine squeals, like cries of empathy. While the men begin to butcher the meat and prepare the grill, Nati settles down at a table to draw, with Pichón looking over her shoulder, observing what she is sketching. When



he realises her drawing is a semi-erotic depiction of himself, he slams his hand down on the page, violently crumples the drawing and walks away with it. Nati then begins to shriek uncontrollably and tear off her clothes. In summary, the sexual relations Nati witnesses between her mother and Pichón impress upon her imagination the idea of sexuality as an inherently violent phenomenon which causes female suffering. This is brought about by its association with, on the one hand, weapons (in particular, guns, by which Poldo and Pichón will both die), which also function as phallic images, and, on the other, the suffering, death and evisceration of animals, with whom Nati has clearly learned to identify herself and understand her own potential fate. The blurred distinctions between these phenomena are depicted in the semi-abstract animated sequences that punctuate and temporarily suspend the narrative of the film. Like the slaughtered pig to which her mother compares her, Nati perceives her very existence as threatened by the violence and annihilation she witnesses around her. One of her only forms of agency is her ability to draw, and this being taken from her is experienced as a form of annihilation and violation, like that she witnesses happening to her mother. This is reminiscent of Carri’s own experience of the disappearance of her parents and her cinematic project in Los rubios, in which she reflects on the construction of traumatic memory through the process of filmmaking. Carri says of the explicit sex scenes in the film: “No es un sexo habitual del cine. Es un cierto contagio animal. Me interesaba la idea. Es una peli cruda en todos los sentidos [It’s not the kind of sex that is usually seen in cinema. It’s a sort of animal contagion. That idea interested me. It’s a crude film, in every sense of the word.]” (Pinto Veas 2008). What the film presents is, in a sense, a dehumanised sex, which, on losing its human element, becomes not merely animal, but what might be better understood in Carri’s choice of term, “bestial”. When what is uniquely human is removed from the human animal what remains is not an animal of the natural order, but rather something of an entirely different order, a kind of dehumanised perversion. It is reasonable to imagine the possibility of these sexual scenes, therefore, as being seen through Nati’s eyes as bestial behaviour, devoid of human tenderness or love; merely as acts of dehumanisation, violence and humiliation. The film’s sex scenes become progressively more brutal. In one later scene, Pichón stuffs Alejandra’s underwear into her mouth until he makes her gag. Then, he puts the underwear over her head, covering her eyes and face so that, while he is aware that Nati and Ladeado are now standing



at the bedroom’s doorway, watching this spectacle in confusion and horror, Alejandra remains unaware of the children’s presence. This “hooding” of Alejandra calls to mind that employed during state-sponsored disappearance in dictatorship-era Argentina, whereby victims were stripped and had hoods placed over their heads before being dropped from military planes. At the same time, the children’s witnessing of violent acts—essentially being exposed to an adult world which they are too young to make sense of—also invites a comparison with Los rubios and Carri’s reproach of her parents’ all-consuming activism. As one of the family friends interviewed in Los rubios testifies, the children of these revolutionaries were immersed in the violence of their parents’ political activism through no choice of their own, often being present at meetings where there were guns and other weapons—an adult world which they were ill-equipped to understand. Considered in terms of a concept such as postmemory, La rabia portrays a much more complex and corporal form of transmission than Los rubios. Rather than engaging with memory, La rabia conveys a highly visceral experience of trauma, whereby it is transferred from one person to another by means of psychic contagion. Research on brain development has shown that traumatic memories activate the right brain, which deals with the emotions and senses, but decrease activity in the verbal left brain, so that the left brain is unable to make sense of the highly aroused areas of the right brain by putting those experiences into verbal form (Gerhardt 2004, 142). “This,” Gerhardt notes, “may account for the phenomenon of speechless terror” (2004, 142). The idea of speechless terror has a strong connotation in relation to dictatorial violence, whereby people saw but were unable to speak because of a culture of fear (Feitlowitz 1998). In Carri’s own case, its implications are even more stark, in that she witnessed her parents’ abduction but was likely unable to verbalise its effect on her. In this way, Nati’s experience might be read as a representation of Carri’s own childhood trauma, or Carri, as an adult, speaking on behalf of the voiceless.

The Wordless Testimony of a Neglected Child I propose that, beyond Nati’s apparent autistic condition, the behaviour and symptoms that she displays are comparable, in many respects, to a child who has been raised in conditions of extreme isolation and neglect. There are some striking comparisons between Nati and the infamous case of Genie, a girl who suffered chronic neglect and was kept in isolation for



the first 13 years of her life, and whose tragic condition was later mined as a linguistic case study by numerous researchers in the 1970s and 1980s, as described by Russ Rymer in his book Genie: A Scientific Tragedy (1993). Whenever Genie expressed her needs vocally, her father, who was intolerant of noise, would growl and bark like a dog outside the door of the bedroom in which she was kept, or beat her with a stick, in order to silence her. Thus, she learned to suppress all emotional self-expression out of fear (Gerhardt 2004, 39). Psychological tests later in her life revealed that Genie’s left frontal cortex was relatively undeveloped; she was unable to complete any left-brain tasks and had great difficulty mastering speech. However, “her right brain was a remarkable non-verbal communicator. She could grasp the ‘gestalt’ of a situation in an ‘uncanny’ way. She could draw what she could not say” (Gerhardt 2004, 54). Indeed, Rymer notes that, like Nati, Genie’s “drawings seemed actually to be part of her lexicon—a compensatory, self-taught speech” (1993, 127). Also, like Nati, Genie’s sketches depicted more than just objects; through drawing she was able to convey her thoughts and desires (1993, 128). Nati bears testimony to her isolation and to the violence she is exposed to throughout the ordinary course of her life, not with words, but by means of the three symptoms described at the outset of this chapter. Of these three, drawing is that which most displays her attempts at sovereignty over herself and her surroundings, and her developing capacity for agency, or “coming to voice”, as Lisa Cartwright (2008, 6) puts it. Like Genie, Nati draws what she is unable to say, but this alone is not unusual for children, as is borne out by multiple examples of sexually abused children exposing their abuse and identifying their abusers through drawings, role-play and other non-verbal forms of communication. Selimović has rightly pointed out that [w]hen juxtaposed with the majority of mainstream cinematic depictions of autistic subjectivities, the autistic character in Carri’s fictitious world, in fact, appears moderately participatory and socially transgressive: she is an autistic ethnographer who draws or screams her impressions and observations. (2015, 521)

Nati screams her protest but she is, at the same time, screaming her needs. What her protest asserts is that she needs to be heard, listened to, seen, spoken to and not exposed to violence and brutality. Thus, there arises an ethical tension between considering Nati’s behaviours as, on the



one hand, symptoms of autism combined with abusive neglect and, on the other, as non-verbal forms of communication or self-expression. This tension is similar to that of a cry for help or distress signal, actions which have both negative and positive connotations—negative in that they are a sign that something is seriously wrong, but positive in that they enable the possibility of intervention. The film, of course, is never simply Nati’s testimony. It is, at the same time, an intervention by the director; it is Carri’s representation, in the sense of speaking for, or on behalf of, the traumatised child. Furthermore, one might assume that this speaking-for is ultimately connected to Carri’s own childhood experience of trauma, vicariously experiencing the violence done to her parents and the inability, due to her young age, to verbalise or process that trauma. By narrativising Nati’s traumatic experiences (thus serving the same function as verbalising them, in purpose if not in form), her three key behaviours—symptoms of both her autistic condition and of the violence and emotional neglect she experiences—can be viewed as forms of self-­ expression or testimony, and the film itself as a type of witnessing. The seeming incongruence of non-verbal symptoms comprising a form of testimony stems from the somewhat paradoxical nature of testimony itself, which Karen Lury defines as the way in which “the unspeakable […] is vocalized” (2010, 124).3 Nati’s behaviours are signs of distress, signs that something has gone wrong somewhere along the course of her early development. As forms of expression, her symptoms can be reinterpreted as cries for help or distress signals, and as such they are signs of Nati’s developing subjectivity or agency which, at the same time, manifest her strong moral sensitivity. The film transforms this witnessing into an intersubjective process, facilitated by Carri, the filmmaker, between the child on screen and the spectator: the one testifying and the one(s) witnessing the testimony. The ethical tension that arises from this process, therefore, becomes productive rather than contradictory. The child’s perception is emphasised in the film by the frequent tight framing of Nati’s face, drawing the spectator’s attention to her wordless facial expressions and, in particular, to her intense gaze. As Carolina Rocha and Georgia Seminet have noted, “[w]hen filmmakers ‘reverse the gaze’, 3  Lury’s statement here is in reference to Agamben’s politics of witnessing. In Agamben’s words, “testimony is the disjunction between two impossibilities of bearing witness; it means that language, in order to bear witness, must give way to a non-language in order to show the impossibility of bearing witness” (1999, 39).



and children become the locus of ‘looking’, the symbolism becomes more relational, and rather than have children as the object of the gaze, their ‘looking’ engages the viewer in an intersubjective process” (2014, xiii). Nati’s muteness and propensity to scream might also be read as a figurative contestation of the old dictum that children should be seen and not heard; thus, Nati becomes, as Selimović has noted, the “catalyst for exposing and weakening the isolating restrictions that keep the other characters in social chains” (2015, 521). Nati’s three main actions—muteness and screaming, taking off her clothes and drawing—move beyond being symptoms to become the very means of her self-expression, as Alejandra Josiowicz has noted: Nati reacts with a set of symptoms that turn her into a visionary […]. She is the subject of a hallucinatory, nonfigurative, animated discourse. She is the aesthetic creator of a vision representing that which cannot be represented: the furious, painful perception of an abused little girl. (2014, 41)

Nati’s symptoms might be described as non-verbal forms of discourse: one is vocal (but not linguistic), one is haptic and the other is visual, but they can all be seen in some way as narrative in function, since narrative serves to extract meaning from (or to impose meaning upon) experience and to enable participation in collective processes of meaning-making. Lury has argued that “children tend to articulate their experience of war in ways other than speech” (2010, 125). Following Agamben, she recalls that the core of testimony is that “language, in order to bear witness, must give way to non-language, in order to show the impossibility of bearing witness” (Agamben 1999, 39). According to Lury, “Agamben suggests that what the traumatized child demonstrates is the potential for a form of communication that is not corrupted by the constraints and compromises of language, a non-language that […] ‘resounds’” (2010, 124). Nati bears testimony to the violence she is exposed to, not with words, but by means of the three sets of symptoms outlined previously. Of these, drawing is that which most displays her attempts at sovereignty, her developing agency or “coming to voice”. This is at least reminiscent of Carri’s own experience and her cinematic project in Los rubios: she establishes her own voice and agency through her film. Lury notes the way in which



the materiality of bodily experience […] reveals how the presence of the child allows for a sensual impression and response that takes the viewer beyond meaningful/meaningless silence to a more visceral or haptic confrontation with the violence of the war-time environment. (2010, 125)

La rabia’s resemblance to a war film, therefore, has less to do with the socio-political backdrop that characterises classical war films, and more to do with a bodily confrontation with violence. Whilst this can be read in a wider context in relation to Carri’s own life experiences, in La rabia she shows the dynamics of traumatic experience and its transmission in a highly visceral way, thus elucidating these processes for the spectator.

From Representation to Witnessing: Carri’s Artistic and Ethical Interventions In both Los rubios and La rabia, animated sequences are used to represent the child’s imagination in response to traumatic events. In Los rubios, these comprise a straightforward representation of the director’s childhood imagination using plastic toy figures and stop-motion animation. It is important to note, however, that in La rabia, there is a strong distinction between the animated sequences that punctuate the film narrative and Nati’s own drawings and sketches. While both are part of the fictional film narrative, and are thus inventions of the director, they are distinct in both form and function. The latter are the crude and childish drawings of a young girl, comprising little more than figurative outlines, while the former are artistically sophisticated animations whose relation to the diegesis is notably ambiguous. Carri has stated that, as far as she is concerned, the animations are purely the imagination and fantasies of the child, and not narrative interventions (Pinto Veas 2008). However, I suggest that the animated sequences are more than representations of the child’s imagination: the loud, electric guitar music that accompanies them is the only music—in fact, it is the only extra-diegetic sound at all—on the film’s soundtrack, which is strongly suggestive of an interruption, a distinct narrative intervention by the director. This indicates the director speaking on behalf of—representing—the voiceless child. This type of symbolic representation is the only one possible considering Nati’s inability to speak, her only way of entering into the symbolic order, into which she is incorporated by the director. By assigning agency to Nati by means of the animated sequences that suspend the film narrative, Carri makes a narrative



intervention of testimony on behalf of the traumatised child. Furthermore, one might assume that this speaking-for is ultimately connected to Carri’s own childhood experience of trauma, vicariously experiencing the violence done to her parents, and the inability, due to her age limitation, to verbalise or process that trauma. Considered in these terms, and in light of her overall project to establish her own voice as a filmmaker beginning with Los rubios, Carri’s project in La rabia is essentially equivalent to that of Los rubios, that is, to give voice and witness to the traumatised child who has no agency or means to speak other than through her own artistic ability. In this way, her work is comparable to that of other contemporary Argentine women filmmakers, such as Lucrecia Martel, Lucía Puenzo and Julia Solomonoff, whose films focus on the child and other identities that have traditionally been marginalised, invisible or voiceless on the basis of age, race or gender.

References Agamben, Giorgio. Remnants of Auschwitz. New York: Zone Books, 1999. Aguilar, Gonzalo. New Argentine Film: Other Worlds. New  York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Andermann, Jens. New Argentine Cinema. London/New York: I. B. Tauris, 2012. Blejmar, Jordana. Playful Memories: The Autofictional Turn in Post-Dictatorship Argentina. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Cartwright, Lisa. Moral Spectatorship: Technologies of Voice and Affect in Postwar Representations of the Child. Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2008. Feitlowitz, Marguerite. A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Gerhardt, Sue. Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain. Hove/ New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2004. Hirsch, Marianne. Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997. Josiowicz, Alejandra. “Scribbles from a Little Girl: Violence and the Politics of Girlhood in Albertina Carri’s Géminis and La rabia.” In Screening Minors in Latin American Cinema, edited by Carolina Rocha and Georgia Seminet, 35–50. Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2014. Kohan, Martin. “Una crítica en general y una película en particular.” Punto de vista 80 (2004): 47–48. Levey, Cara. Fragile Memory, Shifting Impunity: Commemoration and Contestation in Post-Dictatorship Argentina and Uruguay. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2016.



Lingenti, Alejandro. “Cuatreros, una película inclasificable con el sello de Albertina Carri.” La Nación, March 7, 2017.­u na-­p elicula-­i nclasificable-­c on-­e l-­s ello-­d e-­a lbertina-­c arri-­ nid1982318/ (accessed September 29, 2021). Lury, Karen. The Child in Film: Tears, Fears and Fairy Tales. London/New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010. Page, Joanna. Crisis and Capitalism in Contemporary Argentine Cinema. Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2009. Pinto Veas, Iván. “Entrevista a Albertina Carri a propósito de La rabia.” laFuga 8, 2008.­a-­albertina-­carri/5 (accessed October 12, 2021) Rocha, Carolina and Georgia Seminet, eds. Screening Minors in Latin American Cinema. Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2014. Sarlo, Beatriz. Tiempo pasado. Cultura de la memoria y giro subjetivo: una discusión. Buenos Aires: Siglo Veintiuno, 2005. Selimović, Inela. “The Social Spaces in Mutation: Sex, Violence and Autism in Albertina Carri’s La rabia (2008).” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 24, no. 4 (2015): 517–533. Stein, Edith. Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities. Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 2000. Tompkins, Cynthia Margarita. “Cuestiones metodológicas resultantes del montaje.” Época II, no. 36 (2012): 189–210.


Are You Listening? Voices and Images in Gabriela David’s Taxi, un encuentro (2001) and Lucía Puenzo’s El niño pez (2009) Ana Forcinito

During the past several decades, the voice has taken centre stage in Argentine cinema directed by women.1 This does not mean that, before 1995, the voice did not have a central role in the revision and transformation of a patriarchal film language and the articulation of gender concerns. Before the international attention gained by María Luisa Bemberg in the 1980s, Vlasta Lah, with her film Las furias/The Furies (1960), and Eva Landeck, with Gente en Buenos Aires/People in Buenos Aires (1974) and Ese loco amor loco/Crazy Love (1979), examined women’s silence and 1  A previous version of this chapter was published in my book Óyeme con los ojos: cine, mujeres, visiones y voces (2018), translated into English as Hear Me with Your Eyes: Women, Visions, and Voices in Argentine Cinema (2022).

A. Forcinito (*) University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




voice within patriarchal and authoritarian repression in both the domestic and public spheres, an issue later explored by Bemberg. In the 1980s and 1990s, anchored by second-wave feminist perspectives on the domestic sphere, intimate relations and the position of women as objects of male desire and domination, Bemberg extensively examined women’s voices and their struggles within patriarchal sonorous spaces. Her films both explore the entrapment of the voice in bodies dominated by masculine rules and attempt to liberate the sound of women’s voices from such confinement. One of the best examples of such liberation is Yo la peor de todas/I, the Worst of All (1990), a film on the life of Mexican nun and poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and the surveillance of the Catholic Church, where the transcendence of the desynchronisation of the feminist voice— its detachment from the body—takes place as a voice-over. In this film, Sor Juana’s transcendent voice is freed from patriarchal subjugation precisely through its detachment from the corporeal body and through the desynchronisation of sound and body. As Kaja Silverman (1988) argues in The Acoustic Mirror, women have usually been portrayed with their voices connected to their bodies, and this synchronisation underscores their entrapment to a physical body. In contrast, the desynchronisation of the voice has often been associated with patriarchal and authoritative figures. For Silverman, women’s voices are represented as anchored in the body, while the male voice is often associated with transcendent voice-overs found in documentaries. This transcendence assigns authority to the voice uncoupled from the body and tied to the logos, narrative authority and even reason, as articulated in paternal language. In her film about Sor Juana, however, Bemberg represents a feminist desynchronisation, emphasising Sor Juana’s intellectual voice and the transcendence of her poetic voice, which survives even after her death. In contrast, one characteristic of the New Argentine Cinema after 1995 is precisely its exploration of women’s voices as embodied voices, without the desynchronisation of voice and body, and their liberation from heteronormative patriarchal oppression. This means that the liberation of acoustic vigilance is achieved by emphasising not the transcendence of the voice but its corporeal anchorage. In addition, this embodiment involves an approach to the voice that places aurality at the centre of the process of filmmaking. “El sonido […] atraviesa el cuerpo [Sound passes through the



body]”, says Lucrecia Martel (2009), referring to the waves and the vibration transmitted as the bodily experience of sound. In the embodiment of the sonic experience (almost haptic), voices are also central, be it in an articulate form or through more unintelligible expressions. The experience of this aurality emerges through whispers, echoes, screams, sudden moments of silence or the sound of agitated breathing, all of them anchored in the body. This aurality can also be understood as a “sonorous envelope”, a concept that Mary Ann Doane uses to refer to the maternal voice as “the first model of auditory pleasure” (1980, 44). Because of Martel’s acoustic innovations in cinema, the use of sound in her films has been extensively studied (Aguilar 2006; Amado 2007; Forcinito 2018; Kratje 2019). However, several important women directors in Argentina today make use of the embodied voice to explore, and denounce, the different shapes that the silencing of women take within the vigilantly patriarchal sonic realm, thereby revealing the subversive voices that women use to escape it. In this chapter, I explore the embodiment of the voice in Gabriela David’s Taxi, un encuentro/Taxi, An Encounter (2001) and Lucía Puenzo’s El niño pez/The Fish Child (2009) to examine the relationship between women’s voices and the wounds caused by gender-based violence. In other words, this chapter is concerned with the relationship between voice and trauma.2 I do not understand the voice only as the narrative voice used to narrate a traumatic experience or to reconstruct its meaning but also as aurality and sound. I understand the body as a space of resonance connected with the space around it—in particular, in its closeness to another body. The body as a sonorous space not only narrates but also expresses wounds, healings and sounds. In the films analysed in this chapter, the traumatic event is articulated by both a narrative voice 2  It could be argued that the New Argentine Cinema, which first kicked off with Historias breves (1996), starts with a portrayal of invisible and unliveable forms of gender-based violence, marked by a string of insults, threats and blows and ending with gunshots. I am referring here to Lucrecia Martel and her short Rey muerto/Dead King (1996). In the last scenes of the short, we see the end of the violent relationship, when a woman responds to her husband’s humiliations and coercions with a gunshot before fleeing with her children. Albertina Carri’s animated short Barbie también puede eStar triste/Barbie Can Also Be Sad (2001) also explicitly stages abuse and sexual violence. Gender-based violence has become a recurrent theme in the films directed by Argentine women filmmakers after 1995. Recently, with Ni una menos and the feminist tide, more attention is paid to how gender-based violence is depicted.



and vocality. While the narrative voice tells the story of survival and attempts to articulate the traumatic event with words, bodily sensations, affect and even thoughts related to the violent experience, vocality resonates and expresses the trauma that is anchored in the body. Taxi, un encuentro and El niño pez take traumatic events related to gender-based violence as their points of departure and place the absence of narrative at the centre of their diegesis. This absence reveals the impossibility of reconstructing the event, while, at the same time, it triggers the desire to tell such a story, both through a narrative voice and the modulations of the voice. Whereas the narrative articulates the story with words, the aurality of the voice reveals the body—affect, desires, pains, stillness, fears—as the materiality of sound, which expresses a corporeal language beyond words. These films explore the voice that is revealed in whispers, heavy breathing, screams and even in silence as if the voice cannot express the wounds of the body in a narrative or as if narratives about gender-­ based violence cannot reveal the bodily sensations expressed by the sound of the voice. Only through the embodiment of the voice can the body articulate violence, pain and trauma, and tell the story of a wound. Through their attempts to articulate the inaccessible meaning of the traumatic event, these films uncover both its unrepresentable abyss and the failure of its narration. While survival is affirmed at the very core of traumatic narratives, as Cathy Caruth has argued in her now-classic work on trauma studies, narration cannot fully express the shock and the not-­ knowing involved in traumatic experiences nor can it express the wound, the fear, the paralysis and the trembling experienced by the body (1996, 6). Thus, the voices of women survivors in these films invite a very particular type of listening, one that focuses on both the sound and the meaning of the wound (and, as such, the story itself). The listener also plays a crucial part in the sonorous space because the narrative and the voice in both films are addressed to another character who is listening. For Mladen Dolar, the space-in-between might be understood as the space that “ties the subject and the Other together, without belonging to either” (2006, 103). Both films explore the embodiment of the voice in a body touched by violence and in a body-to-body experience within the sonorous space created by a voice. In both scenarios, the sonorous space is an intimate setting. In Taxi, un encuentro, the survivor tells her story to a stranger who has saved her life; in El niño pez, the survivor addresses her lover, who plays an important role in her process of survival. To know the reality or the truth of the traumatic event, as Caruth suggests, “cannot be linked



only to what is known, but also to what remains unknown in our very actions and our language” (1996, 4). In both films, the voice of the wounded (as sound and as narrative) addresses the listener, and the body of the listener, with an interpellation to be heard.

Taxi, un encuentro: Moans, Cries and Wounds In Taxi, un encuentro, a traumatic event is at the centre of what cannot yet be narrated: the survival of the protagonist, Laura (Josefina Viton), after she flees the scene of a family crime. The film focuses on the complex process of witnessing, and it affirms the centrality of the voice in the reconstruction of a narrative that is visually presented as blurry and confusing. Laura is the sole survivor of a femicide: her father kills her mother and, before committing suicide, shoots her, his own daughter. Laura is wounded, yet she manages to escape and get into a taxi. She is visibly traumatised and, in the very moment of her survival, cannot express in words what has happened. She can speak only in moans, cries and screams. It is almost as if the camera were looking for clues about the possible crime. The film, which opens with an establishing shot of a street corner in Buenos Aires, insists on returning to that corner where she gets into the taxi and meets Esteban (Diego Peretti), the taxi driver. The sound of this encounter is a voice that expresses her pain, with moans and very few sentences. Only towards the end of the film does she provide a brief narration of her own recollection of the crime. Laura’s narration reconstructs what the camera is not able to capture from the point of view of the narrator (the taxi driver). For that reason, the viewer does not know about the details of the crime until later. Her narration also reconstructs the puzzle for Esteban, who attempts to understand her story but cannot piece it together. There are two recurring scenes in the film: that of the street corner (and, here, the sound of a triple gunshot seems to anchor the traumatic event) and that of a middle shot of Esteban, whose voice anchors the reconstruction of the night of the crime. Medium shots of Esteban as a narrator recurrently interrupt the moving images that represent what he remembers about that night. Esteban is not only a witness to Laura’s survival; he actively helps her and, at the end, tells her the story of what he saw and experienced that night. His voice underlines the absence of Laura’s voice, although we can hear the rhythm of her emotional wounds and physical pain. When Esteban tells the story, he looks at the camera,



thus making the viewers believe that he is addressing them. However, towards the end of the film, it becomes clear that he is talking to Laura instead and that the entire film is a flashback. The camera, positioned from her perspective, focuses on Esteban, as his narrative voice pieces together his version of what happened that night. However, his narrative cannot reconstruct the whole story, only its borders: from Laura’s survival when she gets into the taxi to the moment when he leaves her near a hospital and calls an ambulance so that she can receive the proper medical care, which he cannot provide. Only after hearing his reconstruction of that night does Laura describe the crime she witnessed: Ahí lo vi a mi papá, mirando un revólver que no sé de dónde sacó, sosteniéndolo entre sus manos. Yo lo llamé. Pero creo que no me escuchó. Levantó el arma y nos miró con miedo. Mi mamá cayó sobre mí y yo grité. Entonces él me disparó y enseguida lo vi llevarse el revólver a la boca. Fue un ruido, como si toda la casa estallara. [There I saw my dad, looking at a gun I don’t know where he took from, holding it in his hands. I called him, but I think he didn’t hear me. He lifted the gun and looked at us in fear. Mom leaped on top of me and I shouted. He shot me and I saw him bring the gun to his mouth. There was a noise, as if the whole house was exploding.]

At that point, Esteban (and the spectator) can make sense of the sound of the gunshots heard at the beginning: Laura describes them by recalling the sounds. What starts as a narrative that explains what Laura saw that night ends with the sound of a blast. The audio-visual components in the opening of the film foreshadow the rest. Focusing on the street corner where the encounter takes place, a fixed camera records different moments of day and night. Suddenly, three gunshots are heard. Then, a taxi pulls up and a still-unknown passenger climbs into it. The male protagonist, in a medium shot, kicks off the narration: “¿Querés que te cuente lo que pasó esa noche? [Do you want me to tell you what happened that night?]” The story starts with Esteban stealing a taxi, followed by picking up passengers and talking to them. After hearing gunshots, Esteban drives away from the area but gets closer again and drives by the street corner featured in the establishing shot. There, a wounded Laura climbs into the taxi. Her breathing is halted and agitated, and she asks Esteban to go around the block and drive pass the door of her house, from where the sound of the gunshots came.



Believing she was shot during a robbery, Esteban takes her to his house to heal her wound. Laura does not seem to get any better, so he decides to leave her on the street and call an ambulance. Next morning, Esteban’s father reads in the newspaper about the incident in which Laura was involved. The news describes the mother’s murder, the father’s suicide and the daughter’s survival. As the narrative voice, Esteban seeks to reconstruct the different pieces and put them in order so that they can make sense. Listening to his narration, it is possible to think about Adriana Cavarero’s “narratable self” and the role of biographical narrations in autobiographical accounts.3 However, the narration is interrupted by something that exceeds language: the sounds of a traumatic experience, expressed both by the gunshots and by Laura’s breathless sobs and cries of pain. At this point, Laura’s wounded body is unable to speak in words. However, the absence of an articulated voice does not mean the absence of a voice as a plea to be heard. With her crying and moaning, her voice is always present, until she faints. The sound of her voice not only points to what she cannot yet articulate but also to what cannot be represented in the attempt to reorganise and narrate the events of that night. This excess of language is precisely what expresses her devastating emotions and her body in pain, thereby revealing the incomprehensibility that, for Caruth (1996, 19), is at the centre of representations of traumatic events. The visual aspects of the film also convey an important component of trauma, its recurrence. The establishing shot, taken from a static frame, depicts the corner where Laura would later stop the taxi, showing the scenario during the day and at night. The image of the same corner, interrupted by a black screen with credits, makes us return repeatedly to the location of the traumatic event. During the credits, the sound of three gunshots followed by an ambulance siren are heard, after which the same corner is shown, but this time a person runs towards the corner and then stops a taxi. Throughout the film, different shots of the corner point to an insistent return. In one of those returns, the camera captures Laura in a 3  In Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood, Cavarero refers to the “narratable self” and the role that others play in recounting our own story: “Every human being, without even wanting to know it is aware of being a narratable self—immersed in the spontaneous autonarration of memory” (2000, 33). Autobiographical memory is incomplete, Cavarero argues, and her example is precisely the moment of our birth (2000, 39), which needs to be narrated by others. Therefore, the recounting of others reveals essential parts of our story, which is why Cavarero privileges biography over autobiography to respond to the question “Who am I?”



medium shot, making it possible to finally identify the face we were previously unable to recognise in shots taken from a distance. We see her wait at the corner, hail the taxi and, once inside, cry as they drive past her house. This insistence of the camera, returning to the same corner, speaks to the insistent return of the traumatic event, as explained by Caruth (1996, 4). While the return can take place, for example, in forms of unconscious repetitions and flashbacks, in this film, it returns the viewer to the scene of the crime and to the precise place of the survival. Through these images, the viewer might experience the return to the same scenario both as an unconscious form of recollection, which also involves an “incompletion in knowing” (Caruth 1996, 5), and as the expression of an unrepresentable experience. This emphasis on the visual and auditory experience also explains how, after she recovers, Laura manages to return to Esteban’s house using her memory of what she saw and heard through the taxi window the night of the crime. She recalls the image of a highway and the sound of the train, which guide her to his house. Once there, we hear her voice as a different voice because the desperation and the extreme pain of the moment of the crime seem to have disappeared. When she asks Esteban what happened that night, the film returns to their encounter. This time, however, the camera captures a medium shot of Laura while blurring the image of the taxi driver. A cut to the present positions Laura and Esteban within the same frame as he repeats the same words he said at the beginning: “Uno tiene que aprender a sobrevivir, a adaptarse a la vida [You’ve got to learn to survive, to adapt to life]”. Subsequently, Laura tells her story. However, before starting, she says: “Acá estoy, respirando [Here I am, breathing]”. These words, and not only her breathing, point to her being still alive and signal the link between life and the aurality of the voice. Her words point to her own breathing as the evidence of her survival, as well as of her painful experience. As Cavarero has argued, “[w]hen the human voice vibrates, there is someone in flesh and bone who emits it” (2005, 4). If, when Laura was wounded and in shock, the audience heard her breathing heavily, now, after her recovery, we hear her referring to her own survival through the act of breathing. Only then do we hear her narration. While Esteban’s narrative attempts to piece together the events of that night, Laura’s narrative focuses on both the events and her emotions. She mentions her parents’ constant fights and recounts the day of their final argument. She refers to debts when she talks about their arguments. Released in 2001, the film is contemporaneous with the financial crisis



that hit Argentina and culminated in the protests of December 2001. The financial crisis, central in her narrative, also places gender-based violence in the context of the impotence generated by masculine neoliberal identities, a crisis in the model that dominated Argentina in the 1990s, thereby adding a gendered perspective to the representation of the time of the film’s production and release. The figure of the father plays a crucial role in her narrative as the failure of this patriarchal model (and its promises) explodes with a femicide. Laura’s crying and the trembling of her voice are linked to the image of her father. She is shocked when recalls him pointing a gun at her mother (“Mi papá [my dad]”, she repeats while crying). At that point, she describes the crime as a noise and an explosion. Gender-based violence is at the centre of her account: her father aims at her mother and fires and then repeats the action with Laura before lifting the gun to his mouth. Only when she relates the traumatic events does her voice make visible the patriarchal violence to which she was exposed, and the shock— the disillusion, the pain—of not completely understanding how her parents’ fights escalated to murder and suicide. Then, she narrates her survival to Esteban: “me arrastré y salí [I crawled and got out]”. Laura’s voice is, at first, a voice of sounds, and meaning is not articulated until the final sequences of the film, when she becomes the narrative voice in dialogue with Esteban. Although these initial sounds are not articulated as language, they convey her pain and anguish. Her weeping and shouts are part of what Mladen Dolar understands, following Lacan, as pre-symbolic sounds, which carry meaning as gesture and which wait to be heard or understood (2006, 26–27). By recounting what she saw, Laura becomes the narrator of what the newspaper labels a “tragedia familiar [family tragedy]”. The three gunshots of the opening credits point to that other setting of survival—Laura’s house. The film accompanies— one might almost say seeks—the emergence of Laura’s narrative voice. Only when she manages to speak can the audience reconstruct the event and the emotions that surround it. Her voice gives existence not only to the “tragedia familar” but also to the resonance of the trauma involved in an experience that is so overwhelming that it resists comprehension, recollection and even representation. Laura’s chronological, articulated narrative is a central piece of the film, but her narrative voice is only able to express one component of her experience. The reality of her wounds is not necessarily linked to what she consciously remembers but to her corporeal, unconscious memory, also made of sounds, like her heavy breathing or her



moaning. Those sounds reveal the embodiment of both her voice and her trauma and express what a narrative of the facts of the event cannot. Her voice does not take place in a vacuum, it involves listening to the address of another person. This address takes place in the taxi and in Esteban’s house and, more specifically, in the encounter between a young woman, who is a survivor, and a marginalised man. The encounter, which is also at the centre of Caruth’s reflections on the narration of trauma, points to the existence of a listener and to the centrality of the voice. Her voice is a plea, which, according to Caruth, “is asking to be seen and heard” and might be considered the voice that “constitutes the new mode of reading and of listening that both the language of trauma, and the silence of its mute repetition of suffering, profoundly and imperatively demand” (1996, 9). In the sonorous space built by Esteban and Laura, Laura reveals the fragility of her own body and the vulnerability of her narration. The encounter as a sonorous space, located in the taxi and in Esteban’s house, is a space in which the voice of her body resonates as a plea for a listener and an action while wounded. Now, after her recovery, when she returns to his house, she asks Esteban to tell her the story of her survival: “Vine desde allá, para que me cuentes [I’ve come from far away, so that you can tell me]”. Yet, the narrative that his voice articulates—or the one that her voice articulates later—does not imply that the sonorous component of the voice (both before and after the narration) is only an “insignificant leftover”. As Cavarero has argued, to speak to one another is to communicate oneself to others in a plurality of voices. In other words, the act of speaking is relational: what it communicates first and foremost is, beyond the specific content that the words communicate, the acoustic, empirical, material relationality of singular voices. (2005, 13)

The film explores the embodiment of the voice, which it conceives both as the non-articulated sounds that point to the interruption of language and to the expression and revelation of pain and trauma and as the articulated language that reconstructs Laura’s story. These voices, their sounds and their meanings, take place in a sonorous space created in between the survivor and the listener of the address. In this way, the film also underscores that the embodiment of the voice does not only occur within one’s body but also in an aural and bodily relationality.



El niño pez: Whispers, Songs and Secrets Lucía Puenzo’s El niño pez, based on an eponymous novel by the director, delves into family secrets and incest, revealing the gender-based violence concealed in intimate spaces and its persisting effects on the lives of those who experience it. At the centre of this film is the story of the survival of childhood trauma and sexual abuse, as well as the question of whether a secret will be revealed. This secret revolves around the legend of the Fish Child, which evokes the trauma that the protagonist, Ailín “la Guayi” (Mariela Vitale), experienced in her native Paraguay. The legend refers to a child who lives in the depths of Lake Ypoá and guides those who drown to the bottom. The Fish Child alludes to la Guayi’s own pregnancy at 13, after her father (a telenovela star) raped her and left la Guayi on her own in a town in Paraguay. She gives birth to the baby but, desperate and ashamed, drowns it in the lake. This traumatic story is what remains unsaid for most of the film, disguised as a legend that imagines the baby still alive at the bottom of the lake. Only at the end of the film can la Guayi find the words to tell her story. El niño pez begins in an affluent suburb in Buenos Aires, where Lala (Inés Efrón), a teenager growing up in an upper-middle-class family, falls in love with la Guayi, a domestic worker who arrived at a very young age from Paraguay. The film explores this loving relationship through different sequences, as one of the few spaces in which love and sexual desire seem untouched by patriarchal and heterosexist violence. Together, la Guayi and Lala plan their escape to Paraguay, near the Lake Ypoá. We see them holding each other while taking a bath, whispering about their future and drawing their dream house on the lake with their fingers on the foggy glass. In this dreamworld that they have built together, they seek refuge from their father figures and their patriarchal violence, which, in its domestic expression, is conveyed by sexual abuse and harassment. The film revolves around the revelation of secrets, especially the hidden violence surrounding them, hidden in a web of sexual violence and abusive heteronormative masculinity. One night, Lala finds her father having sex with la Guayi. Lala confronts her, but she is unable to understand the depth of la Guayi’s history and the marginalisation, harassment and abuse she experiences as both an immigrant and a woman. She is treated as a sexual object everywhere she goes and, later, accused of a crime she did not commit. That same night, Lala searches for sleeping pills and adds them to a glass of milk. When she is about to start drinking, her father



joins her and asks her to prepare another glass of milk for him. The father switches the glasses and drinks the one with the pills. The following day, he is found dead. When Lala wakes up, she leaves the house and goes to Paraguay to find out more about la Guayi. While waiting for la Guayi in Ypoá, she hears on the news that la Guayi has been accused of killing Lala’s father. Lala also meets la Guayi’s father and learns about the sexual abuse her friend endured from him. La Guayi is sent to a juvenile detention centre, where the violence she already experienced is multiplied by the criminal activities of the police, who use some of the minors for forced prostitution. Even though my discussion of the film highlights all the different manifestations of patriarchal violence, the film underscores the silence that surrounds this violence. As viewers, we gather bits and pieces of information through images that are often presented as fragments. The story portrays a violent world from which it seems impossible to escape. Notably, in Puenzo’s novel, the narrator is Serafín, the dog. However, the film does not present the cohesiveness of the book’s narrative and relies on visual images to narrate the story. In this context, the voices of Lala and la Guayi are even more central. The aurality of their voices creates an intimate sonorous space that cannot dismantle the violence but at least allows its narrative representation. Together, they express their love, desires and dreams, building a shared sonorous space with the sounds of their kisses, laughter, breathing, moaning and soft voices. In this sonorous space, they dream about escaping to a house on the lake and recall time after time the legend of the Fish Child. This sonorous space is also created by their address to, understood here as a plea for, a listener. La Guayi tells the story of her dreams and the worlds that inhabit the bottom of the lake: El mundo entero está en el fondo del lago. El cielo es la superficie. Pero no se puede sacar la cabeza para respirar. Cuando no queda nadie, él viene a buscarme. Abre las rejas de la ventana como si fueran algas. Entra nadando. Me agarra de la mano y me lleva con él. [The whole world is at the bottom of the lake. The sky is the surface. But you cannot take your head out to breath. When everyone’s gone, he comes looking for me. He opens the windows as if they were seaweed. He swims in, grabs my hand and takes me with him.]

During their intimate moments, la Guayi’s whispers mark not only the intimacy of her sexual desire but also their body-to-body relationship that,



because it often takes place in the water (the bathtub in Lala’s house is reminiscent of the lake), evokes (and invokes) both the maternal body and bodies in contact outside—or, at least, in the margins—of the patriarchal norms and their violent figures. As a shelter from the traumatic resonance of patriarchal violence, this “sonorous envelope” is reminiscent of the maternal body as the resonance of “the first model of auditory pleasure” (Doane 1980, 44). The embodiment of the voice in this body-to-body rapport stresses the presence of the maternal as ghostly. La Guayi speaks in whispers about the house they will build and draws with her fingers the shape of the house and the location of the window. We do not know it yet, but these whispers and the calmness of the water are deeply rooted in her own maternal body. Her voice and the sounds her voice evokes promise a union with that which has been lost of the maternal bond.4 However, the maternal voice, as Doane argues, is interrupted by the intervention of the paternal voice and his desire (1980, 45). La Guayi’s voice, outside the sonorous space she creates with Lala, is captured by patriarchal interpretations. During a family dinner, Lala’s father asks la Guayi to sing after she reveals that her dream is to become a singer and that she only wishes to sing in Guaraní. The father, whose attraction for la Guayi is more than apparent, articulates an unambiguous colonial statement when he says: “Así los hechizaron a los españoles las guaranies, cantándoles [This is the way Guaraní women cast spells on the Spanish, by singing]”. The sexual tension of the scene is expressed in a series of shots and reverse shots, moving between the father, la Guayi and Lala. Lala’s brother is also present, although he does not participate, except for the fact that he is noticeably uncomfortable and excluded from the situation. At this point, the viewers are aware that la Guayi is also dealing with the harassment and advances of Lala’s father. Gender-based violence becomes visible precisely in that tension: it is as if nothing exists outside and, at the same time, it seems invisible as violence because it is normalised and hidden. Perceived as a spell or enchantment by the sexist and colonial interpretation of the father, la Guayi’s voice evokes the dangerous voice of the 4  Language is central to the film because the two protagonists belong to different linguistic communities: Lala speaks Spanish and la Guayi, who is bilingual, speaks Spanish and Guaraní. We hear la Guayi sing in Guaraní, speak in Guaraní to other domestic workers and even translate Guaraní words into Spanish for Lala. There is a presence of translation that bears the mark of the maternal and the paternal tongue, with the latter being associated with the figure of the colonisers (as Lala’s father comment about la Guayi’s singing in Guaraní clearly reveals). For a discussion on the linguistic communities in this film, see Cisneros (2013).



sirens and represent a dangerous (and subversive) femininity. The singing of the sirens is associated with seduction that leads to death and destruction. Cavarero points to another aspect of the siren’s voice that is relevant in this analysis, which is the different destiny that is assigned to the Homeric figures of the Muses and the sirens. While the former lose their singing voice “to inspire verses to poets, who strictly speaking no longer sing,” the sirens tend “to lose speech and to become pure voice” (2005, 106). This erasure of narrative and meaning also resonates with the fascination of Lala’s father with la Guayi’s voice, who sings in Guaraní and is perceived only as pure voice (a materiality that extends to her body and her beauty but deprives her of the ability to tell her story in a meaningful way). In sharp contrast, we have heard la Guayi ask Lala to repeat a phrase in Guaraní and translate from Spanish and then listen to Lala speaking the two languages. Both the narrative voice and what Cavarero calls “pure voice” are part of the sonorous space between Lala and la Guayi, a space that la Guayi herself refers to in haptic terms—in similar terms to Doane’s “sonorous envelope”—as a warmth that keeps her from feeling the cold she previously felt at the bottom of the lake when she was 14. While the sonic space of the family is dominated by Lala’s father up to the point of his death, the film concurrently creates a different aural dimension through the voices of the two young women. Their voices, and the expressions of their desire to run away and live in a house on the lake, anchor the possibility of survival.5 These voices, and their sonorous embrace, which is shared with the spectator, who overhears the whispered conversations and encounters between la Guayi and Lala, create a warm and safe space in which the traumatic event is alluded to many times, and in different ways, through the legend. The legend of the Fish Child, told by la Guayi to Lala, is a recurrent moment in the film and acts both as a point of departure and return, as it is connected to la Guayi’s own story. We first hear Lala ask her “Contame otra vez [Tell me the story again]”, referring to the legend of the Fish Child. Towards the end, her request is different: “A mí no me tenés que mentir. Contame […] lo que sea [You don’t to have to lie to me. Tell me … whatever it is]”. Lala already knows about la Guayi’s sexual abuse by her father: “Tu papá me contó todo [Your father told me everything]”. Therefore, her request is not for the legend but for la Guayi’s wound. La Guayi then tells Lala her painful story, about her pregnancy and the story of the baby she gives birth as a ­teenager. 5

 For an analysis of the oral aspects of the novel, see González (2011).



She tells her about his fragile body, his weakness and difficulty of breathing, and then she narrates the moment when she took her baby swimming into the lake: “Lo llevé a nadar pero volví sin él [I took him for a swim, but I returned without him]”. La Guayi’s voice, as a traumatic resonance, reveals a truth that exceeds the facts she pieces together in her narration. The secret is revealed when she finally acknowledges the pain that the legend diffuses. However, her narrative voice cannot express all the layers of her experience, nor does it imply a happy ending. This is literally expressed when Lala asks “¿Es un final feliz? [Is this a happy ending?]”, and la Guayi answers, “No sé [I don’t know]”. Their voices return to the house and the lake, the sonorous space they built together. This sonorous space created in the in-between of the body-to-body, while not able to change the violence of the past, or even its effects in the present, nonetheless interrupts patriarchal violence with the soothing resonance of the maternal voice.

A Sonorous Path to Narrative Voices These two films explore the embodiment of the voice not only by depicting voices that speak from the body and about the body, or that are synchronised with bodily images, but also by depicting bodily sonorous spaces in the in-between spaces, where bodies and their wounds (physical and emotional) are at the centre of acts of address and listening. In this space, a new narrative is born, not as testimony or denunciation, but as an articulation of the story of survivors of gender-based violence. This story reveals, with sound and meaning, the vulnerability of both body and narrative. The voice makes visible an incomprehensible world and invites us to acknowledge that it is not possible to reconstruct the plot of the past without exposing the emotions, fragmentations, babbling and silences associated with traumatic experiences. Cavarero proposes that vocality reveals a search for something that binds those involved in a conversation about the search for story and the search for a resonance in the “acoustic dialogue that takes its cadences from the very rhythm of the breath” (2005, 201). The space created with sound in the in-between is not only about one voice but “a reciprocal invocation” (2005, 208). In  the films analysed, dialogue involves a reconstructed story and sounds that give voice to the body and its modulations. Focusing on this sonorous space restores aurality and envisions a new way of listening, which involves listening to the



words and their meaning, as well as to the sounds beyond the meaning of the words. Taxi, un encuentro and El niño pez focus on different forms of aural marginalisation, but the root of such erasure is, in both cases, gender-­ based violence. Both films focus on how trauma affects narration and, at the same time, each emphasises the search for narrative. As part of that search, both films end with the survivors taking a bus, indicating that what comes after the ending is unknown. Even with their open endings, the films affirm the possibility of a narrative that can function as a recognition that something incomprehensible has happened. This recognition suggests that it may be possible to find the words to reconstruct, if not the event, then at least the moment of survival. Voice, in this case, expresses the pain of the experience and the calmness of the awakening. In the same decade, films such as La rabia/Anger (2005) by Albertina Carri, El cielito/Little Sky (2004) by María Victoria Menis, Cielo azul cielo negro (2004) by Paula de Luque and Sabrina Farji, and Por tu culpa/It’s Your Fault (2010) by Anahí Berneri focused precisely on how forms of non-articulated aurality, such as moans, heavy breathing and screams, interrupt paternalistic languages. In addition to centring non-articulated sounds and vocality, Taxi, un encuentro and El niño pez explore the desire to tell a traumatic story and, therefore, emphasise the acts of addressing and listening in the space between bodies.6 The embodiment of the voice and its aurality is also a reminder that the description, meanings and interpretations of the events are only one component of the address to another: the sounds, modulations, vibrations and waves transmitted as a bodily experience to another body are also part of the process of narrating and listening. Together, they affirm the irrepresentability of the violence experienced, the excess that cannot be described with words. The body, as Bessel van der Kolk has argued, “keeps the score” (2014), and therefore the voice that attempts to express such experience cannot be solely a devocalised narrative. Both films entail the reconstruction of the story and, simultaneously, the waves and vibration transmitted as embodied voices. In both, the aural dimension of the voice brings the body to the centre: they are narratives about bodily experiences told through the body and its voice.


 For a study of the voice in Argentine cinema directed by women, see Forcinito (2018).



References Aguilar, Gonzalo. Otros mundos: ensayo sobre el nuevo cine argentino. Buenos Aires: Santiago Arcos, 2006. Amado, Ana. La imagen justa: cine argentino y política (1980–2007). Buenos Aires: Colihue, 2007. Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Cavarero, Adriana. Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood. Translated by Paul A. Kottman. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2000. Cavarero, Adriana. For More Than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005. Cisneros, Vitelia. “Guaraní y quechua desde el cine en las propuestas de Lucía Puenzo, El niño pez, y Claudia Llosa, La teta asustada.” Hispania 96, no. 1 (2013): 51–61. Doane, Mary Ann. “The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space.” Yale French Studies 60 (1980): 33–50. Dolar, Mladen. A Voice and Nothing More. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006. Forcinito, Ana. Óyeme con los ojos: cine, mujeres, visiones y voces. La Habana: Fondo Editorial Casa de las Américas, 2018. González, Carina. “Migración y oralidad: la vida animal en la novela El niño pez de Lucía Puenzo.” Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana 74 (2011): 193–214. van der Kolk, Bessel A. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Viking, 2014. Kratje, Julia. Al margen del tiempo: deseos, ritmos y atmósferas en el cine argentino. Buenos Aires: EUDEBA, 2019. Martel, Lucrecia. “El sonido en la escritura y la puesta en escena.” Casa de América. YouTube. October 9, 2009. (accessed June 3, 2022). Silverman, Kaja. The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.


Intersectionality in Gabriela David’s La mosca en la ceniza (2010) Traci Roberts-Camps

Filmmaker Gabriela David (1960–2010) wrote and directed only two feature-length films, Taxi, un encuentro/Taxi, an Encounter (2000) and La mosca en la ceniza/A Fly in the Ashes (2010), along with several short films. This chapter hinges on La mosca en la ceniza, a film that presents two young women from rural Northwestern Argentina at the intersections of gender, adolescence, working-class socio-economic status, rural otherness and cognitive ability.1 The film shows how these identity markers make the protagonists victims of a sex trafficking scheme that takes them to Buenos Aires. By focusing on the intersection of the said markers, the chapter seeks to shed light on two issues: how the diverse facets of the 1  La mosca en la ceniza won the FIPRESCI Award at the Kerala International Film Festival (2009) and David won the award for Best New Director at the Huelva Latin American Film Festival (2009). The film was nominated for the Best Screenplay Silver Condor Award at the Argentine Film Critics Association Awards.

T. Roberts-Camps (*) University of the Pacific, Stockton, CA, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




protagonists’ identities are interrelated and how those who victimise them take advantage of special institutional and societal power structures. According to the director, La mosca en la ceniza is loosely based on a true story of human trafficking that shocked her, because the women were taken to a popular neighbourhood in Buenos Aires where one would not expect a brothel (Huaiquifil Cayumán 2010). In David’s film, Nancy (María Laura Cáccamo) and Pato (Paloma Contreras) are recruited by an older woman who meets with them in their village in Northwestern Argentina and pressures them to quickly decide on whether to move to the capital for supposed cleaning jobs. The girls eventually accept. As soon as they arrive in Buenos Aires, Nancy asks Pato: “¿Vos me vas a ayudar? A hacer bien las cosas, para no equivocarme [Are you going to help me? To do things the right way to not get them wrong]”. Nancy’s question highlights her dependence on her friend and hints at her intellectual disability. As they approach the brothel, Pato sees a street sign that reads “Agüero [omen]” and starts to suspect something is wrong. Then, a panning shows the outside of the building where Pato and Nancy are taken. Although it is not evident from the outside that there is anything sinister about this place, it is reminiscent of nondescript buildings as places of detention and torture in films dealing with the Argentine Dirty War, such as Marco Bechis’s Garage Olimpo/Olympic Garage. (1999). It only becomes clear that they are in a brothel when they are taken inside the building and told that they are expected to have sex with men for cash. This money will go to the procurer and the leader of the sex trafficking ring. Pato is beaten when she revolts as soon as she understands that they have been tricked into prostitution while Nancy quickly conforms. Later in the film, Nancy befriends a client, who is a waiter across the street, and confides in him about their situation, hoping that he will save her. Ultimately, the waiter does nothing and it is not until Nancy escapes and knocks on another man’s door that the police come and arrest all those involved in the scheme. The film ends with Pato remaining in the capital and studying, while Nancy returns to her village. Although seemingly hopeful, the sense of freedom at the end is ambiguous because Nancy is pregnant and her husband burns the letter that Pato sends her rather than showing it to his wife. Furthermore, in Buenos Aires, Pato is constantly looking over her shoulder and living in fear. Critics have identified gender as the defining factor in the situation depicted in La mosca en la ceniza. For example, Marta Boris Tarré sees a patriarchal social system as central to an understanding of human



trafficking, which, as the theorist contends, largely victimises women and adolescents (2015, 102). David’s film is among many directed by contemporary Argentine women filmmakers that focus on gender as a central theme. In an article on New Argentine Cinema, Ana Forcinito stresses: “Quiero sí remarcar que las nuevas cineastas se enfocan en visiones culturales marcadas por el género sexual y exploran mundos domésticos, íntimos y sexuales a través de la experiencia de mujeres, niñas y adolescentes (… [como] la violencia de género desde el abuso doméstico hasta la trata de mujeres y la prostitución forzada) [I want to emphasise that the new women filmmakers focus on cultural approaches defined by gender and explore domestic, intimate and sexual spheres through the experience of women, girls and adolescents (… [such as] gender violence, from domestic abuse to sex trafficking and forced prostitution)]” (2013c, 38). This chapter, however, does not consider gender in isolation but in conjunction with other identity markers.

Intersectionality Feminist film theory has moved from considering gender in isolation to examining film from multiple perspectives; this evolution occurred alongside feminist film theory’s incorporation of postmodern and postcolonial concepts. Gender and feminist theory in general have moved towards a more intersectional approach. As Janet McCabe argues, “[o]rthodox feminist application of psychoanalytic models based on a rigid binary understanding of subject formation increasingly came under scrutiny from within the feminist academy” (2004, 66). McCabe also contends that “[i]nterrogating the historical invisibility and theoretical elision of women of colour took on a new emphasis within the context of a postmodern discourse—questioning the hegemonic nature of dominant narrative and who had the right to speak” (McCabe 2004, 65). Theorist and filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha specifically discusses the inability to speak for the other and the necessity, rather, of listening to the other. This feminist film theory turn encompasses a new perspective of film and gender that includes other intersectional considerations by necessity as it became clear to theorists that a sole focus on a Western, binary conception of gender was too restrictive. McCabe concludes that “[w]hat these theoretical interventions teach us is that we must analyse representation as a site of struggle, and as part of a complex web of competing knowledge” (2004, 87). Intersectional theory expounds on this idea.



According to Aída Hurtado, “[i]ntersectionality is a term used to describe intersections between identities in the modes of their oppression” (2019, 159). She clarifies that “[l]ike many feminist theoretical contributions, intersectionality was birthed from the necessity to address inequality based on sex, gender, sexuality, race, class, and ethnicity”. Relevant for my analysis is the fact that “recently, physical ableness has been added as another possible axis of inequality” (2019, 167). For Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge, intersectionality examines how power relations affect social relations due to intersecting identity factors, such as race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, nationality, ability and age, among other markers (2020, 2). Hill Collins and Bilge further explain what they see as a core insight of the theory: in a given society at a given time, power relations of race, class, and gender, for example, are not discreet and mutually exclusive entities, but rather build on each other and work together; and that, while often invisible, these intersecting power relations affect all aspects of the social world. (2020, 2)

As we will see below, applying such an intersectional approach to La mosca en la ceniza better exposes the extent of the protagonists’ subjugation and the impunity their aggressors enjoy. More precisely, the protagonists’ varying identity factors as young, rural women (one with differing mental abilities) organically mould one another. Those enjoying institutional power, conversely, can do so from numerous standpoints, depending on their own identities within institutional structures (either as able-bodied men, urban citizens or those with economic advantages).

Entrapment In La mosca en la ceniza, there are multiple scenes involving trapped flies that symbolise the young protagonists’ subjugation and entrapment and relate directly to gender and age. Just as the flies are trapped, either in jars or closed rooms, so are Nancy and Pato. They are trapped in a patriarchal system that makes them victims of both predators and a socio-economic context that forces them into prostitution. Pato wants to finish high school and keep studying, but does not have the means, and Nancy belongs to a family with difficulties feeding and supporting all their members. Moreover, their unfamiliarity with urban Buenos Aires and their rural trust in others allow the other characters, male and female, to take



advantage of them. In this way, the other characters play into a system that marginalises and abuses young, poor, rural women.2 In her analysis of La mosca en la ceniza, Ana Corbalán notes that “[l]a película está plagada de simbolismo, ya que desde la primera mise-en scene, hay una mosca que simboliza el ave fénix que resucita de entre las cenizas para representar el binomio muerte-renacimiento y las posibilidades de esperanza que se pueden presentar ante cualquier situación opresiva [The film is plagued with symbolism, since from the first mise-en-scène, there is a fly that symbolises the phoenix that rises from the ashes to represent the binomial death-rebirth and the possibilities of hope that may come out from any oppressive situation]” (2013, 40). The protagonists’ intersecting identities are central to understanding their situation in La mosca en la ceniza. The film opens with a shot of flies drifting on the sky, the sound of birds chirping and insects buzzing in the background. Nancy catches one of the flies, puts the insect in a jar of water and shakes it. The camera shows her looking into the jar from different perspectives. The fly is floating around on the surface. Nancy pushes it down into the water with a stick and, then, with her finger. She smiles to herself as the fly remains under water. The voice of her friend Pato interrupts her. Nancy runs to her, while the camera focuses on the fly under water at the end of the stick. There is a disconcerting pleasure that Nancy takes in drowning the fly in the jar. Although Nancy is five years older than Pato, there are indications that she is cognitively less mature than her friend. She grins as she follows Pato and is unconcerned about her dirty feet and shoes. It is later revealed that Nancy barely finished fourth grade. The opening scene also portrays the character’s surroundings, which are indicative of the socio-economic situation of Nancy’s family; there are 2  Rural areas in Argentina were hit hard by the 2001 Argentine economic crisis. The country had been in a recession in the years leading up to this for many reasons. Twentieth-­ century military dictatorships, foreign debt, periods of inflation in the 1980s and corruption, among other factors, led the country to this point. Cuts to civil servants’ pay and pensions as well as government-instated austerity plans followed. Worry over the national economy caused many to withdraw large amounts of money and convert their pesos to dollars, known as a bank run. What followed was known as the corralito, in which bank accounts were frozen and only small amounts of money could be withdrawn. Rural areas of the country did not escape the effects and part of the economic situation of the protagonists’ families stems from the country’s past financial difficulties. While Argentina’s economy began to recover, especially after paying down the foreign debt, in general, rural regions tend to bear the brunt long after their urban counterparts.



bottles, cups, used forks and rusted jars on the outdoor table. The house, which is located in a rural area, is patched and splashed with mud. Children’s items are strewn around the ground and a crying baby is heard in the background. The first part of the film features intersectional identity factors that affect the young women’s trajectories. Specifically, the two protagonists are young, female, poor, rural and, in Nancy’s case, cognitively impaired. These intersectional identity factors make them easy targets and trap them in an abusive situation, just as the fly is trapped in the jar. The second scene involving a fly is when Nancy drowns one in another glass of water. This scene follows the moment in which she sees the waiter through the window on the other side of the street, laughing with a police officer, an indication that he is not reporting the girls’ situation. The jar can be equated with the city and the young women with the flies trapped in the brothel. Nancy then returns to a room with Pato, who has visible wounds, and shows her the jar. She shakes the jar frantically to push the fly down. Pato tells her: “Te falta la ceniza, Nancy. Tenés que ir a buscar ceniza por ahí [You’re missing the ash, Nancy. You have to look for the ash somewhere]”, foreshadowing the revival of the fly and eventually the liberation of the protagonists from the brothel. Later, Nancy returns to the room where the girls are held, she places the seemingly dead fly from the jar on the pile of ashes and covers it with more ashes. The fly starts to move and suddenly flies away. The camera captures the wings flapping rapidly and shaking off the ashes. The moment is pivotal as the film has developed a correlation between the flies and the young women, signalling that the revived fly symbolises hope for escape from entrapment but also for a better life for Nancy and Pato. A third scene involving a fly begins with a high angle shot that shows a vulnerable Nancy in her cell. The only sound is a fly buzzing. The camera moves from a close up shot of Nancy to one from her point of view looking at the small, round window high up on the wall. The next sound is a cough and, through Nancy’s point of view again, we see that there is another young woman in the room, sleeping on a small cot on the floor. These images part from traditional films that focus on the perspective of the male gaze, using women as objects of that gaze for their sexual pleasure. During these shots, Nancy seems dazed and pulls down on the short dress that she has been forced to wear. This follows the scene in which the two protagonists realise that they have been tricked and held against their will in the brothel. When Pato tries to resist, those in charge beat her, tie



her up in a bathroom and leave Nancy in the aforementioned room. The images with the fly buzzing around the room and bumping up against the window mirror the two young women’s reality, trapped against their will and with little chance of escape. The sound of the fly buzzing is also significant. Ana Forcinito describes one of the acoustic tendencies in films by women directors of the New Argentine Cinema as: un uso estratégico del registro acústico que sirve para aludir a los mundos invisibilizados y borrados … Estos mundos, muchas veces invisibles e invivibles, son registrados a través de lo acústico, ya sea como susurros, como repetición de voces distorsionadas, como superposición de voces, como gritos, ruidos, explosiones o sonidos que señalan algún encuentro violento a la memoria del mismo. [a strategic use of the acoustic register that serves to allude to invisibilised and erased worlds … These worlds, many times invisible and unlivable, are registered by way of the acoustic, either as whispers, as a repetition of distorted voices, as a superposition of voices, as screams, noises, explosions, or sounds that indicate a violent encounter to the memory of the self.] (2013c, 38)

David uses the sound of a buzzing fly repeatedly in La mosca en la ceniza as an acoustic representation of the young protagonists’ entrapment. Generally, this involves the sound of the fly butting up against a window and recurrently rediscovering the boundaries of its limited space, a reminder of the futility of Pato’s attempts to escape. Later in the film, a scene depicts young women in the same room furtively eating fruit and looking out the door like caged animals. These images of the young women, in a closed room, with harsh light and through the use of high-angle shots, raise questions about the construction of the gaze in cinema. Parvati Nair and Julián Daniel Gutiérrez-Albilla declare: The rise of women directors has done much to counter the fetishized approach to women in cinema and to broaden gender perspectives. It has also foregrounded the fact that women are not merely objects of the gaze, but also those who hold the gaze—this time, though quite clearly, no longer in any singular or fetishizing sense, but as an affirmation of plurality and alterity on- and off-screen. Indeed, the very foregrounding of the female gaze explodes any assumption that the gaze was ever the prerogative of the masculine. (2013, 6)



In La mosca en la ceniza, Gabriela David positions the camera in such a way that it foregrounds the young protagonists’ victimhood at the hands of others. In so doing, she reveals how female directors highlight the dire situation of young women like Nancy and Pato through the camera’s gaze. Furthermore, David highlights the gaze that exists between the characters themselves, focusing on possibilities of solidarity between these young women. More specifically, Nancy and Pato’s bond remains strong throughout, evidenced by the way Nancy brings her friend food and by the gazes that link the two characters.

Impunity La mosca en la ceniza also highlights the themes of victimisation and, more importantly, impunity. Towards the end of the film, Nancy eventually escapes the brothel and finds, in the balcony of one of the neighbouring buildings, a man who helps her. The following scenes depict Pato in an ambulance and Nancy looking at the other girls leaving with the police. Their hair is dishevelled and they are wrapped in blankets, looking confused, struck by the amount of people watching and dazzled by the daylight. Nancy then witnesses the police detaining the kidnappers, who hide themselves covered by their shirts. These last scenes are significant not only as a way of showing some sort of justice but also for two other reasons. First, these images show the waiter looking at the scene from across the street, behind a crowd of people. When he sees Nancy looking at him from the ambulance, he walks away. This man represents all those who suspect or even know what is happening but say nothing. Second, there is a stark difference between the representation of the young women and the perpetrators. Whereas the criminals leave with their faces covered, hiding their identities, the young women are fully visible and clearly identifiable to the large crowd; they are not afforded any privacy and are made a spectacle. These young women’s bodies are used by others for pleasure; more specifically, to please the onlookers’ curiosity. Ana Forcinito, in her analysis of this scene, notices how the other victims are separated from Nancy and Pato, who are taken in an ambulance. She questions this separation, noticing that it is the heroines who are treated preferentially. Forcinito poses the idea that this partial redemption for only a few symbolises the importance of resistance as a tool for survival but also the impossibility for some women to escape these circumstances (2013b, 58). Forcinito further analyses the scene: “En ese juego de miradas también comienza a verse el



reconocimiento de sí y de los otros: una de las víctimas mira, y reconoce a un cliente en el policía que está presente en la multitud, al que mira y que la mira, aunque luego ya no puede sostener esa mirada [In this game of glances, you can also start to see the recognition of the self and others: one of the victims looks, and recognises a client in the police officer present among the crowd, at whom she looks and who looks at her, even though later he is unable to hold the look]” (2013b, 58). This directly relates to the impunity through which the male aggressors are afforded rights not given to the young victims. Likewise, it is through an intersectional approach that we see how gender and class shape this situation. For example, the men can hide from any judgmental gaze whereas the women are fully exposed. Moreover, the police officer’s social status affords him a certain level of social protection. Examining the men’s intersectional power positions reveals the different ways in which they enjoy power and impunity. In an article on memory in post-dictatorship Argentina, Forcinito analyses the documentary Lesa humanidad/Against Humanity (Luis Ponce, 2018) from the perspectives of sexual violence and impunity. Of significant interest here is Forcinito’s discussion on impunity, more specifically within the context of a post-dictatorship Argentina that swung between a clear focus on uncovering past atrocities to ignoring individuals’ pleas for justice. While the contexts are not the same—Forcinito discusses sexual violence committed by government and military agents against victims of the Dirty War—the idea of impunity is similar in both, especially when we consider La mosca en la ceniza’s connection to films that reference the Dirty War, such as Luis Puenzo’s La historia oficial/The Official Story (1985).3 In her analysis of Lesa humanidad, Forcinito claims that “[e]n el marco de una injuria doble (primero la de la violencia y luego la de la complicidad silenciosa con la violencia) el documental … da cuenta de un nuevo momento en la construcción de memorias que se asocian a la lucha contra la impunidad en Argentina [Within a double injury (first, that of the violence and, then, that of the silent complicity with the violence) the documentary … gives an account of the new period in the construction of 3  La historia oficial portrays the kidnapping of children by the secret police, who then tortured and killed their parents. The children were adopted by military officials, secret police officers and other people with ties to the regime, and most were never told they were adopted.



memories that are associated with the fight against impunity in Argentina]” (2013a, 94). This concept of the double injury is relevant to the current discussion on David’s film, as the young women not only experience the violence of being victims of sex trafficking, but they also essentially must save themselves, for the other characters who could help look the other way. Furthermore, authority figures in the film either look the other way or are, in fact, perpetrators of the violence. Relating to intersectional theory, authority figures enjoy a special position within power structures; namely, those who trick the young women, those who trap them and those who use them sexually are able to do so because of intersectional identity factors that place them in a position of power—male, urban, professionals with power status. Clearly, it is not sufficient to look at gender alone as two of those involved are women—the procurer and one of the managers of the brothel. For the manager, her status as urban gives her a different power position than the protagonists and the procurer holds power through her economic status. An intersectional approach to power structures and the idea of impunity allows us to see the interlocking mechanisms in the story David tells on screen. Sex trafficking rings rely on the complicity of other citizens. As Corbalán notes about La mosca en la ceniza: El espectador observa en numerosas escenas la vida cotidiana en la calle, donde se muestra hasta un policía controlando el orden y el espectador intuye que la gente que pasa por ahí sabe lo que está ocurriendo tras esas puertas cerradas, pero nadie hace nada al respecto. Incluso al final del filme, cuando se desarticula la red de prostitución, la cámara enfoca una serie de miradas que se desvían para evitar afrontar la realidad. [The spectator observes in numerous scenes the daily life of the street, where even a police officer can be seen maintaining order and the spectator senses that the people who pass by know what is happening behind those closed doors, but no one does anything about it. Even at the end of the film, when the prostitution ring is disarticulated, the camera focuses on a series of evading glances that avoid confronting reality]. (2013, 41)

There are multiple panning shots of the building façade, representing a superficial glimpse at what is happening inside the buildings. The superficial, panning shots are a key element in David’s portrayal of the sex



trafficking theme as they contrast starkly with the sequences that take place inside the building. This contrast between shallow glances versus profound gazes into the lives of the young women in the building is central to one of David’s messages in this film: Argentine society condones sex trafficking by looking the other way. In his discussion about architecture in documentary filmmaking, Jens Andermann posits that “a critical archeology of architectural place-making emerges, either as a form of memory-­ work that uncovers in built space a sedimentation of layers of meaning and affect” (2018, 228). Later, Andermann adds: “[T]he combination of static long takes and different kinds of panning shots exploring the dimensions of buildings’ exteriors or the experience of immersion into them is already a kind of elementary grammar of this critical interrogation of architecture though film” (2018, 229). While Andermann is discussing documentaries, something similar occurs in David’s film, where the director peels away the layers of the architecture to reveal the hidden suffering of the protagonists juxtaposed to the seemingly normal exterior of the building. In this way, David is able to visually demonstrate how gender violence is made invisible; we the viewers are only able to witness it because we have been given access through the film.4 Moreover, the authority figures, as is evident in Corbalán’s words above, are complicit with the trafficking of women, some of them even taking advantage themselves. Their impunity is also part of the director’s condemnation; while the young women are outed publicly, the men who frequented the establishment, including the police officer, remain anonymous. The theme of impunity links this film with those of the Argentine Dirty War in which impunity played such a large role in society’s reaction to the disappearance and torture of citizens. It was specifically the silence of other citizens that allowed the military dictatorship and the structural systems upholding it to perpetuate.

4  This is similar to what happens in Marco Bechis’s film Garage Olimpo in which the exteriors are represented as seemingly normal and peaceful while the inside of the parking garage is used as a torture chamber. Moreover, in La mosca en la ceniza, Nancy seeks freedom from one of the men visiting the brothel as María does from Félix in Bechis’s film. A comparison can also be made to Chilean director Carmen Luz Parot’s Estadio Nacional (2003), where the documentary depicts the stadium at once a sports venue and an internment camp by the military dictatorship of Pinochet.



Conclusion Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge argue that “[b]y focusing on race, gender, age, and citizenship status, intersectionality shifts how we think about jobs, income, and wealth, all major indicators of economic inequality”. Thanks to this approach, we can better understand how and why “[b]lack people, women, young people, rural residents, undocumented people, and differently abled people face barriers to finding well-­paying, secure jobs with benefits” (2020, 19). It is significant that Hill Collins and Bilge include rural residents and differently abled people in their conception of income inequality. It would not be sufficient to comprehend Nancy’s and Pato’s condition in La mosca en la ceniza solely from the standpoint of gender; it is necessary to consider this alongside Nancy’s differently abled status, their youth, their economic reality, as well as their rural origins, including lack of opportunity and access to education away from the capital. Other characters in the film take advantage of the protagonists’ vulnerability stemming from the social implications of their intersecting identity factors. The economically disadvantaged young women are more willing to take the risk of going to the capital to earn money, trusting the word of someone they do not know personally. Ultimately, the people who organise these sex trafficking rings rely on this economic vulnerability. They are very aware that these young women do not have options. Furthermore, when they are taken to the capital, they are far removed from family and friends, eliminating any social web they might previously have. The protagonists’ gender and adolescence intersect with their socio-­ economic status and rural otherness. They are victims of a system that oppresses them not only for being young women but also for being poor and from a rural background. In the beginning of the film, when we see Nancy and Pato in the restaurant with the woman, it has already been made clear that a job in the capital would be highly beneficial for the young protagonists’ economic prospects. The beginning of the film, therefore, explains why they might readily fall victim to the woman’s scheme and believe her promise of giving them legitimate jobs in Buenos Aires. Nancy and Pato represent a sector of the rural population in Argentina that are forced to find work in the capital in order to support themselves and their families at home. For Pato, this is also a way to continue her education and consider new possibilities for her future. The woman, who the film reveals to be a type of alcahueta, or the procurer of



young women for the prostitution ring, specifically relies on the young women’s gender and age, their rural and socio-economic status, as well as their lack of a social network knowledgeable about the city.5 Undoubtedly, young women such as Nancy and Pato are victims of a patriarchal and classist system whose power structures allow others to victimise them. Examples in the film such as the ease with which the two are ensnared in the sex trafficking ring, the inability of other young women to escape the ring without being seen as culpable, and even the burned letter represent the continued struggles of women in Argentina. With this film, Gabriela David enters a genre of filmmaking that highlights the experiences of rural young women and challenges contemporary perceptions of gender equality. It also remains relevant amid current debates in Argentina over women’s rights and various contemporary social movements, including Les Pibes, Las Pañuelos Verdes and Ni una menos.6

References Andermann, Jens. “Productions of Space/Places of Construction: Landscape and Architecture in Contemporary Latin American Film.” In The Routledge Companion to Latin American Cinema, edited by Marvin D’Lugo, Ana M.  López, and Laura Podalsky, 223–234. Abingdon/New York: Routledge, 2018. Boris Tarré, Marta. “Hacia una construcción psicológico-cultural de género en la mujer traficada en La mosca en la ceniza de Gabriela David.” Confluencia: Revista hispánica de cultura y literatura 30, no. 2 (2015): 102–112. Corbalán, Ana. “Cine de denuncia contra las redes globales de prostitución: Paralelismo entre Barcelona y Buenos Aires.” Letras femeninas 39, no. 1 (2013): 33–47. 5  Rural Studies is an area that could shed light on the rural/urban dynamic in La mosca en la ceniza. However, much of this discipline is from and about the Global North. Mark Shucksmith and David L.  Brown’s Routledge International Handbook of Rural Studies focuses on “Europe, America, and Australasia” (2016, 1) and includes topics such as demographic change, food systems, environment and resources, gender and social and economic equality, among other topics. While the focus of the handbook is on the Global North, the same general ideas apply to the rural setting in the Global South, with the clear understanding that the context is different. 6  Les Pibes is a group of young Argentine activists whose goal is gender inclusivity. Pañuelos Verdes [green handkerchiefs] is a movement for legal abortion. Ni una menos [Not one less] is a movement that seeks to draw attention to the disproportionate number of women murdered. It stems from Argentina but has grown to include many other countries in Latin America.



Forcinito, Ana. “Las batallas de la memoria: violencia sexual y derechos humanos en Argentina.” Letras femeninas 39, no. 2 (2013a): 93–111. Forcinito, Ana. “Fugas y resistencias heroicas: Entre la atrocidad y el encuadre de la trata de mujeres y niñas en Argentina.” Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 17 (2013b): 47–63. Forcinito, Ana. “Lo invisible y lo invivible: El Nuevo Cine Argentino de mujeres y sus huellas acústicas.” Chasqui 42, no. 1 (2013c): 37–53. Hill Collins, Patricia and Sirma Bilge. Intersectionality, 2nd Edition. Cambridge/ Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2020. Huaiquifil Cayumán, Fernando. “Entrevista a Gabriela David (parte 1 de 2).” In “El circo de la realidad”, Activa FM, April 17, 2010. YouTube. July 30, 2010. (accessed March 28, 2022). Hurtado, Aída. “Intersectionality.” In The Bloomsbury Handbook of 21st-Century Feminist Theory, edited by Robin Truth Goodman, 159–170. London/New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019. McCabe, Janet. Feminist Film Studies: Writing the Woman into Cinema. London/ New York: Wallflower, 2004. Nair, Parvati and Julián Daniel Gutiérrez-Albilla. “Introduction: Through Feminine Eyes.” In Hispanic and Lusophone Women Filmmakers: Theory, Practice and Difference, edited by Parvati Nair and Julián Daniel Gutiérrez-­ Albilla, 1–11. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013. Shucksmith, Mark and David L. Brown, eds. Routledge International Handbook of Rural Studies. London: Routledge, 2016.




They Are All Around Us: Pain, Memory and Multisensory Images in Paula Markovitch’s El premio (2011) Guillermo Severiche

El premio/The Prize (2011), Paula Markovitch’s first fictional film, has become a milestone in second-generation postmemory Argentine cinema. As many other films from this generation, El premio revisits the bloody years of the last  military dictatorship in Argentina  (1976–1983) from a semi-autobiographical point of view. In an interview for Página12, Markovitch indicates that her debut film is largely informed by her own childhood, which was defined by her parents’ artistic practices and leftist political views, as well as their tense relationship with the government. She explains that her family experienced constant surveillance and threats by the dictatorial government in the 1970s: Yo viví durante la dictadura en San Clemente del Tuyú. Mis padres estaban semi clandestinos, en el sentido de que considero que todo el país estaba un poco clandestino. Mis padres eran muy de izquierda pero no estaban

G. Severiche (*) Fordham University, New York, NY, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




­ ilitando activamente en ninguna organización. Pero estábamos escondidos m y tengo familiares desaparecidos. [I lived in San Clemente del Tuyú during the dictatorship. My parents were semi clandestine, in the sense that I consider that the whole country was a bit clandestine. My parents were leftists, but they were not active militants in any organisation. Nevertheless, we were hiding and I have missing relatives]. (Ranzani 2020)

El premio follows Cecilia (Paula Galinelli Hertzog), a seven-year-old girl, who escapes the military and hides in a precarious beach house with her mother (Laura Agorreca) during Argentina’s last dictatorship. Following her mother’s suggestion, Cecilia joins a local school with a fake identity and tries to recover some sense of normality by making new friends. A surprise contest organised by the government tests Cecilia’s skills in writing a praising text about the army and the national flag. Yet, she decides to speak her truth: soldiers are crazy, they killed her cousin Ernestina and they may have also killed her father. Cecilia makes a copy of her composition which she later shows to her mother, who loses her mind. The child has outed them, and they need to escape once more. However, they look for Cecilia’s teacher and ask her to let the child rewrite her text. Cecilia pretends to feel admiration for the army in this new version and she ultimately wins the contest. The prize she obtains becomes a breaking point for her relationship with her exhausted mother, who forbids Cecilia from attending the award ceremony. Building on the work of Geoffrey Maguire (2017) and Inela Selimović (2018), in this chapter I examine Markovitch’s El premio through an embodied lens. I pay close attention to the formal elements and thematic implications that bodies and physical sensations in the film may evoke in the audience. More specifically, I analyse the ways El premio outlines the military as a sinister figure by converging two distant and perhaps discordant theoretical approaches put forth by Louis Althusser and Laura Marks. Their theories will allow me to unveil an evident and an elusive point made by Markovitch. The former refers to the act of witnessing and experiencing the state’s painful management of bodies, which is visually established in the film by an evident parallelism between the school and the army. The latter indicates the extreme difficulty in recovering such experiences from one’s own memory. This requires capturing what seems elusive, a personal sense of sorrow, hostility and fear experienced in the past. In the film,



ultimately, this leads to the use of multisensory images to refer to the child’s untranslatable and fleeting memories of violence, a non-optical way to address an intimate perception of state terrorism.

Marks and Althusser: From the Elusive to the Evident Laura Marks identifies and explores a form of visuality in cinema that “draws from other forms of sense experience, primarily touch and kinesthetics” (2002, 2). She defines haptic visuality by adopting the term from art historian Aloïs Riegl, noting that it “is distinguished from optical visuality, which sees things from enough distance to perceive them as distinct forms in deep space: in other words, how we usually conceive of vision” (2000, 162). If optical visuality establishes a separation between the viewer and the object viewed, “[h]aptic looking tends to move over the surface of its object rather than to plunge into illusionistic depth, not to distinguish form so much as to discern texture” (2000, 162). In other words, the image on the screen invites the viewer to stop looking for defined figures and instead explore the materiality of the image itself. However, as Marks clarifies, these two forms of visuality are not necessarily opposites. As she states, Deleuze and Guattari did not think of the haptic and the visual as a dichotomy but as sliding into one another (2002, xii). Optical visuality is also involved in the subjective interaction that defines haptic visuality, at a different distance, “in a dialectical movement from far to near, from solely optical to multisensory” (2002, 3). It is in this movement from the optical to the multisensory that I recognise an evident point made by Markovitch. On the one hand, the film establishes an optical parallelism between the school and the army, the generals and the teachers, the students and the soldiers. Althusser’s notion of the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) sheds light on the film’s depiction of the school as an institution that serves the state through ideology and, also, through repression. In this way, El premio emphasises the infliction of pain and discipline on bodies as a matter of aligning its own institutional culture to that of the dictatorial state. The film develops another point more elusively, not purely haptic, but far from optical. If we consider Marks’s dialectical movement, it is possible to discern El premio’s attention to multisensory images alongside figurative references. These images gradually construct an ominous presence



which is not named in the first part of the film but looms over and keeps the main characters in a constant state of alert. The music and the force of natural elements, such as the strong winds, cold temperatures and the menacing sea, highlight this unnamed evil. Once it is made clear that the military is looking for Cecilia and her mother, the film shifts from this sense of fear to a sense of grief and pain to evoke a broader social fabric in which violence and suffering have taken over. Multisensory images provide the film with an affective and embodied depth to show an intimate level of the impact that this secluded life has on the protagonist, as well as a shared sense of sorrow. As Marks indicates, films can evoke personal and cultural memories through “an appeal to nonvisual knowledge, embodied knowledge, and experiences of the senses, such as touch, smell, and taste” (2000, 2). Thus, multisensory images in El premio not only become material evidence of Markovitch’s work on her memories, but also an instrument to invite the audience to respond to recent history in an intimate and embodied way.

Postmemory Cinema and the Figure of the Child The release of films such as Albertina Carri’s Los rubios/The Blonds (2004), María Inés Roque’s Papá Iván (2004) and Nicolás Prividera’s M (2007) began a wave of second-generation Argentine filmmakers who combined a political exploration of the recent past with family memories from a strong first-person point of view. According to Verónica Garibotto, a significant post-2000 trend of fiction films made by this generation returns to a child’s or a teenager’s perspective to tell their stories (2019, 141). In the same vein, María Delgado and Cecilia Sosa note that Carri’s and Prividera’s films [liberated] the figure of the child of the disappeared from past obligations and respectful deference. In so doing, they also opened a space for new kinds of testimonial documentaries, auto-fictions, and narrative driven features. Postmemorial, autobiographical films could function as compelling political fictions. (2017, 243)

Films such as Gastón Biraben’s Cautiva/Captive (2005), Pablo Agüero’s Salamandra/Salamander (2008), Daniel Bustamante’s Andrés no quiere dormir la siesta/Andrés Doesn’t Want to Nap (2009), Benjamín Ávila’s Infancia clandestina/Clandestine Childhood (2012) and, of course,



Paula Markovitch’s El premio introduce a child or an adolescent as the main character, whose “views of the world are framed by the adult’s retrospective understanding and projections” (Garibotto 2019, 142). Drawing on Karen Lury’s studies on the child in cinema, Garibotto argues that these films are “double-voiced”, since there is “a form of ventriloquism in which the adult speaks for the child that she or he remembers, a retrospective inner dialogue that yields an in-between temporality” (2019, 142). Geoffrey Maguire states that these films also represent a re-­politicisation of the militant parent figure, which leaves behind a constant configuration of them as “innocent victims”. However, Maguire adds that the proliferation of postmemorial narratives of traumatic and political experiences by many filmmakers and artists of the second generation have also attracted a solid critical focus within cultural memory studies that recourse to post-­ Holocaust theories of psychoanalysis and trauma (2018, 12). Although Maguire quotes Garibotto’s warning that the attention to trauma may lead to a “loss of historicity” that makes filmmakers and characters “traumatized victims who passively suffer” (2018, 13), he also defends the notion of postmemory as an appropriate, productive and powerful framework. For Maguire, this is possible if cultural memory studies move away “from a sole focus on trauma and towards a more rigorous historicization of […] postmemorial narratives” (2018, 14). While Garibotto’s and Maguire’s concerns regarding postmemory, trauma and cinema stay on point, it is also valid to revisit films such as El premio to explore formal elements, aesthetic choices and their political and theoretical implications regarding memory and embodiment. This attention to hapticity and multisensory images can broaden a critical understanding of postmemory films and intersect them with other films that recur to similar formal strategies in contemporary Argentine and, more broadly, Latin American cinema. In fact, the figure of the “child-seer”, a Deleuzian term that Deborah Martin recalls, referring to the child’s imaginaries in cinema, has had a long history in Latin American films since Luis Buñuel’s Los olvidados/The Young and the Damned (1950). Martin points out that the figure of the child acquires a central position when cinematic imaginaries explore tensions between rural and urban, traditional and modern, or when they question cultural infancy, alterity and memory (2017, 188). Regarding postmemory films that deal with recent violent social experiences such as dictatorships, Martin highlights that “the child’s limited agency and understanding stand for the crisis of adult subjectivity in the face of



bewildering and overwhelming historical realities these films depict” (2017, 188). Although the child cannot affect the reality surrounding them, the child figure has an increased capacity for perceiving it. Thus, if the film acquires and amplifies the child’s point of view and sensorium, the most daring formal decisions—framing, camera’s position, music and sound—should aim to share the child’s experience with the audience.

Multisensory Images and the Unseen Evil In the opening scene of El premio, Cecilia walks towards the camera and is shown as a tiny figure on a cold and deserted beach. The music, which consists of a disturbing melody played by stringed instruments, introduces a menacing sensation and a mysterious tone. Indeed, something—the audience understands—is not right. Cecilia and her mother live in a dilapidated beach house, prepare food with unappealing fish and sleep while the freezing wind keeps breaking the plastics on the windows. At this point, their conversations and actions do not reveal the reasons for their situation until Cecilia finally asks: “¿Por qué estamos acá? [Why are we here?]”. Her mother responds: “Porque nos quieren encontrar [Because they want to find us]”. The unspoken evil becomes evident for an Argentine audience: the military. The threat of being abducted and killed triggers what Maguire would call an “iconic image” in Argentine cinema, a referent that takes us back to familiar aspects of the past that spectators immediately recognise as the military dictatorship (2018, 151). Nonetheless, during the first section of the film, the ominous presence remains unspoken, and the film establishes an invisible menace through non-purely optical images. These images are rather sonorous or tactile, images in which sound and temperature are relevant. Cecilia’s mother tries to repair the plastic protection covering a window while trying to stay warm at the beginning of the film. Nature plays an essential role in addressing the emotional state in which Cecilia lives, while also setting a tone of uncertainty and fear that the audience easily picks up. The opening shot is just one of the many scenes in which the child runs or tries to play unsuccessfully to find some sense of joy. Natural elements become a material presence of the unnamed and unseen threat that surrounds Cecilia and her mother and that invades their lives, despite their efforts to push it away. There are violent winds, the water rushes under the door and the sea becomes a real-life danger while the child plays by the coast on some dead trees. Nature is also a prison, a



place of boredom and isolation. The shots of vast spaces with the children as tiny figures accentuate a sense of abandonment and solitude that gradually defines Cecilia’s story. Laura Marks identifies hapticity and haptic images as those that “discourage the viewer from distinguishing objects and encourage a relationship to the screen as a whole” (2000, 172). A change in focus, graininess and the effect of under- and overexposure encourage the viewer to abandon a figurative relationship with the cinematic image in which the visible must also be recognisable. In hapticity, clear definitions are discarded, and viewers are invited to “suspend judgment” and test these images by bringing them close. As Marks puts it, “[t]he viewer’s vision takes a tactile relation to the surface of the image” (2000, 181). Although previous examples in El premio may appeal to touch, they still resort to optical visuality, since everything remains identifiable in a figurative sense. However, the unspoken and non-visual reference to the military provides these images with a subtle level of referentiality not fully captured through the visual. Something threatening is around and we can perceive it even though we do not see it. The mother’s statement (“they want to find us”) gradually becomes a warning: they are around us, all around us. You may not see them, but they are here, and they want to find us. In this regard, Cecilia González argues: la evaluación y aun el comentario no están ausentes en El premio. Aparecen desplazados al tratamiento fílmico del paisaje y de la banda sonora, tanto de la música, atonal, como de los ruidos ambientales del mar y del soplido del viento. Los personajes se mueven en un entorno hostil, siempre en un marco de extrema tensión y de peligro. [evaluation and even commentary are not absent in El premio. They appear displaced to the filmic treatment of the landscape and the soundtrack, both the atonal music and the environmental sounds of the sea and the wind. The characters live in a hostile environment, always in a context of extreme tension and danger.] (2017, 180)

Although mainly figurative, El premio introduces momentarily “haptic” images that may contribute to a tactile, non-optical way to relate to the film, together with the music and sound of the opening scenes. Images such as the blurred sea and a long shot of Cecilia in front of a highly textured metallic surface add to a multisensorial manner to view the film.



These shots add to a general sense of intimacy in which the main character’s emotional and sensorial experiences constitute the main point of reference. Both the loss of a clear vision of the sea and the long shot that forces the audience to observe closely the texture of a metallic door contribute to establishing a different type of relationship with the film, one which is more intimate, more embodied and closer to a physical experience already known by the spectators. Like sound and music, these tactile references make the body a medium to interact with personal memories of events experienced by the director. It is as if the tactile references were closer to one’s own body and susceptible to be shaped by one’s own perception. According to Marks, “[s]enses that are closer to the body, like the sense of touch, are capable of storing powerful memories that are lost to the visual” (2000, 130). As I will develop shortly, this relationship between multisensory images and interpersonal perception may define one of the film’s most interesting points: past pains and sorrows that were part of the private realm can be shared, brought back to our present, to address our common history of violence as a matter of a felt-now sensation. Markovitch’s personal memories serve as a point of departure to construct this story and may also provide a general tone of mourning and impotence to inform El premio’s formal elements. For Selimović, in fact, “the oneiric attributes of the film, which are achieved through the fogged-up beach, squeaky settings, and storms, might symbolically underscore the frailty of memory and autobiographical qualities of the film” (2018, 37). Based on Bergson’s theory of perception, Marks argues that “[p]erception is never a purely individual act but also an engagement with the social and with cultural memory” (2000, 62). Especially in intercultural cinema, Marks’s field of study, there is a sharing responsibility in constructing the text between the filmmaker and spectators as both performers and creators: “This collective process […] takes place in all film viewing and is simply more explicit, and more motivated in intercultural cinema, which is motivated to use individual stories to represent collective histories” (2000, 62). It is part of the viewers’ job, in what she calls an “attentive recognition”, to intervene in these images by drawing upon their own memory. This participatory notion of spectatorship grants private and unofficial recollections and memories as much legitimation as official history (2000, 48). The participatory aspect of multisensory images that Marks addresses opens the door to explore in which ways the appeal to embodiment in El premio establishes certain views on Argentina’s recent history; more



specifically, the film configures state terrorism and the infliction of pain as something that not only affects a child’s body and emotions but also speaks of, and to, our collective memory. Private memories of sorrow and physical pain can be shared with the audience and brought to a common present, in which viewers process them through their own memories and sensations. Pain, thus, becomes a discursive tool to configure political views on the recent past by exposing the violent mechanism with which the state and its institutions operate on the body.

Pain, Wounds and the Repressive Role of the School as State Apparatus Louis Althusser’s seminal text “Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses” (1969; reis. 2014) may help to reinforce the ways in which pain becomes a political tool in the film. Louis Althusser defines the state as a “repressive machine” that ensures power for the dominant classes (2014, 70); an inherently repressive machine, “a mere instrument of domination and repression” (2014, 72). Althusser develops a theory of the state in which two systems coexist: the Repressive State Apparatuses (RSA)—the army, the police, the prison, the judicial system, etc.—and the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA)—the scholastic, familial, religious, political, cultural institutions, etc.. The former function “using physical violence” (2014, 75) and the latter by the realisation of ideology (2014, 77). Although Althusser highlights this distinction, he clarifies that all state apparatuses “function simultaneously on repression and on ideology” (2014, 85), including the school. The Repressive State Apparatus (RSA) “displays superb continuity and constancy, inasmuch as it has not changed for centuries, which have nevertheless seen many different ‘regimes’, class regimes all” (2014, 114–115). For Althusser, the RSA defines the state’s central axis since it cannot be changed or disturbed. Had the RSA been defeated or destroyed, the entire state system would disappear, which explains its strict rules, “iron discipline” and “the most severe sort of internal repression” (2014, 152) for those who work in it. There is only one system of the RSAs whereas it is possible to find several systems of the Ideological Apparatuses. The plural condition of the ISAs explains their transformation, their multiple leaders and their condition of being the terrain of ideological confrontation. However, in the case of the RSA, the real chief of state becomes



the head of all repressive apparatuses, whose orders would rule other chiefs in the rest of the RSAs. Althusser argues that “[t]he state apparatus that we are identifying as repressive presents itself as an organic whole; more precisely, as a centralized corps that is consciously and directly led from a single centre” (2014, 135). That is why, later in the text, Althusser presents the repressive apparatus as “the hard core of the state” (2014, 152). According to him, “[r]epression thus becomes the centre of centres” (2014, 179). In the film, Cecilia faces several instances of physical pain and emotional distress that may allude to a collective imaginary of the Argentine last dictatorship and may make of pain not only a sensation felt by the character, but a tool to revisit the past through the body. After one of Cecilia’s classmates gets caught cheating, the teacher tries to discover who gave him the answers. She is not only unable to get this information, but also to stop the children from laughing and disobeying her. For that reason, she takes them outside to walk in circles in the school playground in the cold rain until the guilty student is called out. They obey, in silence, dressed in their white uniforms. This scene, which strongly simulates a public punishment of prisoners, can easily be compared to similar scenes in which political detainees suffer the military’s tortures and humiliations. This scene not only highlights the methods generals and teachers apply to be obeyed, but it also stresses that these procedures are bodily experienced. It is ingrained in these institutions the knowledge that such methods can be more effective when physical pain is involved. In another scene, right after Cecilia’s mother unveils that the military is searching for them, Cecilia and her two new friends, Silvia and Walter, run into an abandoned building with peeling paint on the walls and unfinished concrete stairs. Then, Walter shows his huge wound on his left arm to both girls. He details how he got hurt, the scab’s texture, and the feeling of the blood “pumping” right below its surface. He asks the girls to touch it and even to hear the beating, to which he adds “no lo podés escuchar, se siente por dentro [you can’t hear it, you feel it inside]”. The space—an abandoned construction site, one of the kinds of sites used by the military to set a clandestine detention centre to kidnap and torture dissidents— provides a different meaning to the children’s interaction. Here again, the scene evokes a recognisable reference to the violence the government inflicted on its detainees during the dictatorship. The wound recalls an unspoken, unseen action of torture and infliction of pain taking place in similar spaces. Although hidden from the public view, children seem to be



allegorical and physical repositories of such pain. The children touch the wound and feel the blood and heat inside, perceiving pain not necessarily through visual perception or a rational process. They become “a privileged embodiment of the affective dimension to the social, a platform on which rational discourse—associated more readily with the adult world—must confront interference from affective interactions with contemporary sociopolitical landscapes” (Page et al. 2018, 6). Another scene, not of physical pain, but of deep emotional distress, takes place at the end of the film. After Cecilia receives the prize from the military government, she seeks forgiveness from her mother but only finds silence and indifference. In the film’s final scene, we see Cecilia crying on the beach while a violent wind rushes sand on her clothes. A sense of exhaustion and grief has taken over to cathartically make the child cry and let the audience accompany her feelings. However, according to Maguire, this final scene also adds a nuanced generational and political critique. Maguire highlights that the camera does not show Cecilia’s face, which remains covered, and the blowing sand obscures her from visual perception: “With her face still occluded from the viewer’s gaze in the final shot of the film, the usual interpretive codes for the child protagonist therefore remain out of reach for the spectator and any final meaning or resolution of Cecilia’s face is unattainable” (2017, 16). For Maguire, this ending reveals a limit for the spectator’s potential for affective identification. This ending, I argue, invites the audience to evaluate her personal story and emotional distress, and our collective imagination of the recent past from an intimate perspective. It is not surprising, then, that the final image recalls, and heightens, multisensory images used through the film: the violent sound of the wind and sand, the unsettling music and the obscured optical image that does not allow the audience to see Cecilia and her weeping, which continues even after the image fades out. The deep emotional pain felt by Cecilia and highlighted with multisensory imageries closes the film with the realisation that the military has crushed the child’s whole world. The evocation of bodily senses in these scenes not only unsettles a purely optical way of experiencing film but also triggers a collective imagination to figure past pains and wounds as something that takes place in the intimate realm. The physical pain suffered by many during torture, or the emotional distress experienced by survivors of the last military dictatorship, are part of the everyday school life of these children. Unspoken, unseen suffering is still perceivable. For Marks, intercultural filmmakers



appeal to viewers through their hard-to-read works “to acknowledge the fact that most important things that happened are invisible and unvisualizable” (2000, 57). Although testimonies from survivors of the last dictatorship in Argentina have been collected, there is still an unheard version of history from those who did not survive. Furthermore, there is an uncommunicable level of testimony that cannot be translated into the archives from those who share their stories, a level of intimacy “only felt inside”. These works, Marks concludes, “reveal knowledge that has been stored only in the memory of the body. When the verbal and visual archives are silent, information is revealed that was never verbal or visual to begin with” (2000, 76). The participatory aspect of multisensory images and, more particularly, the political implications of pain in the film may respond to the need to repair a violent past, a need still current, still unsolved. Javier Moscoso observes that social conceptions of pain maintain common elements through different historical periods. He argues that these common configurations of how societies conceive pain “implica reconocer que, con independencia de sus expresiones culturales, hay una forma aprendida y constante de viajar por la senda del sufrimiento y enfrentarse a la experiencia del daño [it implies recognising that, regardless of their cultural expressions, there is a constant and learned way of travelling down the path of suffering and dealing with the experience of pain]” (2011, 19). According to Moscoso, pain has a dynamic structure, because it includes a moment of break or rupture that demands repair. Whoever suffers pain lives in a liminal space between separation and reconciliation. Feeling pain implies the hope and demand of its cessation. “Liminality” or “transience”, for Moscoso, defines pain in all its cultural representations beyond time and space. Thus, pain has a dual nature because it reveals the sentient skin of the sufferer and its need to be relieved. In El premio, the reparation that the child’s pain reclaims relies on the discursive implications constructed by the film. Past pains and sorrows find a relief if they continue being brought back to the present.

The School and the Army as an Optical Parallelism Pain is not the only way in which the film addresses a clear connection between the school and the army as institutions that work closely together. Although the threat and the violence the government inflicts on others remain far from optical perception, the presence of the military does not



remain unseen during the entire film. Soldiers visit the class to announce the contest opening and give children hot chocolate before they write their compositions. Furthermore, generals and soldiers host the award ceremony that Cecilia attends, disobeying her mother’s orders. Their visual presence solely located in the space of the school, tied to Cecilia’s proximity to danger, emphasises Leonor Arfuch’s point that “la escuela se torna un territorio de riesgo [school becomes a risk territory]” (2016, 553). The school’s role as a parallel entity to the army becomes verbally evident during the ceremony, when the general, in his introductory speech, salutes all students and members of the school. As the general says, students are responding to a “doble llamado, la educación y las armas, la escuela y el ejército [double calling, education and arms, the school and the army]”. In the film, the presence of the military is not something difficult to imagine since the school is key in reinforcing the dictatorship’s cultural project. The film not only illustrates a strong parallelism and close relationship between the school and the army but mostly focuses on the impact of such relationship in the domestic realm of the main character. The teacher’s role in El premio, sometimes a motherly mediator who helps the children reconcile or an accomplice who hides Cecilia’s secrets, also personifies the role of a general leading and disciplining a group of soldiers. She not only recurs to physical punishment to make children call out one of their own, as the scene in the playground shows, but she also attempts to make them act like soldiers and salute superiors as if they were in the army. The teacher makes the children endure the cold rain, stay quiet, stand still, bear pain and walk with tight shoes to show respect to authorities. As such, she acts as an agent who exemplifies how the school and the army are aligned by disciplining through repression and pain. As Laura Marks indicates, haptic and optic are not necessarily a dichotomy as they interact and slide into one another. In the same way, El premio relies on a concomitant and dynamic relationship between the visual and the multisensory. The army becomes a visually captured entity that visits the school and a threatening presence not fully seen, but certainly perceived, by the main characters and the audience. These two modes of depicting the army sustain both an evident statement made by El premio (the configuration of the school as an institution that emulates the dictatorial government’s infliction of pain to discipline and control) and a more elusive point (non-visual cinematic forms offer a glimpse into personal memories and traumatic experiences and appeal to an evaluation of



collective imageries and official histories). The different ways to appeal to pain and the construction of multisensory images rely on a private memory that ultimately aims to reconfigure and re-evaluate a collective one. This, in turn, calls for the need to repair, which has motivated generations of filmmakers to revisit the bloody years of the last dictatorship. El premio reveals not only a general trend for contemporary Latin American filmmakers who appeal to a non-visual and embodied level of viewing cinema, but more importantly a painful relationship between remembering, evoking and representing. Recalling painful personal memories in cinematic forms has become a challenge for filmmakers and an opportunity to explore non-optical strategies to make personal memories an aesthetic intervention on how to experience cinema in the first place.

References Althusser, Louis. On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Translated by G.  M. Goshgarian. London: Verso, 2014 [First published 1969]. Arfuch, Leonor. “Narrativas en el país de la infancia.” Alea Estudios Neolatinos 18, no. 3 (2016): 544–560. Delgado, María and Cecilia Sosa. “Politics, Memory and Fiction(s) in Contemporary Argentine Cinema: The Kirchnerist Years.” In A Companion to Latin American Cinema, edited by María Delgado, Stephen Hart, and Randal Johnson, 238–268. Maiden: Wiley, 2017. Garibotto, Verónica. Rethinking Testimonial Cinema in Postdictatorship Argentina: Beyond Memory Fatigue. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019. González, Cecilia. “Infancia y militancia en el cine latinoamericano de las generaciones segundas: Postales de Leningrado, El premio, Diário de uma busca.” HeLiz. Dossiers Zur Romanischen Literaturwissenschaft 10 (2017): 169-192. Maguire, Geoffrey. “Playing in Public: Domestic Politics and Prosthetic Memory in Paula Markovich’s El premio / The Prize (2011).” Studies in Spanish & Latin American Cinemas 14, no. 1 (2017): 3–21. Maguire, Geoffrey. Politics of Postmemory: Violence and Victimhood in Contemporary Argentina Culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. Marks, Laura. The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Dunham: Duke University Press, 2000. Marks, Laura. Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.



Martin, Deborah. “What Is the Child for Latin American Cinema? Spectatorship, Mobility, and Authenticity in Pedro González Rubio’s Alamar (2009).” In A Companion to Latin American Cinema, edited by María Delgado, Stephen Hart, and Randal Johnson, 187–200. Maiden: Wiley, 2017. Moscoso, Javier. Historia cultural del dolor. Barcelona: Taurus, 2011. Page, Philippa, Inela Selimović, and Camilla Sutherland. “Introduction.” In The Feeling Child: Affect and Politics in Latin American Literature and Film, edited by Philippa Page, Inela Selimović, and Camilla Sutherland, 1–22. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2018. Ranzani, Oscar. “Paula Markovitch finalmente estrena ‘El premio’ en la Argentina.” Página12, September 10, 2020.­ paula-­markovitch-­finalmente-­estrena-­el-­premio-­en-­la-­argentin (accessed February 3, 2022). Selimović, Inela. “Coached Feelings and Political Resocializations in Paula Markovitch’s El premio (2011).” In The Feeling Child: Affect and Politics in Latin American Literature and Film, edited by Philippa Page, Inela Selimović, and Camilla Sutherland, 25–48. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2018.


The Oppositional Gaze in the Argentine Cinema of Migration: Negotiating Chinese Identity and Coloniality of Seeing in Nele Wohlatz’s El futuro perfecto (2016) Pedro Cabello del Moral and Roberto Elvira Mathez

This chapter examines El futuro perfecto/The Perfect Future (Nele Wohlatz, 2016), a sixty-five-minute film that poetically exposes what is at stake in claiming one’s intersectional identity within a hostile context dominated by the visual politics of otherness. The German director Nele Wohlatz engages with this question through the film’s main character, Xiaobin Zhang, a young, independent Chinese woman who recently arrived in Buenos Aires to reunite with her parents. Wohlatz stages the world around the protagonist in a way that spectators barely see any Argentines. Most of the time the visual frame is circumscribed to the protagonist’s face, which subtly reacts to the looks and words of the people around her. Through

P. Cabello del Moral (*) • R. Elvira Mathez CUNY, The Graduate Center, New York, NY, USA e-mail: [email protected]; [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




this mise-en-scène, Wohlatz delivers a film that is, at times, a straightforward documentary about the migratory experience and, other times, a tongue-in-cheek visual game of hide and seek. The film proposes ways to look and be looked at in opposition to a colonial, male gaze. To portray Xiaobin’s world, the director builds upon her own experience of strangeness living in a foreign country. After co-directing the documentary Ricardo Bär (2013) with Gerardo Naumann, Wohlatz felt that the only way in which she could shoot solo an Argentine film in a language that was not her own was by putting herself in a migrant woman’s shoes. Thus, she turned to the students at the school in which she was teaching German to find the film’s characters. There, she found Xiaobin and convinced her to become the protagonist of her own film. As Wohlatz recalls, “le propuse hacer una película juntas, no sobre ella, sino junto a ella, sobre nuestras experiencias como extranjeras [I proposed that we make a film together, not about her, but with her, about our experiences as foreigners]” (Batlle 2016). The process of integration, which starts with language acquisition, became the common ground for the conversation between the German filmmaker and her protagonist to create a story based on real situations. Wohlatz suggests in an interview about the film production that the development of the script and Xiaobin’s character’s portrayal were intertwined: “I gave her acting lessons to help her develop acting tools, to defend her in front of the camera, so she could be comfortable. Then, the whole script was written by her” (Rentería 2017). Through this organic collaboration, the pair managed to create an honest story that differs from many other Argentine cultural products that tackle migration much more conventionally. The first shot starts as a postcard image of the silver waves of the Río de la Plata, which evokes the first image glimpsed by migrants arriving at Buenos Aires’s shores. This view ties together different waves of historical migration, yet spectators are not shown images of the populated city. We only hear its noisy traffic over the view of the water. The Atlantic Ocean beyond the river’s estuary both separates and unites distant people. The ocean signifies the drama of what is left behind and, at the same time, a sea of possibilities with the new arrival. In fact, as Wohlatz points out, migrants who know nothing about Buenos Aires do not necessarily understand that what they are seeing is not the Atlantic Ocean, but an estuary. The director plays with this ambiguity:



It can be the sea between China and Argentina. It’s actually where the first Chinese immigrants came over in container ships. For me, it’s like a screen for projection: void, and then we start to paint things on it. (Girish 2017)

In fact, there is a container ship that looms in a corner of this shot, suggesting the traffic of Asian migration and migrant workers smuggled in containers. After this first shot of the waves, we are abruptly transported to a Spanish language class. Xiaobin, portrayed in a frontal close-up with plain background, is asked about her arrival, “¿En qué época del año llegaste? [In what season of the year did you arrive?],” but she does not answer exactly what the teacher, who remains offscreen, wants to hear. Not seeing the instructor gives the viewer an uncomfortable feeling, like witnessing a scene of police interrogation or a questioning at customs. This uncomfortable position aligns the spectator’s perspective with Xiaobin’s, a hermeneutical space which will be shared throughout the film. To some extent, the choice of focusing on the offscreen space also becomes a way for Xiaobin to control the gaze that is directed at her. This allows her to counter the feeling of uprootedness as she shapes her new identity through language. The Spanish lesson is about the past tense. Through her answers to the teacher’s questions, we learn that Xiaobin arrived in Buenos Aires recently to reunite with her parents, who had left her in China with her grandparents when she was a child. She has two other siblings who were already born in Argentina. Xiaobin also has other relatives in Buenos Aires who own businesses. According to Devika Girish, “the film’s ingenious conceit is to hitch its storytelling to Xiaobin’s progress in language learning: as she learns new tenses in Spanish class, her narrative expands in parallel” (2017). The narrative ends with a nod to the verb tense that gives the film its title: an exploration of the different possible futures for the main character’s migrant experience.

A New Perspective in Context The three Asian groups with the greatest migration figures in Argentina have been the Japanese, during the first half of the twentieth century, the South Koreans, in the middle of the twentieth century, and, in recent decades, the Chinese. Each of these migration flows followed different patterns reflecting international trends and conflicts. Japanese migration was, following the words of Cecilia Onaha, a sort of “indirect



immigration” (1997, 23). From the beginning of the twentieth century, Brazil and Peru had implemented direct policies to promote Japanese incorporation into the labour force to work the land (Xu Lu 2022, 166). Precisely, the first wave of Japanese migrants to Argentina re-emigrated from Peru and Brazil looking for better economic possibilities (Ohana 1997, 24).1 In the following decades, with treaties involving the support of both governments, the Japanese community grew. Its recognition within the nation reached the point that Argentina became one of the first countries to re-accept Japanese migrants after World War II (FANA 2004, 125). Today the Japanese community in Argentina comprises around 4000 migrants (Census 2010) and 35,000 descendants (Manzenreiter 2007, 197). Korean migration to Argentina became a sustained trend in the 1960s. This was part of a migratory current from the Korean peninsula to Latin America, mainly to Brazil, which would reach its peak in the 1990s. Although the first destination were rural areas, a large part of the Korean communities would migrate to urban centres, especially the City of Buenos Aires, where they founded their own neighbourhood, Baek-ku. Located in the Flores district, Baek-ku “was consolidated at the same time that Korean migrants were able to insert themselves in textile production” (Benítez 2021, 129). However, after the economic crisis of 2001, the migratory flow began a process of re-emigration and displacement to other countries (Mera 2016, 95). This re-emigration led to a notorious population decrease in the Korean community, dwarfing from 32,000  in 1996 to 24,000 in 2013 (Kim and Lee 2016, 81). Of these three groups, the Chinese is the most numerous, and growing. Census records indicate the presence of migrants from China in Argentina since 1914, although the Chinese community did not become significant until the last decades of the twentieth century (Grimson et al. 2016, 28). These last waves were preceded in the 1980s by Taiwanese migration (Brauner and Torres 2017, 294).2 By the beginning of the 2000s, the estimates around its population vary, but go well beyond the official Argentine Census of 2010 which stated that only 8929 Chinese citizens 1  This migration to Latin America was also driven by the migratory restrictions and obstacles that the United States, especially after 1908, began to implement (Funada Classen and Masterson 2004, 88). 2  The so-called Chinatown of Argentina was founded by Taiwanese migrants (Yiran 2020, 11).



lived in the country. For example, Carolina Guerra Zamponi (2010, 4) states that there were around 80,000 in 2008, while community leaders interviewed by Grimson, Ng and Denardi in 2016, spoke about more than 200,000 (2016, 34). Thanks to the presence of these networks, today China is Argentina’s second largest trading partner after Brazil. Since the 1990s, the Chinese community has been the population outside of Latin America with the highest rates of Argentine naturalisation. Nevertheless, the Chinese Argentine population remains one the most heterogenous migrant groups regarding its degree of cultural and political integration. As Brauner and Torres clarify, among the Chinese “se encuentran simultáneamente personas en diversas fases de inserción en Buenos Aires, unos con más de dos generaciones viviendo en el país y otros llegados con posterioridad, unos se plantearon o plantean residir de forma permanente y otros de modo temporario en el territorio argentino [are people simultaneously in various phases of insertion in Buenos Aires, some with more than two generations living in the country and others who arrived later, some considered or consider to reside permanently and others temporarily in Argentina]” (2017, 76). El futuro perfecto pays attention to this heterogeneity as it focuses on a recently arrived Chinese migrant whose parents moved to Argentina many years before, leaving her with her grandparents. One of the things that immediately stands out in Nele Wohlatz’s film is the contrast between the protagonist, who wants to learn Spanish to be independent, and her parents, who do not speak the host country’s language as they do not need to go outside the Chinese community in Buenos Aires. In the two last decades, especially after the crisis of 2001, there has been an increase in the presence of the different Asian migrations in Argentina. Chisu Teresa Ko indicates that this moment of change was a consequence of the economic crisis, which gave more space to multiculturalism after the collapse of “the myth of Argentina as a white and middle class nation” (2016, 277). However, as she adds, “people of Asian descent continue to be marginalized by official discourses, orientalized by cultural discourses, and victimized by racial violence” (2016, 277). In spite, or perhaps because of this marginalisation, Asian-Argentine cultural production has expanded in the period since 2001. Japanese migration in Argentina has spawned a great deal of novels, such as Gajin (Maximiliano Matayoshi, 2002), Hotaru (Sancia Kawamichi, 2014), Los árboles caídos también son el bosque (Alejandra Kamiya, 2015), Otaku (Paula Brecciaroli, 2015) and Hojas que caen sobre otras hojas (Miguel Sardegna, 2017). On



the other hand, Korean migration has had a bigger impact on cinema, with both fiction films and documentaries, such as La chica del sur/The Girl from the South (José Luis García, 2012), Una canción coreana (Yael Tujsnaider and Gustavo Tarrío, 2014), La Salada (Juan Martín Hsu, 2014), Mi último fracaso (Cecilia Kang, 2016) and 50 Chuseok (Tamae Garateguy, 2018), with actor Chang Sum Kim. In recent decades, parallel to the growth of the Chinese community in Argentina, Chinese migration has attracted more attention in the cultural industries.3 However, it is in cinema where the greatest production and discussion around Chinese migration has taken place. Apart from El futuro perfecto, other remarkable films include Un cuento chino/Chinese Takeaway (Sebastián Borensztein, 2011), Mujer conejo/Woman Rabbit (Verónica Chen, 2013), Hotel de la Amistad (Pablo Doudchitzky, 2014), Diamante mandarín (Juan Martín Hsu, 2016), Arribeños/Arribeños Street (Marcos Rodríguez, 2015), De acá a la China/From Here to China (Federico Marcello, 2019) and Pinpin (Jaime Levinas, 2021). Notably, in this cinema of migration, the film with the greatest global reach is a Chinese production, Happy Together (Wong Kar-Wai, 1999). In this case, the mise-en-scène remains faithful to the perspective of the two migrant protagonists, Ho Po-Wing and Lai Yiu-Fai, who travel to Argentina together to visit the Iguazú Falls and, because of lack of money, must start working to pay for their return tickets. This unconventional story of migration occurs between the alleys and the hotel rooms occupied by the Chinese couple and, surprisingly, it rarely shows any of the local, non-Chinese population. Some of the most representative Argentine films of migration, specifically the ones made by non-Asian directors, reproduce a particular type of orientalism that highlights the naïveté of the migrants and exoticises their culture. As Máximo Badaró points out, there is still a tendency to portray migrants and their descendants with “images of the exotic, theatrical, and enigmatic alterity” (2022, 14). Against this tendency, El futuro perfecto keeps a respectful distance from Chinese culture, leaving holes in the plot that do not need to be filled with information. In this sense, Wohlatz remarks: 3   There is a long tradition of Argentine novels on China, such as Viaje nada secreto al país de los misterios: China extraña y clara (Bernardo Kordon, 1958), Una novela china (César Aira, 1987) and La mujer en la muralla (Alberto Laiseca, 1990). However, these novels focus on China, rather than on migration processes between both countries.



I believe in this distance in film and in life, too… I think that our relations with others are full of non-understanding and distance, and even our relationship with ourselves is full of this dis-understanding, and from time to time there’s a moment of connection with yourself or with others. I found it much more convenient to have someone I didn’t understand totally, because it allowed me to have some mystery in the film and to leave things unexplained. (Girish 2017)

One of the strongest achievements of El futuro perfecto in relation to some of those other works that tackle Asian migration is the agency conferred to the main character. Wohlatz comments that Xiaobin Zhang saw in the film a powerful tool to respond to “el racismo cotidiano con el que se enfrenta como china en Argentina [the racism that she faces daily in Argentina as a Chinese woman]” (Batlle 2016). Her intention translates to a defiant performance in front of the camera that demands a different way of being observed.

Subverting the Gaze Following Happy Together, Nele Wohlatz limits the narrative to a restricted set of locations in which non-Chinese Argentines are rarely glimpsed. Thus, the Buenos Aires we see is not the postcard of the city, but the snapshots of a migrant’s life. “Evitamos mostrar los elementos pintorescos de Buenos Aires, queríamos presentar una ciudad grande que podría ser cualquier otra, sin historia, porque el recién llegado no comparte historia con el nuevo lugar [We avoided to show picturesque elements of Buenos Aires. We wanted to introduce a big city which could have been any other, without history, because the newcomer does not share their history with that of the new place]”, observes Wohlatz (Koza 2017). Furthermore, the director also notes that locations are often reduced in their visual information, reflecting the archetypical idea of each place (Koza 2017). As Xiaobin progresses in her Spanish language skills, the set of locations presented in the film expands. As spectators, we follow her desire to explore the city, getting glimpses of the box office of a cinema, the ophthalmologist’s office, the underground (or subte) and some parks. However, we are denied entrance to the protagonist’s household beyond the façade and the laundromat business on the ground floor. The intimate sphere, the indoors of migration, is kept respectfully out of sight. Carmen Herrero suggests that, with that choice, the director “avoids presenting a darker side of



migration (for example the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers) that could distract the spectator from the documentary’s playful features” (2021, 102). In addition, we might suggest that this choice confers agency to Xiaobin, given that the story reflects more faithfully what she wants to say instead of the stereotypical pejorative image that is associated with migrants’ dwellings. As mentioned before, Xiaobin is first introduced in the language school answering questions as part of an exercise to learn the past tense. The dialogue plays with the humour of misunderstanding. Xiaobin does not seem to comprehend the teacher’s questions and her answers are irrelevant or incomplete. Nevertheless, as Benalcázar points out, “[no] es únicamente la disparidad lingüística de la escena la que dificulta su respuesta, sino el peso existencial de la pregunta [It is not only the linguistic disparity what makes the scene difficult, but also the existential weight of the question]” (2018). The teacher asks questions like “¿Y tus padres cómo te saludaron después de tanto tiempo? [And how did your parents greet you after so long?]” with a certain paternalism. Yet the voice of authority incarnated in the language instructor is countered by the young migrant’s perplexity at receiving such invasive questions. The scarcity of details in the answers she provides does not satisfy the inquirer. We can interpret this moment not only as a misunderstanding, but also as a refusal to give away too much personal information to a person on the opposite side of the colonial experience. The long duration of the young woman’s close-up gives her (and us) time to turn the disdainful glance—or rather the colonial gaze—against her interlocutor. This colonial gaze is the product of what Joaquín Barriendos calls coloniality of seeing: “la lógica etnocéntrica, sobre la cual se ponen en marcha los procesos de inferiorización racial y epistémica que han caracterizado a los diferentes regímenes visuales de la modernidad/colonialidad [the ethnocentric logic that leads to processes of racial and epistemic inferiorisation and that have defined the different visual regimes in modernity/ coloniality]” (Barriendos 2011, 14).4 These processes, as Barriendos suggests, interconnect ideological discourses from the sixteenth-century with the twenty-first-century visual imaginary. Put another way, gazing and 4   The coloniality of seeing expands the visual aspect of Aníbal Quijano’s matrix of coloniality of power (2000) in line with other conceptualisations of the colonial’s network of domination relationships, such as the coloniality of being (Maldonado-Torres 2007), the coloniality of gender (Lugones 2008) and the coloniality of ability (Ferrari 2020).



staring reinforce colonial modernity’s enduring dichotomies of culture/ nature, civilised/savage, white/non-white and abled/disabled. In Argentina, as we suggested above, those dichotomies are laminated onto the relationships between White Argentines and Asian migrants, in which visual regimes install certain asymmetrical rights to look. For instance, against the visual orientalism and the exoticisation of Asian-Argentines typical of media portrayals, “wearing kimonos, performing the dragon dance or a taekwondo kick” (Ko 2016, 277), El futuro perfecto provides opportunities to give visual agency to the Asian characters. This happens notably in the space of the classroom, where we witness Xioabin and her peers practising conversations in Spanish. They repeat very codified dialogues, impersonating the Spanish, Chilean or Colombian characters of the textbook. They are portrayed in a succession of single shot close-ups or an alternation of two- and three-shots of various students. The rhythmic editing makes the class function as a Greek chorus. Xiaobin’s absurd statements are instantaneously echoed by the other students in a similar frame. To reinforce this idea, Wohlatz directs this group of non-professional actors with a sort of Bressonian affect, austere expressions that highlight the absurdity of the dialogue proposed by the teacher.5 The Spanish classes’ exercises render opportunities to observe how students negotiate their identification or disidentification with the process of assimilation. Moreover, the scenes of the students pretending to be people from Spanish speaking countries exude a powerful critique of the dynamic of “colonial mimicry,” as Homi Bhabha puts it, in which the colonised subject (or in this case, the recently arrived Asian migrant) is reproduced as “almost the same, but not quite” (1994, 86). Colonial mimicry is intimately related to the coloniality of seeing that produces the colonial gaze, as it implies, according to Bhabha, the fear that the colonised or the subaltern bear a faithful resemblance to the coloniser. The colonial gaze comes along with a disdain for difference, but also the threat of difference dissolving into sameness. In El futuro perfecto, the ambivalence of the colonial gaze is explored through camera position and the use of offscreen space. The visual trope of Xiaobin’s hieratic face and mute affect when she is bombarded with judgmental questions becomes a leitmotif throughout the film. This motif 5   Bresson’s films were a source of inspiration for Wohlatz in the way she directed her actors. She shared some scenes of the French filmmaker with Xiaobin Zhang to make her understand what she was looking for (Girish 2017).



is repeated in two other scenes: the first one describing the protagonist’s first job at a butcher counter in her uncle’s supermarket and the second when she accompanies her sister to the ophthalmologist to offer translation. These scenes give the Wohlatz-Zhang tandem opportunities to explore the colonial gaze further. In these two other occasions, Xiaobin’s Chinese identity and lack of Spanish proficiency are treated with disdain. The director and the protagonist agreed to narrate these quotidian situations of misunderstanding within the migrant experience, but only as long as there was always a twist at the end that gave Xiaobin the upper hand. In this respect, Wohlatz points out that, “whenever we laugh at her, she always has to come out on top. It should never end with her in a disaster. She’s always getting out of every situation as a winner” (Girish 2017). At the butcher counter, an off-screen male costumer asks for 300 grams of ham. First, Xiaobin is about to choose another type of cold cut, and later she cuts too many slices of the piece despite the man’s warnings. The customer asks angrily if she is even listening to him. Xiaobin, who is gingerly preparing the order, looks back at the customer and proceeds. The tone of the performance is the key element of the scene, as Wohlatz clarifies in an interview: “Trabajamos sobre su actuación y el poder de no entender, y su reacción muy seca y su forma tranquila, que sin gritar irrita al otro. Entonces, ella, la que no entiende, a la que uno podría ridiculizar, tiene un poder sobre el otro [We worked on her performance and the power of not understanding, her very coarse reaction and her calm demeanour, which, without screaming, can irritate the other]” (D’Aquila 2017). The sequence closes with Xiaobin eating a generously loaded ham sandwich with a smile on her face. That is her way of getting out of the situation as a winner. The scene at the ophthalmologist mounts a distinct, but related critique of the colonial gaze. It begins with a point-of-view shot of Xiaobin’s sister, Sofía, looking at the images of the eye chart. This gesture directs our attention to the importance of sight for migrants and their social worlds, and playfully echoes the recurring motif of scans stares, and glances. This idea is reinforced with a close-up of Xiaobin’s sister wearing optical trial lenses as she observes the images on the chart. Over this shot, the ophthalmologist asks typical questions about the eye chart, but the conversation shifts when the doctor learns both women’s names, Sofía and Beatriz, and becomes curious about their origins. The camera pans, then, to the protagonist’s face. “¿Pero es chino ese nombre? [But is that name Chinese?],” asks the eye doctor, and then she suggests the name Sabrina



instead, which, according to her, sounds more similar to Xiaobin than Beatriz. Sabrina will be the name that Xiaobin tries on during the last third of the film, as if she was wearing a new hat. All of these close-ups of Xiaobin at the school, the supermarket and the doctor’s offer a strong counterargument to the visual politics of modernity/coloniality and its intrinsic relationship to the scopic regime of representation. When Xiaobin Zhang looks back at the person who stares at her, she interrupts the coloniality of seeing, casting a critical “oppositional gaze,” as bell hooks would say. In her seminal essay “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators,” hooks explains the visual politics of resistance employed by Black women: Subordinates in relations of power learn experientially that there is a critical gaze, one that “looks” to document, one that is oppositional. In resistance struggle, the power of the dominated to assert agency by claiming and cultivating “awareness” politicizes “looking” relations—one learns to look a certain “way” in order to resist. (1992, 116)

Oppositional gaze is about contestation and confrontation (hooks 1992, 117). It can be extrapolated to other situations of subalternity, such as those of Asian migrants in Argentina. In El futuro perfecto, Wohlatz reinforces the oppositional gaze with her decisions regarding script and mise-en-scène. Focusing exclusively on Xiaobin during these tense interactions with non-Chinese Argentines gives her the space to revert the power of the gaze. As such, Xioabin gets the last word at the end of each scene. There is one scene, however, that breaks this pattern in order to highlight Xiaobin’s agency in another way. The scene occurs in the subte, where Xiaobin seems to put into practice what she is learning at school. Earlier, in a language lesson, she took part in an exercise in which she practised the present tense by pretending to be a nurse from Spain. Every student was assigned a name, profession and origin. In the underground, Xiaobin lifts her head from the Spanish workbook that she is reading and starts scanning the carriage and the people seated around her. For the first time, spectators can see faces of non-Chinese Argentines. Xiaobin looks at them directly, intrigued perhaps by their professions, names and origins. Some people look down, some look aside with an absent gaze. A woman cries and looks around to find out if people noticed her. Xiaobin keeps looking. She does not look down in search of anonymity. She is the one who gazes and, in doing so, casts an oppositional gaze that responds to the invasive,



inquisitive, diminishing gazes that migrants face in their daily lives. “There is power in looking,” confirms hooks in her very personal essay (1992, 115). It is a power to transform the immediate reality in which multiple oppressions lay. hooks puts it bluntly: “By courageously looking, we defiantly declared: ‘Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality’” (1992, 116). bell hooks conceptualizes the oppositional gaze both as spectatorial resistance to Hollywood’s narrative cinema and a response from independent film. We see the oppositional gaze both in Xiaobin’s way of looking at the Argentine world and in Wohlatz’s decisions regarding the mise-en-­ scène. Within these alternative impulses, the oppositional gaze opens spaces of agency defined by a feminist responsibility. In this case, it entails a commitment not to reproduce the male gaze and the commodification of the female body, but rather to portray the empowerment of the woman protagonist. It also means inviting feelings of empathy, self-awareness and liberation. This last question is exactly what happens inside the underground carriage. When Xiaobin sees the woman crying and trying to pass unnoticed, the young migrant does not look away, but rather reflects that woman’s emotion on her own face.6 Many of the migrants’ encounters with other Argentines take place within labour or commercial relationships, such as when Xiaobin works at the delicatessen shop. However, in one of the scenes, in which the group of Chinese students is framed with an Argentine, the relationship is different. In this meeting by the waterfront, the actor Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, the local invited to the get-together, compares learning a language with acting. The actor speaks in perfect Chinese, although, as he points out, he does not know Chinese. In this gesture, he seeks to demonstrate that, beyond language, the integration process involves other types of learning. It is not only speaking the language, but also learning the gestures and manners of the host culture. To be a migrant, within this discourse, also means being an actor. Pérez Biscayart is the only white character in the scene, yet he is the one who offers an analysis of national culture as performance. In this scene lies not only the issue of migration, but also the issue of race that once again puts the focus on the gaze. As Alan Hyde states, race is “a kind of domination of the body by the eye. Race is thus not a

6   The crying woman appears again in the film playing Vijay’s wife in one of Xiaobin’s fantasies.



thing or a state but a relationship, and the question is always not just what state has been constructed, but who is doing the construction and for what purpose” (1997, 223). In this sense, the actor seems to feel authorised to teach others about migration even though he has never lived as a migrant. His authoritative role is accepted without rebuttal. The sequence’s ending perhaps adds a new dimension to the relationship between migration, race and performance, by focusing on the falseness of the look. In response to a request by one of the Chinese students, Nahuel teaches them tricks to feign crying. A succession of close-ups shows them trying to cry at the very same moment when it starts raining. As a result, it is unclear if what we see on their cheeks are tears or raindrops. Among the relationships that the film explores, one of the most interesting is the South-South connection, which seeks to build a community between geographies and actors outside western hegemony. In this sense, the location of Argentina as the centre of the narrative already entails a peripheral space in the circulation of capital and bodies within a global perspective. This South-in-the-South approach, as it were, adds to the intersectional issue explored in the gaze. The female characters are not only migrants within a peripheral country, but they are also women who enter a precarious labour market. Xiaobin in this sense relates to other workers, such as her partner in the delicatessen shop, as well as other migrants who belong to this temporary and insecure labour market. El futuro perfecto touches as well on the relationship between migrants with different backgrounds. That is showcased in Xiaobin’s romantic relationship with Vijay, an Indian migrant who is already living in Argentina when Xiaobin arrives. Although the Indian community in Argentina might not be numerically significant, its appearance in the film plays a fundamental role. For the director, Xiaobin and Vijay are both foreigners and they are both alone and separated, so this somehow binds them. And also, I thought that maybe he was kind of a provocation? This moment in Xiaobin’s life was marked by her fight for independence and a coming-of-age conflict with her parents, who have a different vision of immigration and integration. Even though they didn’t know about him, he was a big provocation, a sign of rebellion. (Girish 2017)

The question of the rebellion is based on the fact that this character also represents the possibility of a future that Xiaobin dreams of when she envisions herself travelling to India to get married. The relationship between these two characters shows how the coloniality of seeing is also carried in



body language. Coloniality affects not only their looks, but also their postures. This happens when Xiaobin and Vijay walk side by side down the street, when they sit in a café without facing each other, or when they go to the cinema and do not even look over to see the other person. This divergence of gazes can also offer us a particular reading of these international communities. The lack of intimate looks reveals how difficult it is to form a community without a shared language. Even though, as migrants, they share precarious and racialised roles, there is an element that hinders their communion. They are doomed to communicate in a poorly spoken, borrowed language. This dynamic momentarily breaks, however, in a scene in which Vijay asks Xiaobin to marry him. Without facing him, the protagonist replies in Chinese that she does not want to get married. She employs her own language to communicate one of the hardest dialogues in the film, as if the host language was not enough to carry the weight of the message. With this gesture Xiaobin redefines the host language as a hindrance for the migrant population. On the most practical level, Spanish is an obstacle in their encounters with the government and in the labour market (Duchêne et al. 2013, 7), but on an interpersonal level, as in the case of Xiaobin and Vijay, Spanish also impedes relationships with fellow migrants. Language barriers hinder effective intercultural communication, as Spencer-Rodgers and McGovern suggest (2002, 601), and, in that sense, constrain the formation of alliances between different communities of the global South.

Hypothetical Futures as Visual Agency The final act of the film is the moment when Xiaobin, having traversed the challenges of migration in Argentina, imagines writing an essay about migrant futures. These hypothetical futures, which comment on the idea of a “perfect future” contained in the film’s title, are divided into four proposals that blur the boundaries between fact and fiction. Wohlatz comments that: When I told her [Xiaobin] about my idea for the different futures as endings for the film, the same night, she sent me an email with four fantasies about her future. This email is the script for the futures you see in the film. I like it that they are a little bit exaggerated, that she seemed to have melodrama as a genre in her mind when she wrote them, but that they all deal with her real



life conflicts. I think that her fantasies are as important as her everyday life, so I really wanted to give them space in the film. (Beck 2016)

The decision to allow Xiaobin to define the ending is key to understanding how El futuro perfecto challenges conventions of the Argentine cinema of migration. The migrant is not just the object of the screen narrative, but also its subject. She decides how she wants to be portrayed. As Carmen Herrero states, “[t]he visual narration of these potential endings written by Xiaobin reinforces her agency and voice” (2021, 99). Each of the endings is introduced by a close-up with Xiaobin in the classroom answering the questions of the teacher to practice the conditional tense and hypothetical future. The shot resembles the first time we see her, but this time her affect is different. She smiles. As she answers, different hypothetical stories unravel accompanied by her voiceover. The staging of these four fantasies differs from the rest of the film. They are narrated in a less verisimilar style, marking a break from the film’s previous aesthetics. The endings draw out Xiaobin’s different facets, from conformism to independence. The first one narrates a rupture, where Vijay’s ex-­ wife waits for Xiaobin outside the boyfriend’s house and tells her that he has a son. Immediately afterwards, the young Chinese woman, with firm assertiveness, packs a suitcase and confronts her partner while looking directly into his eyes. The second ending narrates a future without surprises. Xiaobin repeats what her parents have done. In this hypothetical future, she and her husband (a student from her language school) own a supermarket and have two children. The story has a twist as Vijay appears with his wife at the supermarket and asks Xiaobin how she is doing. In this respect, this ending proposes a static future for the second generation of migrants who appropriate the roles they inherit from their parents. The next two proposed endings break more strongly from traditional outcomes for the migrant population in Argentina. The third story is the most melodramatic one. Xiaobin irrupts in a crime scene and sees that Vijay lies dead on the floor and her parents are being taken by the police. It is insinuated that the parents murdered the boyfriend because of their disapproval. In this hypothetical future, she becomes a homeless person pushing a shopping cart full of rubbish bags. This image represents the impossibility for Xiaobin to escape poverty without her family’s support. The reference to violence and homelessness shows how linked these themes are to migration in Argentine cultural productions. Despite the general lack of drama in the film, when Xioabin wrote the endings for her story she could not avoid referencing these topics.



The last ending is the most heartfelt and, at the same time, improbable. It is cued by the teacher asking Xiaobin if she ever imagined a happy ending. The manner in which the teacher poses the question implies that this possibility is rather improbable for migrants in Argentina. To the teacher’s surprise, Xiaobin responds with the most exuberant of fantasies. It consists of a home video of her trip to India to get married to Vijay in which they visit the Taj Mahal and other tourist attractions. This story is portrayed in a freeform manner. The handheld camera confers a more spontaneous mise-en-scène. In the same vein, the chromatism is more intense than in previous sequences. Xioabin and Vijay look at each other differently and take turns holding the camera. Xiaobin looks vibrant and empowered. In front of Vijay, she decides when to turn her head, pose and smile. The two subaltern characters film their own actions freely, radically subverting the coloniality of the gaze. This sequence marks a stark contrast from previous moments in the film, in which Xiaobin and Vijay never exchanged looks. That pattern produces the impression that these characters do not belong to the same visual space. Yet in this hypothetical future, they look at each other without shame. They travel and build a future together without the obstacles imposed by the cultures of either the host country or their own families. This moment of freedom leads to the final visual game in which Xiaobin is featured in Recoleta Park to trap a cat that she wants to keep as a pet. The cat looks from side to side. Xiaobin, in the film’s last close-up, scans the situation. The trap falls as she pulls the string, catching the animal. The hermeneutical possibilities of this open ending are several, as are the dreams and futures of the protagonist, who is always in control of the situation. She defines the conditions for her future. In this sense, as we can conclude from its final provocation, the film embodies bell hooks’s ideas about the “oppositional gaze.” By courageously looking, Xiaobin not only stares, but she is also able to change and control her reality.

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Batlle, Diego. “Entrevista a Nele Wohlatz, directora de El futuro perfecto (Competencia Cineasti del Presente).” Otros Cines, August 1, 2016. https:// (accessed September 29, 2022). Beck, Gustavo. “Language As a Rehearsal Space: An Interview with Nele Wohlatz.” MUBI, August 10, 2016.­as-­a-­ rehearsal-­s pace-­a n-­i nter view-­w ith-­n ele-­w ohlatz?utm_content=buf fer 09768&utm_medium=social& buffer (accessed September 29, 2022). Benalcázar, Carolina. “Navigating the Liquid Cinema of Argentina’s ‘Las Calles’ by María Aparicio and ‘El Futuro Perfecto’ by Nele Wohlatz.” Another Gaze, October 18, 2018.­liquid-­cinema-­ argentinas-­las-­calles-­maria-­aparicio-­el-­futuro-­perfecto-­nele-­wohlatz/ (accessed September 29, 2022). Benítez, Matías. “Miradas locales y globales en la construcción de los barrios migrantes coreanos en Latinoamérica. Los casos de Baek-ku en Buenos Aires y Korea Town en Guatemala.” Cuaderno del Centro de Estudios en Diseño y Comunicación 111 (2021): 123–134. Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London/New York: Routledge, 1994. Brauner, Susana and Rayen A. Torres. “Los chinos y sus descendientes en Buenos Aires. Diversidades identitarias en una de las comunidades chinas de ultramar (entre fines de los años setenta del siglo XX e inicios del XXI).” Diversidad 8, no. 13 (2017): 70–87. Censo nacional de población, hogares y viviendas 2010. Censo del Bicentenario Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos. Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos. Buenos Aires: 2010. Chong-Sup, Kim and Eunsuk Lee. “Growth and Migration to a Third Country: The Case of Korean Migrants in Latin America,” Journal of International and Area Studies 23, no. 2 (2016): 77–87. D’Aquila, Elena Marina. “Entrevista a Nele Wohlatz, directora de ‘El futuro perfecto’.” Cinerama, September 2, 2017. https://cinemarama.wordpress. com/2017/09/02/entrevista-­a -­n ele-­w ohlatz-­d irectora-­d e-­e l-­f uturo-­ perfecto/ (accessed September 29, 2022). Duchêne, Alexandre, Melissa Moyer, and Celia Roberts. “Introduction: Recasting Institutions and Work in Multilingual and Transnational Spaces.” In Language, Migration and Social Inequalities: A Critical Sociolinguistic Perspective on Institutions and Work, edited by Alexandre Duchêne, Melissa Moyer, and Celia Roberts, 1–23. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, 2013. FANA (Federación de Asociaciones Nikkei en la Argentina). Historia del inmigrante japonés en la Argentina. Buenos Aires: FANA, 2004. Ferrari, Marcela Beatriz. “Feminismos descoloniales y discapacidad: hacia una conceptualización de la colonialidad de la capacidad.” Nómadas 52 (2020): 115–131.



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Manipulating the Gaze in La novia del desierto (dir. Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato, 2017) Andrea Meador Smith

Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato’s La novia del desierto/The Desert Bride (2017) was a favourite on the international festival circuit, earning a spot in Un certain regard at the Cannes Film Festival and winning accolades throughout Europe and the Americas. A coproduction between the directors’ native Argentina and Chile, the film narrates the story of Teresa Godoy (Paulina García), a middle-aged woman whose employer in Buenos Aires can no longer afford to keep her as the family’s long-term live-in maid,1 as she travels from the capital to the province of San Juan. On the way to her destination, where she will work for the in-laws of the young man she raised from infancy, Teresa’s bus breaks down on a rural highway 1  Following the precedent of previous scholarship on domestic work in Latin American cinema, I use the terms maid, domestic worker and servant interchangeably to refer to the Spanish concept of empleado (doméstico).

A. Meador Smith (*) Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




near the small town of Vallecito. The town is the site of a sanctuary to the legendary La Difunta Correa, a beloved—but officially unrecognised— saint who inspires hundreds of thousands of devotees throughout the Southern Cone to visit her shrine each year.2 The backdrop of the sanctuary signals the interior journey that is about to unfold, and from the beginning of the film, the cinematography substantiates Teresa’s subjectivity by controlling what and how the spectator is allowed to see. In a shift away from previous films that centre domestic labour within the family home, directors Atán and Pivato foreground the experiences of the housemaid away from the physical and emotional domain of her employers. What results is an innovative portrayal of a Chilean woman who ultimately flourishes when she leaves the house she has served for 30 years and wanders the desert en route to a new life. In what follows, I explore some of the ways in which this talented group of filmmakers challenges previous on-screen representations of domestic employees. I propose that Atán and Pivato, in collaboration with director of photography Sergio Armstrong, manipulate cinematic techniques that underscore their protagonist’s agency during a formative period in her life, thereby asserting Teresa’s control over what and how the spectator is permitted to see.

Service On-Screen in South America Twenty-first-century filmmakers have begun to shift a previously narrow focus on the fictional owners of private spaces in order to represent the lived realities of the women they employ in domestic service. Contemporary directors have interpreted the experiences of female domestic workers— who comprise more than a third of all Latin American migrant workers (ILO 2017, 65)—with such increasing frequency that Deborah Shaw recommends categorising these films as their own genre, “Latin American films featuring maids” (2017, 124). Shaw argues that: the domestic server/served pairing is unique for the ways in which it allows for the probing of cross-class and ethnic relations in an intimate setting, and

2  The name Teresa itself conjures another beloved popular saint, Chile’s own Saint Teresa of Jesus of the Andes. Like La Difunta Correa, Saint Teresa is honoured at a rural shrine, in this case, the Sanctuary of Auco on the outskirts of Rinconada, Chile. Saint Teresa passed away at the young age of 20, coincidentally the age at which protagonist Teresa claims to have left Chile herself.



for the way it dramatises personal affective relationships. While the focus is on these private relationships established behind closed doors, the films reveal structural economic and social inequalities in a highly effective way. The depictions of everyday interactions between women of different classes and ethnic groups makes these films, to varying degrees, part of a new feminist project. This project serves to correct liberal bourgeois feminists’ neglect of the poor women who sustain their work and the masculinist priorities of earlier New Latin American Cinema. (2017, 128)

Shaw notes that women directors in particular have made “films that comment on the power relations between the ruling and servant classes” during a period in which women filmmakers have received greater attention on the international film circuit (2017, 123). South American directors, including many from the Southern Cone region, have been at the forefront of narrating stories in ways that humanise fictional (often migrant) workers hired to perform intimate labour. Sociologists Eileen Boris and Rhacel Salazar Parreñas define intimate labour as the type of work that is expected from live-in domestic service: a mix of “care, sex, and domestic work […] assumed to be the unpaid responsibility of women […] an activity of low economic value that should be done by lower classes or racial outsiders” (2010, 2). It is worth mentioning that, at the same time that women filmmakers have championed more nuanced portrayals of intimate labour, women scholars have championed critical analyses of these films. A large number of academic scholars writing about domestic labour on screen are women, from prolific scholars like Shaw to 9 of the 12 authors in Elizabeth Osborne and Sofía Ruiz-Alfaro’s recent collection Domestic Labor in Twenty-First Century Latin American Cinema (2020).3 In Argentine cinema, family maids can be found in small roles throughout the repertoire of twenty-first-century women filmmakers, including Lucrecia Martel’s La ciénaga/The Swamp (2001), La niña santa/The Holy Girl (2004) and La mujer sin cabeza/The Headless Woman (2008). If we consider Martel’s oeuvre, as Shaw suggests, as “concerned with presenting an anatomy of Argentine, bourgeois female identity” in such a way that marginalised employees are omnipresent yet relegated to the background (126), we can look to numerous national and transnational productions— made by women and men alike—that precede La novia del desierto in 3  A notable exception is Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (Mexico, 2018), which has attracted significant critical attention from men as well.



depicting a domestic worker as a major character in the story. Those titles include Cama adentro/Live-in Maid (Jorge Gaggero, 2004), El delantal de Lili/Lili’s Apron (Mariano Galperin, 2004), Una semana solos/A Week Alone (Celina Murga, 2008), El niño pez/The Fish Child (Lucía Puenzo, 2009), Viudas/Widows (Marcos Carnevale, 2011), Nosilatiaj. La belleza/ Beauty (Daniela Seggiaro, 2012), Los dueños/The Owners (Agustín Toscano and Ezequiel Radusky, 2013), Réimon (Rodrigo Moreno, 2014), Paula (Eugenio Canevari, 2015), Los decentes/A Decent Woman (Lukas Valenta Rinner, 2016) and La hija/The Daughter (Luis Sampieri, 2016). A growing corpus of South American films offers representations of young women who began working in domestic service as teenagers, having left their own families and homelands before fully entering adulthood. La novia del desierto, on the other hand, joins Spanish-language predecessors like Gaggero’s Cama adentro, Chance (Abner Benaim, Panama, 2009) and La nana/The Maid (Sebastián Silva, Chile, 2009), as well as the more recent Lina de Lima/Lina from Lima (María Paz González, Chile, 2019), in prioritising the experience of middle-aged women who have spent years in domestic service to wealthy families. However, as Elizabeth Osborne notes in her comparative analysis of La nana and La novia del desierto, Atán and Pivato’s film surpasses other examples from the genre in that it “emphasizes subjectivity rather than identity through Teresa’s personal quest outside the hierarchical power relationships and spaces of employment” (my emphasis, 2020, 54). Osborne asserts that Teresa is not only desiring but also desirable (2020, 41), a depiction that radically diverges from “traditional representations that desexualize aging, domestic workers” (48). Teresa is not defined by her relationship with her employers; she is “a subject outside the domestic sphere” (Osborne and Ruiz-Alfaro 2020, 14). The focus therefore is not on the affective ties within the employers’ home but rather on Teresa’s personal journey and exploration of relationships on her own terms. The affective labour Teresa performs is shown sparingly on screen, and as a result the viewer does not associate her identity with the extent to which she serves the employing family.4

4  See María Julia Rossi (2020) for a discussion of care work and affective labour in twenty-­ first-­century Argentine film.



Watching the Maid’s Journey in La novia del desierto Prior to La novia  del desierto, both Atán and Pivato had distinguished themselves within the Argentine film industry, earning credits as assistant director on multiple productions. Atán also built her résumé directing smaller projects such as short films, commercials, educational programmes and documentary series, including the International Emmy-nominated Madres de Plaza de Mayo, la historia/The History of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (2015). Pivato, meanwhile, gained experience as a script supervisor, casting director and award-winning screenwriter (Moore 2017). Having first worked together on the set of Luna de Avellaneda/ Avellaneda’s Moon (Juan José Campanella, 2004), and after collaborating on other films, Atán and Pivato decided to join forces to tell a story of their own. As first-time feature directors, they faced funding challenges, and they worked nearly five years to finalise the budget. They financed the project by winning the First Feature Film Fund from INCAA, the Argentine national film institute, receiving support from the Chilean National Fund and compiling sponsorship from the government of San Juan and a number of smaller donors who invested in their dream of bringing the film to life (Moore 2017). With La novia del desierto, Atán and Pivato have joined the growing number of women filmmakers who have forged new opportunities to tell women’s stories from their own perspectives. Atán has suggested that, even though significant progress is being made in the Argentine film industry, we still see a number of “women written by men […] implausible women, who are always on the edge of frame” (Albert 2018, 31). The directors assert that they “wanted to explore the feminine world from a particular perspective: a woman whose life changes suddenly, at an age when reinventing herself does not seem possible in the world of today” (Moore 2017). The result is a true filmmaking partnership: as they gradually recognised ways in which their styles complemented each other, they divided tasks accordingly (Albert 2018, 31), with both serving as co-­ writers, co-directors and co-producers of the film. The pair intentionally avoided devolving into a rigid separation of gender among their crew, hiring both women and men for various positions in art direction and production. For example, Atán and Pivato recruited award-winning women to lead film editing and art direction—Chilean Andrea Chignoli and Argentine Mariela Rípodas, respectively—while they hired Chilean Sergio Armstrong, a regular partner of renowned cineaste Pablo Larraín,



as director of photography. Atán and Pivato were drawn to Armstrong for his commitment to finding the cinematic language that would capture the “visual universe” the two directors imagined (Albert 2018, 32). In this chapter, I examine the directors’ portrayal of Teresa through the lens of Nicholas Mirzoeff ’s concept of the visual subject, “a person who is both the agent of sight […] and the object of discourses of visuality” (2006, 54). I contend that the camera affords Teresa a “right to look”, as Mirzoeff calls it, that “allow[s] another to find you” and claims “a subjectivity that has the autonomy to arrange the visible and the sayable” (2011, 474). In other words, the cinematic representation of Teresa not only affirms her own subjectivity but also acknowledges her “right to be seen” (2011, 484). The right to look, often associated with the feminine and/or the queer, stands in opposition to visuality, which Mirzoeff defines as “that authority to tell us to move on and that exclusive claim to be able to look” (2011, 474), a gaze that assumes the right to classify, to segregate and to evaluate (2011, 476). I argue that the camerawork in La novia del desierto invites viewers to immerse themselves in Teresa’s journey while simultaneously preventing an authorial gaze that minimises her experience. Atán and Pivato challenge previous on-screen representations of domestic employees first and foremost by moving the primary storyline outside of the stately home of an employing family. As a result, Teresa can operate as a visual subject who sees and is seen. This approach differs from depictions of Argentine domestic work in well-known films like Cama adentro and El niño pez. While the maids in those films are indeed shown in other spaces, including their own familial homes, the stories primarily address the interactions and relationships forged within private spaces controlled by wealthy employers. For much of La novia del desierto’s 78-minute running time, however, Teresa sees and is seen as she traverses the Argentine countryside; all images of her employers’ home are shown from her perspective in a series of brief flashbacks that comprise less than 15 percent of screen time. Regardless of where Teresa is shot, Atán and Pivato repeatedly employ certain aspects of cinematography—such as focus and framing—that highlight the protagonist’s agency during a formative period in her life. Viewers of La novia del desierto cannot escape Teresa; this is her story, and she occupies nearly every shot in the film. Atán and Pivato offer spectators a sort of countervisuality, to use Mirzoeff’s term, by means of a cinematic realism that “tries to make sense of the unreality created by



visuality’s authority while at the same time proposing a real alternative” (2011, 485). When seen in this light, previous representations of domestic servants seem authorial in restricting the action to the employers’ home and the emotional entanglements therein. The sheer quantity of running time dedicated to Teresa’s experiences outside the home and out of view of her employers (over 67 of the film’s 78 min) suggests that La novia del desierto indeed functions as a viable alternative to earlier depictions of domestic workers. My analysis corroborates Osborne’s claim that the film is “a radical departure from traditional representations of domestic labor” with respect to both subjectivity and female desire (2020, 42). Hereafter I explore the use of specific techniques that attest to Teresa’s visual subjectivity and cultivate new forms of looking.

Teresa in Focus Atán and Pivato’s film, shot almost entirely in San Juan Province, opens with an aerial view of travellers walking along the highway towards Vallecito. The camera cuts from this establishing shot to our first glance at Teresa, in profile and in focus at the centre of the frame, a strategy that will be employed throughout the film. We hear Teresa mutter her first words to a fellow traveller, remarking that “Debe haberse perdido la pobre [Poor thing probably got lost]”.5 In response, the pilgrim suggests that the seagull that derailed their trip by flying into the bus’s windshield must have been sent by La Difunta Correa, because its appearance is too strange otherwise. This comment foreshadows the unexpected and unusual events that unfold for mild-mannered Teresa, and the remainder of the film captures her adventures as she searches for a lost bag with the help of travelling salesman El Gringo (Claudio Rissi). While the present-day narrative is occasionally interrupted by brief flashbacks set in Buenos Aires, the steady attention to Teresa’s mid-life journey inventively portrays a maid’s existence outside the home of her employer, one that centres her personal rather than professional experiences. One of the most noticeable techniques that establishes Teresa’s visual subjectivity is the use of focus: Teresa is visible in almost every shot of the film, well defined and in the centre of the frame, while the background is 5  Unless otherwise noted, all English translations correspond to the subtitles from the version of La novia del desierto that is available in the United States via streaming platforms (translations by Edwin Arévalo and Andrea Mickus).



often blurred. Atán describes this directorial choice as follows: “toda la historia se cuenta en el punto de vista de ella, había una decisión también de contarla a ella en foco y ver cómo de a poco este mundo que la rodea empieza también a entrar en foco para ella [the whole story is told from Teresa’s point of view, there was a decision to narrate her in focus and see how, little by little, this world that surrounds her also begins to come into focus for her]” (Albert 2018, 36). Regardless of other people or objects in the frame, our gaze is drawn to Teresa’s likeness. For example, in the second sequence of the film, Teresa attempts to find a phone signal outside the bus station where she is temporarily stranded. She appears in focus in the centre of the frame, while the passengers and vehicles behind her are blurred. Here the use of an American shot—also known as a cowboy shot, due to its frequent usage in American westerns to indicate bravery or confidence—signals to the viewer that Teresa is indeed our heroine. Another early example of shallow depth of field occurs when Teresa finds a pay phone and calls her new employer to inform her that the bus to San Juan is delayed. The clearly defined image of Teresa’s upper body prevents us from being distracted by the pilgrims and candles at the shrine behind her. Similar composition keeps our attention on Teresa in the subsequent scene with a wedding dress vendor in Vallecito. Throughout the interaction with the saleswoman, the camera leads our eyes to Teresa: she is mostly shot in profile, or from behind, with shadow obscuring the extent of her emotional distress, but it is her humanity that is prioritised. She remains in sharp focus with wedding dresses blowing in the breeze on either side of her. The dress vendor and the shrine are both out of focus and, as the vendor exits the shop, she calls out: “La Difunta es muy milagrosa, te casás seguro [The Saint is miraculous. You’ll get married for sure]”. Here Teresa again is framed in an American shot, from the knees up, as light hits the wedding dresses behind the indistinct water bottles in the foreground. This portrayal reinforces that Teresa is our heroine and that, while she may not be getting married, she is indeed the desert bride of the title. The use of focus is a defining feature of several scenes between Teresa and the itinerant vendor she befriends, El Gringo. There are numerous shots in which shallow focus guides our attention to Teresa’s face while El Gringo remains in the background and/or unfocused. The first time they meet, Teresa’s face is in sharp focus, in profile, while we hear El Gringo’s voice but do not see him. His hands enter the frame before the rest of him, and when we finally see his face, the focal point remains on Teresa’s face



without shifting to his. Their second encounter, when Teresa enquires about her lost bag, is captured in an over-the-shoulder shot that shows her in a crisp medium-close-up while El Gringo’s shoulder is blurred. He remains out of focus for the rest of the scene, which continuously guides our gaze to Teresa’s dilemma. Once the couple is on the road in search of her bag, several shots inside the truck display Teresa’s face clearly while El Gringo is undefined and often to a far side of the frame. This technique functions especially well in perhaps the two most light-hearted moments of the film: first, when Teresa and El Gringo stop for a panoramic view of the countryside and his antics send her into a fit of laughter and, later, when they have dinner with El Gringo’s cousin and Teresa’s beaming face is illuminated while his is distorted in shadow in the background. Teresa’s visual subjectivity is even more apparent when a shallow depth of field is combined with filters that change the colour and mood at various points in the film. The silvery tones and softer focus in flashback scenes contrast noticeably with the vibrancy of colour in her present moment. As the film reaches its climax, when Teresa and El Gringo have drinks at a roadside bar, we continue to see her well defined and mid-framed, surrounded by bright reds and blues and the warm yellow of decorative lights. In fact, there is only one noteworthy shot of Teresa out of focus in the entire film, when she dances with El Gringo at the bar. The shot is part of the longer sequence of the couple’s romantic interlude in which the saturation of red, the colour associated with La Difunta Correa and her shrine, magnifies Teresa’s emotional experience for the viewer and keeps our eyes fixed on her. Another technique that highlights Teresa’s agency, and often coincides with a shallow depth of field to show her face in focus, is the recurrence of profile and three-quarter shots to depict what is fundamentally an intimate journey. Teresa is clearly a private person who does not want her discomfort on display and, accordingly, the cinematography affords her a level of protection. Early in their acquaintance, she tells El Gringo: “No tomo mate ni soy conversadora [I don’t drink maté and I’m not a talker]”. Although she is the focal point of almost every frame, the camera protects her privacy by preventing us from seeing her entire face head-on. We regularly see her at eye level but usually in profile, meaning we cannot fully examine her eyes or facial expressions. When she is overcome with feeling—uncertainty and fear during her final days at the house, affection for Rodrigo, frustration at setbacks, moments of exuberant joy—we are only partial observers. Returning to the dance scene as an example, we can feel



Teresa’s emotion as she buries her head in El Gringo’s chest, but we are not really sure what emotion this is. Confusion? Longing? Acceptance? I am not suggesting there are no frontal shots in this film, nor that we are completely prevented from seeing Teresa’s full face. Rather, I propose that those shots are so few and far between that her positioning serves as another kind of a filter that allows us to accompany Teresa without becoming voyeurs.6 The camera’s portrayal of the protagonist grants us a right to look, thereby rejecting the dominance of visuality and instead inviting the viewer to share in her experience. Teresa as a visual subject in this way acknowledges her right to be seen while also asserting her own subjectivity.

Teresa in the Distance In a film replete with medium and close-up images that foster intimacy between Teresa and the spectator, the directors also utilise extreme long shots to illustrate the protagonist’s literal and metaphorical journey. These shots, outdoors and in natural lighting, do not minimise or erase Teresa; rather, they remind us that she is in new territory and that this is an adventure for her. She is always present, even when her body appears in miniature within the frame. Many of these wide shots—including those in the film’s opening and closing sequences—capture breath-taking views of the Argentine countryside at the same time that they enhance the sensation of wandering, alone, in the desert. Even when the backdrop is spectacular, viewers are reminded of how isolated Teresa is at this moment: she is between jobs, in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a bus to take her to a place and a family she has never known. On several occasions, the motif of Teresa searching for a phone signal is captured in long shots that accentuate her lack of control over her environment, as well as the extreme distance between her former and futures place of residence. About twenty minutes into the film, a straight cut takes us from a close-up shot of her in bed in a flashback scene to an extreme long shot of her outside a bathroom building where she is stranded in Vallecito. As she lies down to rest on the rudimentary bench that will be her bed for the evening, we hear the same extradiegetic piano music from the previous scene. The continuity of the music, though brief, links the fear and discomfort of Teresa’s last days in 6  See Osborne for an insightful analysis of the frontal shot in the film’s final scene (2020, 56).



her employers’ home to her present-day experience and, as Osborne has noted, encourages spectators to identify with her predicament (2020, 54). The bright red of the exterior bathroom walls contrasts with the muted tones of her former bedroom, just as the distant view of her resting on a bench deviates from the close-up of her tucked in bed. Yet in both shots, Teresa is present and visible, and the cinematography helps us understand her unease. Extreme long shots like these thus situate Teresa in unfamiliar environments that are likely to unsettle her, and they acknowledge her uncertainty without overemphasising her fears about the future. Extreme long shots also capture Teresa in the company of El Gringo, as they traverse San Juan Province in his camper-truck. Wherever they go, we can see her somewhere in the frame. During one of their stops, we see her tiny figure run out of the truck in search of a private spot to use the bathroom, followed by a brief panoramic shot of the arid plains and imposing mountains that surround them. As Teresa returns, another extreme long shot captures her from behind, becoming ever smaller as she wanders through the shrubs and back to the camper. The majesty of the landscape, along with the sound of insects chirping, reminds us of how deserted these plains are, and we realise that Teresa actually is learning to overcome certain inhibitions (such as her earlier refusal to urinate outside) and to navigate the challenges of her new environment. As the film comes to a close, another extreme long shot opens the final scene. Similar to the sequence mentioned earlier, we move from a muted shot of a bedroom scene, this time of a bed she shared with El Gringo, to the bright natural light of the open road. We spot Teresa in the distance, and as before, extradiagetic music accompanies us in the transition from one scene to the next. As her small frame walks along the deserted rural highway towards a shrine to La Difunta Correa, the wide shot transitions all the way through to a close-up that illustrates her triumph and hopefulness. We are finally allowed to see Teresa’s face clearly, in full, and she is clearly ready to move on. The physical proximity afforded by this and numerous other close-ups enables a level of familiarity between Teresa and the viewer and foregrounds her emotional journey above all else. Extreme long shots, though, are also crucial to underscoring the film’s themes: they champion Teresa’s physical journey and communicate a sense of adventure and wanderlust as she travels through a new place with a companion of her own choosing.



Teresa Confined The expansiveness of the aforementioned shots contrasts sharply with the tight framing used to depict Teresa inside her former home. Doorways, barred windows and banisters evoke a sense of confinement as we watch the four flashback scenes, beginning with the first time we see Teresa engage with her employer. We hear the patrona’s voice before we see her, sitting at her dressing table painting the nails of another middle-aged woman. The framing creates a sensation of both of the women being trapped, as they appear within the door frame, at a distance, and in profile. The combination of their physical proximity, conversation about mutual acquaintances, and the somewhat intimate act of grooming leads us to believe that this is a friendly or familial relationship. In a role-reversal, the woman of the house is serving the maid, painting her employee’s nails inside her own lavish bedroom. Even though Teresa is in the centre, and reflected in her boss’s vanity mirror, we cannot see the expressions on her face, but we can hear the concern in her voice as they discuss their futures. Here Atán and Pivato pay homage to a powerful scene in Cama adentro, in which the once-wealthy Beba (Norma Aleandro) applies a facial mask to her maid Dora’s (Norma Argentina) face. In Cama adentro, the patrona also summons the maid into her own bedroom, sits her in front of the vanity and applies cosmetics in an intimate way. The two women are also shot in profile and are framed by the door to the master bedroom, and in both movies they are discussing about their adult children. In both films, the scenes end with the mistress of the house needing the maid’s help— whether to clean or to provide medical assistance. In Cama adentro, this comes in the wake of Beba not being able to pay Dora for several months of work; in La novia del desierto, it comes in the wake of Teresa’s employer giving her the news that they can no longer afford to keep her. Thus, even though Teresa’s patrona occupies only one minute of screen time, her brief appearance is undoubtedly significant within the context of Argentine depictions of the intimate spaces shared by servants and those they serve. Close framing also shapes the way we see Teresa’s interactions with Rodrigo, whom she raised since birth. We see Teresa become emotional packing his childhood room, with window panes behind her, and in the subsequent shot we again see her in front of window panes, this time in the kitchen with an adult Rodrigo as she prepares the family’s lunch. The camerawork emphasises their closeness as they discuss a potential reunion in San Juan, and in the next scene, the two are framed in a narrow



bedroom doorway as Teresa measures Rodrigo’s height. Throughout this flashback sequence, it is evident that the childless Teresa loves Rodrigo as her own, and it is also evident that they share affection for one another. As in previous scenes, Teresa is in the centre of almost every shot, usually in profile, so we can see the joy inherent in her relationship with Rodrigo without full access to her feelings in this poignant period of her life. In a later flashback, when Rodrigo drives Teresa to the bus station, we witness their final moments together through the car window. As we have come to expect, Teresa is shot in profile, and the reflections of neighbourhood buildings and trees in the car windows prevent us from fully witnessing the depth of her grief. The profile of her face is sharp, while Rodrigo’s is out of focus in the background. Although her relationship with Rodrigo is clearly more comfortable and affectionate than the one she has with his mother, when Teresa is on screen with him, her image is still bordered by doorways and windows. An examination of La novia del desierto would be incomplete without mentioning the role of the script. Atán and Pivato’s writing relies on a relative lack of dialogue that empowers the quality of both the camerawork and the acting to shine. In speaking about her role in the film, Paulina García admitted that “I love characters of few words because they allow you to move in multiple directions, which when you have a character that experiences a sudden and significant change, like she does over the course of the story, the viewer can understand it, can follow it, and can believe it. Characters are much more malleable for me when they have little dialogue” (Aguilar 2018). In creating a character of few words, Atán and Pivato leaned heavily on the cinematography, masterfully orchestrated by Armstrong, transforming an unexpected cross-country trip into a sort of spiritual journey of discovery and hope and, in turn, substantiating Teresa’s visual subjectivity.

Conclusion Domestic workers in Argentina and Chile are often classified as puertas adentro or puertas afuera, depending on whether they live inside or outside the employers’ home. With La novia del desierto, Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato offer a fascinating glimpse into the experience of one such maid, accustomed to a life in service of others, puertas adentro. As a live-in maid, Teresa inhabits the same house as her employers, a space that, as Osborne and Ruiz-Alfaro note, reproduces the oppression of patriarchy



(2020, 6). In many previous films involving domestic work, maid characters operate as stand-ins for their wealthy female employers, in effect becoming extensions of the woman of the house by engaging in the gendered labour they were hired to perform. In La novia del desierto, however, only four flashback sequences are set in her employers’ home, totalling less than 11 minutes of screen time. With the exception of a bit of cleaning and some time in the kitchen, we mostly avoid seeing the menial labour and care work that Teresa surely performed. In moving the story outside of the patrones’s home, the directors enable Teresa to develop as a visual subject, far from the authorial gaze of her employers. In turn, the spectator is able to watch both Teresa’s internal (adentro) and external (afuera) journey when she is forced to leave the house she has inhabited for decades and step into the unknown. Another way in which La novia del desierto differs from its predecessors is that Teresa is a white woman serving a white woman. This is particularly noteworthy given that the largest groups of female migrant workers in domestic service in Argentina hail from Bolivia and Paraguay, both of which have a high percentage of citizens who identify as mestizo and/or indigenous (ILO 2017, 40). Nonetheless, in their portrayal of a domestic worker, Atán and Pivato eschew issues of race and even class. Unlike Dora in Cama adentro, Teresa could easily pass as the woman of the house with the right clothing and demeanour. Moreover, we do not know Teresa’s previous financial situation, only that she entered domestic service around the age of 20. She tells El Gringo simply that “Mis padres murieron en el terremoto cuando yo era chica. Y me fui a vivir con mi tío [My parents died in the earthquake when I was little. And I went to live with my uncle]”. We learn that the uncle who raised her was a truck driver between Chile and Buenos Aires, but we do not know the extent to which political strife, financial insecurity or other calamities may have hastened her departure from Chile. The film thus avoids confronting issues like race, class and even gender-based violence that arise in other films from the region, such as El niño pez and Lina de Lima, that feature women from indigenous ethnic and/or linguistic groups who migrated to capital cities at a young age to serve wealthy Spanish-speaking families. Although it can be argued that the decision to avoid questions of race and ethnicity, especially with respect to discrimination against female domestic workers in Argentina, is problematic, this choice grants Atán and Pivato, both white women themselves, the opportunity to tell a unique story without appropriating the voices of women who identify as mestizas,



indigenous and/or Afro-Latinas. Rather than claiming an authorial gaze for themselves, Atán and Pivato have created a character who claims autonomy and subjectivity, one who resists the authorial gaze “by means of reverse appropriation” (Mirzoeff 2006, 54). Throughout La novia del desierto, the directors manipulate the camerawork in such a way that grants Teresa a right to look, a gaze that exists in concert with the right to be seen and that challenges the male gaze by aligning itself with “the ongoing process of becoming” (Osborne 2020, 58). The cinematography suggests that Teresa grants spectators the right to look while maintaining control of what and how we see. We are never allowed to objectify or sexualise her body, nor are we allowed access to the depth of sadness she feels at leaving the home she shared with Rodrigo. Teresa therefore functions as a visual subject who embodies Mirzoeff’s mantra “I am seen and I see that I am seen” (Mirzoeff 2002, 10). The camerawork repeatedly insinuates that she knows we are watching and she is regulating what we are permitted to see. In the film’s final shot, as Teresa leaves El Gringo and La Difunta behind, she momentarily breaks the fourth wall, staring into the camera just before the credits begin and confirming our suspicions: she has been an active participant in our looking all along.

References Aguilar, Carlos. “Adriana Barraza and Paulina García Breakthrough in Powerfully Subdued Lead Roles.” Roger Ebert, May 14, 2018. https://www.rogerebert. com/interviews/adriana-­barraza-­and-­paulina-­garc%C3%ADa-­breakthrough-­ in-­powerfully-­subdued-­lead-­roles (accessed March 3, 2023). Albert, Mina V. “La unión de una multiplicidad de miradas.” Camera & Light: Revista Técnica Cinematográfica 98 (2018): 30–37. Boris, Eileen and Rhacel Salazar Parreñas. “Introduction.” In Intimate Labors: Cultures, Technologies, and the Politics of Care, edited by Eileen Boris and Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, 1–12. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010. International Labour Organization (ILO). Labour Migration in Latin America and the Caribbean: Diagnosis, Strategy and ILO’s Work in the Region. ILO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2017. Mirzoeff, Nicholas. “The Subject of Visual Culture.” In The Visual Culture Reader, edited by Nicholas Mirzoeff, 2nd ed., 3–23. New York: Routledge, 2002. Mirzoeff, Nicholas. “On Visuality.” Journal of Visual Culture 5, no. 1 (2006): 53–79. Mirzoeff, Nicholas. “The Right to Look.” Critical Inquiry 37, no. 3 (2011): 473–496.



Moore, Kelsey. “Cannes 2017 Women Directors: Meet Cecilia Atan and Valeria Pivato —‘The Desert Bride.’” Women and Hollywood, May 22, 2017. https://­2017-­women-­directors-­meet-­cecilia-­atan-­ and-­valeria-­pivato-­the-­desert-­bride-­f8f47f1ad490/ (accessed March 3, 2023). Osborne, Elizabeth. “Desiring Domestic Workers in The Maid and The Desert Bride.” Comparative Cinema 8, no. 15 (2020): 41–59. Osborne, Elizabeth and Sofía Ruiz-Alfaro, eds. Domestic Labor in Twenty-First Century Latin American Cinema. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. Rossi, María Julia. “Restoring Names, Stories, and Voices for Cinematographic Maids: Toward a New Poetics of Domestic Service in Recent Argentine Films.” In Domestic Labor in Twenty-First Century Latin American Cinema, edited by Elizabeth Osborne and Sofía Ruiz-Alfaro, 23–51. New  York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. Shaw, Deborah. “Intimacy and Distance–Domestic Servants in Latin American Women’s Cinema: La mujer sin cabeza and El niño pez.” In Latin American Women Filmmakers: Production, Politics, Poetics, edited by Deborah Martin and Deborah Shaw, 123–148. London: I. B. Tauris, 2017.


Genre Cinema


Women, Hybridity and Genre in the Films of Verónica Chen Beatriz Urraca

With a career spanning over twenty years, Verónica Chen is part of a group of auteurs whose creative experimentation has shaped modern-day Argentine cinema. The founder of the production company Bambú Cine, Chen has directed five well-received feature films, one autobiographical documentary and seven shorts. Arthouse and genre festivals worldwide have screened her films, some of which have earned prestigious awards. Chen strives for freedom to experiment in all aspects of filmmaking, and each of her works highlights at least one major way in which her unique intercultural perspective, moulded by her Texas upbringing and Chinese ancestry, challenges and disrupts traditional modes of cinematic representation. Experimentation is, as Laura Marks suggests, integral to works that address the experience of living in between cultures (2000, 1). This chapter analyses Chen’s last three films  before 2021—Mujer conejo/Rabbit Woman (2013), Rosita (2019) and Marea alta/High Tide (2020)—as examples of intercultural cinema. All these films, I will argue, subvert the

B. Urraca (*) Widener University, Chester, PA, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




conventions of the classic psychological thriller genre in order to explore a variety of female identities and their relationship to their environments. Originally a student of classical literature at the University of Buenos Aires, Chen went on to train as a director, editor and producer at Buenos Aires’s Escuela Nacional de Experimentación y Realización Cinematográfica [ENERC, National School of Film Experimentation and Production]. She is always closely involved in the screenwriting process, often planning her films years in advance of production. Her debut feature, Vagón fumador/ Smokers Only (2001), engaged with the pessimism of Argentina’s grave economic and social situation, shying away from explicit political references and moral judgements in its exploration of sexuality and the intricate relationship between human bodies and public spaces. The freshness and risk-taking of this cinema was characterised by its “oposición sostenida y consciente […] a la estética marcadamente alegórico-pedagógica del cine argentino político de los años ochenta [sustained and conscious opposition … to the markedly allegorical-pedagogical aesthetics of the Argentine political cinema of the 1908s]” (Copertari 2009, 8–9). Chen’s second feature film, Agua/Water (2006), a beautiful exercise in formal virtuosity and aesthetic risk, subordinated narrative development to the visualisation of the body underwater. In 2010, I contextualized these films within the New Argentine Cinema paradigms of circular time, transactional relationships and a transformation of hegemonic systems of representation. I argued that the purpose of these paradigms was “manipular la mirada del espectador de manera que éste pueda compartir la experiencia del personaje sin identificarse con él, a la vez que desbarata las expectativas de totalidad, finalidad, mediación y resolución [to manipulate the spectator’s gaze so that they may share the character’s experience without identifying with them, at the same time as it thwarts any expectations of totality, finality, mediation and resolution]” (Urraca 2010, 350). In Mujer conejo, Rosita and Marea alta, the characteristics of Chen’s unique style have matured. In all of them, a deconstruction of the psychological thriller provides a structural base for the display of the conflicting emotions and motivations of female characters at odds with their environments. According to David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, classic “genre conventions arouse emotion by touching on deep social uncertainties but then channel those emotions into approved attitudes” (2009, 336). Indeed, in Chen’s stories of “impending menace” and “maladjusted loners”, the viewers’ emotions are fully integrated with the characters’ so that “suspense outranks curiosity” (Bordwell 2017). However, Chen’s style also emphasises cultural



hybridity by layering avant-garde techniques that point towards other film traditions in Argentina and beyond. Manga animation blends with live action in Mujer conejo; in Rosita, shots of fragmented bodies and asynchronous sound question the privileged place of the cinematic image in a style pioneered by Lucrecia Martel; Marea alta references well-known Asian and Argentine home-invasion films as it explores the intersectionality of gender and class. In a veiled commentary on Argentina’s contemporary social ills, these last three films focus on female-centred narratives which lend themselves to explore the unique ways in which women of different backgrounds interact with hostile environments and react to conflict with violence. In 2014, Chen indicated a resistance to the “feminist” label that was common among women filmmakers of her generation, such as Lucrecia Martel (Rangil 2005, 111; Slobodian 2012, 163)1 and Julia Solomonoff (Rangil 2005, 127). “I’m not sure if there is a men’s cinema and a women’s cinema” (Kramer 2014, 50), Chen asserted, distancing herself from the militant feminism of directors such as María Luisa Bemberg or Lita Stantic and their representation of strong, courageous, independent women in films where personal conflicts were intricately bound to political turmoil and historical context. In Vagón fumador and Agua, female

1  In a recent interview, Martel has also refined her own stance on feminism: “No es necesario ser feminista para acordar con el feminismo. Es mi caso. La pelea puede darse desde cualquier lugar que analice el poder y rescate la experiencia de los vencidos para pensar en otra cosa. No es necesario ser feminista, pero es imprescindible incluir al pensamiento feminista que es muy variado y muy agudo. Ha habido movimientos y pensadoras que han construido y siguen construyendo un camino innovador y de una praxis muy concreta. Yo no pertenezco al movimiento feminista, porque no tengo esa formación tan precisa. Cometo errores incluso con las palabras nuevas con las que se nombran las cosas desde el feminismo. Pero no tengo ninguna duda de que iluminaron mi camino [Being a feminist is not necessary in order to agree with feminism. This is my case. The struggle can happen from any place that analyses power and emphasises the experience of the vanquished in order to think of something different. Being a feminist is not necessary, but it is essential to include feminist thought, which is very varied and acute. There have been movements and thinkers that have constructed and continue to construct an innovative pathway and a very concrete praxis. I do not belong to the feminist movement, because I do not possess such a precise training. I make mistakes even with the new words with which things are named from a feminist stance. But I have no doubt that they illuminated my path]” (Savransky and Huarte 2021).



concerns were, at most, complementary to stories that did not take a stance on women’s emancipation or patriarchal systems of oppression. Chen chose instead to deconstruct gender roles in the representation of both male and female figures (Moret 2010, 225). However, her feminism is evident in her themes, characters and aesthetic choices, “depicting the peculiar way in which life is experienced by women” (Iglesias and Villalobos 2004, 174). She has recently expressed an awareness that there are indeed visions and feelings in cinema’s representations of bodies that “could only come from a woman”. She defends “un punto de vista que yo considero femenino más allá del personaje que es la estética. Yo siento que hay una narración masculina y una femenina [a point of view that I consider feminine beyond the character, which is aesthetics. I feel that there is a masculine narrative and a feminine one]” (Corrall 2020). Chen’s films subvert the paradigm set out by Laura Mulvey in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”: “The presence of woman is an indispensable element of spectacle in normal narrative film, yet her visual presence tends to work against the development of a story line, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation” (1975, 10). For Chen, however, the women’s gaze can be active, the men can be objects of desire on the women’s own terms and it is primarily the women who propel the action forward, at times through the kinds of violence that the classic thriller tends to associate with male characters. Her camerawork filters the spectator’s visual experience through screens, mirrors and windows reminiscent of Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954), adding a contemporary touch through CCTV surveillance cameras and mobile phones whose images complement and question the information provided by frequent close-ups of the actors’ own gazes, facial expressions and points of view.

Mujer conejo (2013) Mujer conejo is the only film that explicitly explores Chen’s own Chinese ancestry. Ana (Haien Qiu) is a building inspector who finds herself enmeshed in the organised crime underworld of Buenos Aires’s Chinatown. This film is probably Chen’s riskiest, since it blends live action with Manga animation to unravel the protagonist’s multiple identities in a world of hybrid cultures and shifting boundaries, and to explore how these fit into the city-pampa dichotomies embedded in traditional Argentine conceptions of national identity since the nineteenth century. In the opening



shot, Ana’s blurred image blends into Chinatown’s trinket shops and restaurants, accompanied by a persistent gong. Neither sight nor sound are privileged senses that bring meaning and clarity to these scenes, which lead the viewers into confronting their own stereotypes before delving into their inaccuracy. When she is charged with renewing licenses in that neighbourhood, Ana feels trapped between her personal ethics and the corrupt systems that pervade both Chinese and Argentine institutions. Unsafe building conditions and overcrowded tenements are only the tip of the iceberg: the same mafia that manages the precarious buildings is also involved in serving questionable rabbit meat in its local restaurants. The delicious dish that Ana and her friends feast on comes from genetically mutated rabbits that are eating and destroying everything in the pampas. Their murderous exploits, graphically depicted in the animation scenes, enact a violent destruction of the nation’s heartland. They are a metaphor of the “Chinese invasion” feared by white Argentines, a point of view articulated by Ana’s lover, Alonso (Luciano Cáceres), her co-workers and her bosses. Alonso’s frequent comments are particularly illustrative of white Argentine xenophobia: “¡cómo gritan los chinos! [the Chinese scream so loud!]”, “si a vos no te importan los chinos… [if you don’t care about the Chinese…]”, “cosas de chinos [Chinese stuff]”. Ana’s refusal to approve the permits leads to a confrontation at work, where everyone else has been corrupted by a mafia that, much like the rabbits, is ubiquitous. Her stance endangers her best friend Tao (Xunge Ma “Miró”), a Chinatown restaurant waiter, and Alonso, a doctor at the hospital where the Bolivian victim of a Chinatown building collapse is being treated. Neither man survives after providing Ana with some initial clues which she, alone, follows deep into a dystopian version of the pampas. Their brutal murders, her job reassignment and the mafia’s veiled threats against her slowly unleash Ana’s latent violence. The feeling that she is constantly being watched and endangered creates the growing suspense characteristic of the psychological thriller, emphasising the power held by the anonymous observer and connecting film viewing to surveillance and the invasion of privacy. In the animation scenes, an overt allusion to Asian cultural products, Ana becomes a comic book warrior bent on salvaging, not the corrupt city where she buried her identities, anxieties and desires, but her rural childhood idyll. In The Skin of the Film, Laura Marks examines “experimental styles that attempt to represent the experience of living between two or more cultural regimes of knowledge, or living as a minority in the still majority white,



Euro-American West” (2000, 1). This helps understand how Chen’s blending of classic genres—the psychological thriller, animation and even post-apocalyptic science fiction, culminating in a western-style standoff— delivers a “hybrid cinema [that] forces each genre to explain itself, to forgo any transparent relationships to the reality it represents, and to make evident the knowledge claims on which it is based” (8). As an intercultural hybrid film, Mujer conejo explores Argentina’s multi-layered cultures through the experience of an Asian female ignored by dominant discourses of national identity. Asian-inspired animation techniques are deployed to represent that for which there are no precedents in Argentine cinema or literature, which is full of immigration stories: the fact that Ana was born and grew up in the heartland and not, as her appearance might suggest, in a distant, exotic country. She blends into the marginal space of Chinatown, but she unequivocally identifies as Argentine and does not speak Chinese. Her unique history of displacement and cultural dislocation is difficult to represent through her live-action presence in Chinatown, which transmits a misleading sense of place and culture. Chen’s refusal to translate or subtitle the scenes in which Chinese is spoken help the audience relate to Ana’s discomfort as she tries to belong, but is viewed with suspicion by Chinese and white people alike. Manga, however, leads the spectator to experience the graphic, bloody violence of the killer rabbits with some detachment: it appears to be just a nightmare, albeit one that explores cultural origins and hierarchies that do not fit any known parameters. As Marks suggests, “[h]ybrid cinema is in a position to do archaeology, to dig up the traces that the dominant culture, and for that matter any fixed cultural identity, would just as soon forget. One cannot simply contemplate a hybrid  […]: one cannot help but be implicated in the power relations upon which it reflects” (2000, 8). The animation scenes depict Ana as a transformed heroine, armed and dangerous. By returning to her ancestral home and fighting bravely alongside the last survivors of the land—who have also experienced displacement—Ana inserts herself within the historical Argentine debate of civilisation and barbarism. These scenes construct a frontier land where she can find the truth about her country and herself. Her derelict childhood home in the rural town of Chascomús, a red barn depicted in storybook-­style animation sequences, gleams amid this dystopian landscape that the killer rabbits have turned inhospitable. Ironically, it is only here that she can reconnect with her roots and fight alongside those who



know her true essence. Her victory over the rabbits does not lead to a return to her bureaucrat job in Buenos Aires, but to the restoration of the dilapidated house and to healing self-acceptance. Besides animation, Chen deploys drone technology to represent duality and hybridisation. Her aerial view of Buenos Aires—reminiscent of a similar scene in Vagón fumador—counterbalances the city’s seedy underbelly of corruption as Ana and Tao are filmed from above through images that are almost monochromatic, play with street shadows and suggest an erasure of differences, “expressing the power relationship embodied in such a panoramic shot” (Gleghorn 2011, 236). For a brief moment the two friends believe that the city belongs to them. But when the same scene is replayed after Tao’s death through the mobile phone video recording they made, it becomes tragic. Mujer conejo, like most of Chen’s films, highlights the representation of modes of observation and thematisation of the gaze through ubiquitous security cameras and mobile phones that rapidly change hands—and contexts—and distribute images beyond their original intended audience. Privy to scenes of illegality or intimacy, the spectator also watches this film through the eyes of those who are not supposed to be looking, which adds to the suspense. This is evident in the sex scene between Ana and Alonso; in her apartment, Ana’s cat, Benítez, provides the point of view to an awkward reunion. His judgmental eyes suggest human-like qualities akin to those of the rabbits. Benítez, who hates Alonso, expresses his disapproval by urinating on Ana’s purse and rendering her mobile phone useless. This seemingly insignificant action will have enormous consequences, as it prompts a series of phone exchanges that ultimately cost Alonso his life. The presence of animals, including the cat that always dangles from Ana’s rear-view mirror, is a constant reminder of being watched but also protected. The film’s underlying message of denouncing corruption and xenophobia uncovers the complexities of living as an Asian woman in a place where her ancestors are viewed as invaders. Speaking about Mujer conejo, Chen commented that “Ana es como mi reverso, porque ella sí ‘parece’ china y yo me veo occidental. El concepto de pureza siempre me hace sentir incómoda… Vivimos con cierta angustia cómo Asia irrumpe en nuestro imaginario occidental [Ana is like my opposite, because she does ‘look’ Chinese and I see myself as western. The concept of purity always makes me feel uncomfortable… We experience with a certain anxiety how Asia irrupts in our western imagination]” (Lerer 2013).



Rosita (2018) In this unassuming exploration of unconventional motherhood, Sofía Brito plays Lola, a young mother of three children from three different fathers. The film uses the conventions of the psychological thriller. When her daughter, Rosita (Dulce Wagner), goes missing, Lola wrongly assumes that she has been kidnapped or abused by her grandfather, Omar (Marcos Montes). During the first part of the film, suspense is created as Lola frantically looks for the child. But when Rosita turns up unharmed, Lola’s anxieties, rather than abating, continue to propel the plot forward in an exploration of a deep-seated family trauma. Along with Lola, the audience is led to make erroneous assumptions about Omar’s questionable activities and his failure as a father and grandfather. When his secret is finally revealed, and the presumed “bad guy” turns out to be a victim himself, both gender and genre stereotypes are upended. There is no climactic condemnation or reconciliation in Rosita, a film that embraces fragmentation, decentralisation and uncertainty. Chen experiments with partial shots of the adults’ bodies to represent both the child’s point of view and the chaotic state of Lola’s mind. Her partial understanding of her immediate reality is mirrored by the way her body is only partially framed at any given time, often showing only her midriff, disturbing the viewer’s sense of Lola’s physical whole. This stylistic trait alludes to Lucrecia Martel’s iconic La mujer sin cabeza/The Headless Woman (2008), in which a similar technique thematises the viewers’ position, reminding us that cinema offers only partial information, a slice of life as seen by individuals that are partially blinded by their own experience as well as by what they refuse to see. The near absence of establishing shots renders much of what happens around Lola unavailable to the viewers, who struggle to crane their heads or refocus their gaze in order to grasp the film’s obstructed images, despite the fact that these do not hold the answers to the film’s prevailing questions: is Lola an inadequate mother? Why does she still live with her father? What did he do to her? Films like Rosita and La mujer sin cabeza deliberately stand in the way of the spectator’s desire for coherence, forcing a decoding of multiple levels of meaning created by audiovisual techniques that obstruct our perception of the whole. These techniques illustrate Jean-Louis Comolli’s point that cinema is a process of “reeducation of looking and of listening. By putting them in play, it makes the deficiencies of those senses obvious, and signals its own limitation […]. The spectator



begins by experiencing the fact that he [sic] does not see, does not hear (not so well). The film is there to teach him [sic] to watch and listen better” (2010, 40). As in Martel’s film, the soundtrack of Rosita is punctuated by barking dogs and ringing phones whose source is almost never revealed. Both films create a specific place for the spectator’s activity, that of “escort” or “companion” of the main character, to experience rather than “see” or “hear” her confusion and anxiety. As Laura Marks argues, “many artists have been gradually shifting away from this emphasis on language, as they grow impatient with the word and begin to trust the sound and image to work on their own” (2000, xv). Rosita’s opening leads viewers to wonder whether the firearm noise means Omar killed a dog or a person. This shot establishes him as a questionable character and suggests that violence against animals—a common theme in Chen’s films—is an indicator of repressed violence in humans. The presence of dogs, their insistent barking, and the fact that Lola’s boyfriend treats his animals better than her, all hint at the privileged position of animals in sensing what escapes humans. Omar is in fact wanted for (and cleared in) the murder of a linyera (vagabond), but this only adds to misleading assumptions about him. However, the actual plot is elsewhere, in Lola’s disturbed mind and unreliable memory. The thematisation of the gaze and its relationship to sound create a sensation of surveillance that is also present in Mujer conejo and earlier films directed by Chen. Partial, dark, blurry shots, cameras pointed through windows, slats and half-opened doors… all add suspense and illustrate Lola’s chaotic state of mind. Her fragmented identity, the result of childhood trauma projected upon her daughter Rosita, is often represented through her reflection in multiple mirrors from different angles. She grooms herself, changing her looks—as Vero does in La mujer sin cabeza—unsure of which persona she should present to the world each day. Much of Rosita takes place inside the intimate spaces of kitchens and bedrooms, open to the invading gaze of spectators and spies. The shoe store surveillance camera reinforces the sense of being spied upon, as does Lola’s sense that Omar is always watching her: “Yo pienso que es para controlarme. Desde ahí se ve todo [I think he does it to control me. From there he can see everything]”. In Rosita, as in many films by contemporary Argentine women, “the space of the house becomes a hyper-concentrated narrative environment, a kind of dramatic space within which the



characters compete with one another, throughout the film, for legacies and meanings” (Bettendorff and Rial 2016, 107). The narrative flows in stops and starts, with partial episodes told backwards or in differing versions. Unspoken details help viewers make the same connections as Lola: there are four water bottles in the kitchen, but only three people in the house; the phone whose number Lola is frantically calling is actually in her house, left behind by Omar. In the background, the television voices our fears with stories of sexual aggression, murder and kidnapping. Does Lola feel guilty for leaving the children while she went to have sex with her new boyfriend? Should we judge her for not calling the police immediately? Lola’s insistent questioning of her father, her refusal to accept his versions and lies echo the experience of viewing a psychological thriller in which none of the clues provides resolution of the real problem: “No me cierra [It doesn’t add up]”, she often repeats. Contrary to what Lola thinks, Omar is less interested in spying on her than in coming to terms with his own guilt about his past and the fact that, when he worked in a brothel as a much younger man, he did not help the women, who were victims of trafficking: “Yo hacía como que no veía, no entendía, como que no me importaba [I pretended not to see, not to understand, not to care]”. Rosita is set in Olivos, in the Tigre Delta, an area connected to central Buenos Aires via train lines that are subject to strikes and stoppages. Its calm, homey environment contrasts with the chaotic alienation of the Retiro Station in Buenos Aires. Hostile environments challenge one’s sense of identity and, in this case, highlight the characters’ lack of belonging and rootedness, unleashing their repressed rage and violence. As Edward Casey points out, “[b]odies and places are connatural terms. They interminate each other […]. Places also gather experiences and histories, even languages and thoughts” (Casey 1996, 25). In Omar’s case, violence begins with a quarrel in the kitchen, but leads to a scene in which he does shoot a relentlessly barking dog instead of harming his family. Ultimately, Rosita explores how the search for one’s identity is clouded by an avalanche of partial images and trauma-induced memories that interfere with the characters’ ability to focus on what really matters. Family conflicts and chaotic cities cause entanglements that interfere with the attempt to narrate a slice of someone’s life linearly, and are presented as implicit microcosms of an Argentine society that engulfs those who do not follow a straight path, a society where guilt, shame and violence simmer.



Marea alta (2020) Marea alta opened at the Miami, Bilbao and Sundance film festivals, and won the Best Latin American Film award at Sitges. It is the first instalment of Chen’s “Cuarteto de la costa [Coastal Quartet]”, a series of four films which take place in the Argentine seaside resort towns around Villa Gesell during the four seasons. This psychological thriller explores the latent violence that results from crossing gender, race and class boundaries in apparently peaceful environments. Its plot revolves around Laura (Gloria Carrá), a wealthy, middle-aged book editor, who is supervising the construction of a barbecue in her modern Mar de Ajó beach villa. Behind glass walls, Laura has a one-night stand with Weisman (Jorge Sesán), the crew manager. When the workers see him go inside, they begin to make assumptions about her. They gradually invade her house and take liberties with her personal space, her belongings and even her body, leading her through a crescendo of fear and suspense that culminates in Weisman’s violent murder. The film explores intercultural hybridity by utilising the psychological thriller genre “to dig up the traces that the dominant culture, and for that matter any fixed cultural identity, would just as soon forget” and to implicate the viewer “in the power relations upon which it reflects” (Marks 2000, 8). Its beautiful images of calm natural exteriors and bright, orderly interiors contrast with the dark turmoil experienced by Laura as her privacy is relentlessly violated by men she considers different, inferior and repugnant. The aerial views of the house and its surroundings suggest an expectation of peace and calm, but also exposure to lurking dangers because of its isolation and the fragility of its expansive glass walls. These put Laura on display not only to the spectator’s gaze, but to that of the workers who, uninvited, transgress the boundaries of her private space. The film opens with Laura as the object of the male gaze: Weisman, whose name means “white man”, watches her sensual dance. The camera pans slowly up and down Laura’s body, exploring her as she and Weisman draw near each other. The mood is interrupted by his jarring words: “A vos te gusta mucho coger, ¿no? [You really like to fuck, don’t you?]”. This causes Laura to stop in her tracks, to regain her position of power (she is his employer and his seducer, and she invited him into her house), and to let him know that he has crossed a line. As someone used to giving instructions, she controls the rhythms of the encounter. The sex scene, like many in Chen’s films, frames bodies in fragments, highlighting details such as



tattoos and midriffs, suggesting the encounter of parts without any kind of synergy of the whole. The asynchronous sound and sound bridges are also examples of hybrid cinema’s exploration of interculturality (Marks 2000, 31); their use is a “highly subversive act due to its effect of undermining the dominance of sight” (Slobodian 2012, 169). Sound bridges between scenes connect indoor and outdoor locations and draw a seamless path between the world inside and outside the house, between the workers’ actions and Laura’s privileged life. Marea alta also explores the hybridity of power dynamics and cultural dislocation, as class and ethnicity are complicated by gender roles and stereotypes that differ in urban and rural societies. Laura prevails as a white, rich and well-educated member of the ruling class. Yet she is the true invader, as she has modified the environment by building a house in it. This is an example of how Argentina’s wealthy classes think of places of solace and spectacular natural beauty as their own without giving a passing thought to the displacement of its original human and other-than-human inhabitants. As Laura’s relationship with the workers deteriorates, Marea alta emphasises how power mediates relationships between cultures (Marks 2000, 24). Laura holds herself superior to these men, punctuating her outbursts of anger with references to class: “Vos no tenés idea de categorías [You have no idea of categories]”, “Claramente sos inferior [You are clearly inferior]”, “No hablo con peones [I don’t talk to peons]”. With each carefully enunciated phrase, she restores order and replaces her fears with the rightful place that caste, race and wealth have bestowed upon her. Things get messy when it comes to gender roles. The labourers exert their dominance over Laura through the stereotyping of manual work as a masculine domain and through the act of looking, which affects her more powerfully than physical contact. Even her husband, whose role is reduced to a voice on the phone, reminds her that she does not know how to handle workers. Despite knowing that they are doing substandard work, the men refuse to follow orders from a woman and, since their manager is missing, they get out of control. Although they never actually touch her, their penetrating stares suggest danger to a woman alone in an isolated place. Her powerlessness is evident as she attempts different strategies to handle the situation: she buys them meat and wine for lunch, steps over them as she ignores their menacing nakedness and yells and screams at them hysterically. Laura thinks of herself as progressive and feminist. She assures her husband that she can handle the men, yet she fails to



understand the workers’ socioeconomic condition and culture, and this causes her to lose control. Spying is thematised throughout the film, notably suggested by the origami animals that Laura finds in unexpected places, an indication that someone is always watching. The transparent walls of her house feel less like a connection to the natural environment and more like a fishbowl that concentrates uninvited gazes. The men watch her, leaving their condensed breath on the glass as she sleeps unaware. As Laura encases herself inside a pristine glass house, she pretends that she cannot be seen from outside, that she owns both the gaze and its agency. It genuinely shocks her that others dare look at her through the inviting glass, penetrating its walls to be physically in her space. That the film has widely been seen as feminist by audiences from different cultures is a pleasant surprise to Chen, but, in fact, if the protagonist had been male, she admits, there would not have been a movie (Montesoro 2020). Marea alta is reminiscent of recent Asian films like Parasite (Bong Joon Ho, 2019) (Betancourt 2020), but it also shares its home-invasion theme with other Argentine psychological thrillers that speak of a substratum of repressed violence in this society in particular. For example, in Buena Vida Delivery (Leonardo Di Cesare, 2004), Hernán (Ignacio Toselli) is powerless when his girlfriend’s family displaces him from his home to set up a churrería [fried dough business]. In El hombre de al lado/The Man Next Door (Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, 2009), set in an equally ultra-­ modern house, a confrontation between neighbours of disparate class backgrounds devolves into violent murder. In La sangre brota/Blood Appears (Pablo Fendrik, 2008), a similar outburst of extreme violence explodes after the protagonist’s self-control is gradually eroded by personal circumstances and confrontations inside his taxi. In all these films, the seemingly calm and collected protagonists, members of different Argentine classes and ethnicities, find themselves navigating a national environment full of class-related conflict that destroys their initially controlled façades. In Laura’s case, each transgression of her home life places a new crack in its glassy surface until she kills Weisman, predictably, with a glass bottle. The signs that point to Laura’s potential for violence are scattered throughout the film. They escalate from her vigorous scrubbing of the bathroom after it has been used by one of the workers to her vicious killing of a rodent that startled her while she was picking pinecones in the forest. The fact that she gets away with murder, that even the obvious clues that she carelessly scatters about the property do not provoke more



than a hint of suspicion and that she is able to return to her rightful place in her mansion and recover her calm are signs of the uncrackable nature of her privilege. Economic power restores balance. Gender and class hierarchies re-establish themselves in their rightful place at the end, an act rarely exempt from violence.

Conclusion Chen’s work has been described as “distinguished by the atmospheric moods she creates as well as by the representation of bodies and their relationship to public space” (Kramer 2014, 49). These observations are borne out by her own reflection that she “would rather like [people] to feel more than think clearly about anything” (Corrall 2020). She harnesses the power of form to engage the viewer as a participant, creating new conventions out of the readjustment of classic genre expectations, including conflict resolution. In this sense, they are all examples of intercultural cinema, which “is not sanguine about finding the truth of a historical event so much as making history reveal what it was not able to say” (Marks 2000, 29). In Vagón fumador and Agua, Chen emerged as an original contributor to the ways in which Argentine women directors subverted traditional understandings of the gaze and its relationship to the body. In the three films analysed here, she blends experimental techniques with narratives that de-emphasise hegemonic modes of visual representation and deconstruct classic genres. Art direction, editing and screenwriting work seamlessly to create a layered cinematic experience characterised by hybridity, fragmentation and the multidimensional exploration of women’s identities. Their emphasis on sound marks an alternative to privileging the image and the gaze in male-dominated Hollywood cinema, since it “subverts the clear binaries of perceiver/perceived, masculine/ feminine, and allows for new spaces of contact” (Slobodian 2012, 170–171). Although they focus on women from different walks of life, these narratives are connected in their emphasis on environment and culture as determinants of identity: “Veo todas mis películas muy emparentadas entre sí: hay un personaje que se siente fuera de lugar en su entorno y entre sus semejantes [I see all my films very much interconnected: there is always a character who feels out of place in their environments and among their fellow human beings]” (Lerer 2013). All three focus on women’s personal histories as threads that point towards the larger conflicts that plague contemporary Argentine society without making them their focus.



Rather than stories of change and transformation, Chen’s stories inquire into what structures women’s lives, what provides them with meaning and how single events release hidden layers of trauma and violence.

References Betancourt, Manuel. “Review: Marea alta Is a Quick Character Study of a Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Remezcla, January 29, 2020. https://­sundance-­marea-­alta-­high-­tide-­veronica-­ chen/ (accessed November 15, 2021). Bettendorff, Paulina and Agustina Pérez Rial. “Women.” In Directory of World Cinema: Argentina, II, edited by Beatriz Urraca and Gary M.  Kramer, 105–108. Bristol: Intellect, 2016. Bordwell, David. “A Prestigious Mega-Genre.” Observations on Film Art, June 3, 2017.­me/ (accessed November 15, 2021). Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009. Casey, Edward S. “How to Get from Space to Place in a Fairly Short Stretch of Time: Phenomenological Prolegomena.” In Senses of Place, edited by Steven Feld and Keith H. Basso, 13–53. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Advanced Seminar Series, 1996. Comolli, Jean-Louis. Cine contra espectáculo. Buenos Aires: Manantial, 2010. Copertari, Gabriela. Desintegración y justicia en el cine argentino contemporáneo. Rochester: Tamesis, 2009. Corrall, Cody. “Sundance 2020 Women Directors: Meet Verónica Chen ‘High Tide’.” Women and Hollywood, January 29, 2020. https:// (accessed November 15, 2021). Gleghorn, Charlotte. “The Dystopian City: Gendered Interpretations of the Urban in Um Céu de Estrelas/A Starry Sky (Tata Amaral, 1996) and Vagón fumador/Smokers Only (Verónica Chen, 2001).” In New Trends in Argentine and Brazilian Cinema, edited by Cacilda Rego and Carolina Rocha, 225–242. Bristol: Intellect, 2011. Iglesias, Norma and José Pablo Villalobos. “Gazes and Cinematic Readings of Gender: ‘Danzón’ and Its Relationship to Its Audience.” Discourse 26, no. 1–2 (2004): 173–193. Kramer, Gary M. “Interview with Verónica Chen.” In Directory of World Cinema: Argentina, edited by Beatriz Urraca and Gary M.  Kramer, 49–51. Bristol: Intellect, 2014.



Lerer, Diego. “Estreno: Mujer conejo, de Verónica Chen.” Los inrockuptibles, November 28, 2013.­inrockuptibles/estreno-­ mujer-­conejo-­de-­ver%C3%B3nica-­chen-­3b0a135e6f3f (accessed November 15, 2021). Marks, Laura U. The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2000. Moret, Zulema. “La violencia del lugar.” Aisthesis 48 (2010): 218–228. Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16, no. 3 (1975): 6–18. Montesoro, Julia. “50 Mujeres del cine argentino: Verónica Chen.” GPS Audiovisual 1, no. 41 (2020). topic/los-­especiales-­de-­gps-­audiovisual-­t1-­e41 (accessed November 15, 2021). Rangil, Viviana. Otro punto de vista. Mujer y cine en Argentina. Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo, 2005. Savransky, Miguel and Valentín Huarte. “‘Espero una película villera sobre la clase media argentina’. Una entrevista con Lucrecia Martel.” Jacobin América Latina, September 7, 2021.­ martel-­espero-­una-­pelicula-­villera-­sobre-­la-­clase-­media-­argentina/?fbclid=IwA R2cFHgWYJs9_DzZR0dppykMhaSadmiA7nMuoUhFYvAu5Oh0D5R6Id1o A_s (accessed November 15, 2021). Slobodian, Jennifer. “Analyzing the Woman Auteur: The Female/Feminist Gazes of Isabel Coixet and Lucrecia Martel.” The Comparatist: Journal of the Southern Comparative Literature Association 36 (2012): 160–177. Urraca, Beatriz. “La configuración de la mirada en dos películas de Verónica Chen.” Hispanic Research Journal 11, no. 4 (2010): 338–352.


A Different Terror: Crudo Films and Women’s Horror Cinema in Argentina Jonathan Risner

Argentine films can be grouped and distinguished according to genres or movements that have traditionally enjoyed institutional and/or critical support and those that have not.1 Over the last decade, horror and fantasy have entered into a relatively sustained phase of commercialisation in which select filmmakers have relied upon support from the INCAA along with private production companies. Such support, in turn, has enabled the films to be made and to circulate at festivals, in cinemas and on various

1  This distinction among genres in Argentine cinema is crucial. Detective and heist films, thrillers, comedies, documentaries, politically militant cinema and independent/art-house films are well-established genres in Argentina and have served as concise modes of encapsulating national cinema by critics.

J. Risner (*) Indiana University Bloomington, Bloomington, IN, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




national and transnational streaming platforms.2 To be sure, Argentine female directors have long made genre films. Select contemporary Argentine women filmmakers have achieved a certain national and transnational renown by making particular genres: melodrama (María Luisa Bemberg), documentary (Albertina Carri) and art-house films (Carri, Celina Murga, Lucrecia Martel). However, the current commercial turn in Argentine horror and fantasy has been accompanied by the emergence of female directors and producers, such as Jimena Monteoliva and Tamae Garateguy.3 Monteoliva and Garateguy are two women who have often collaborated under the auspices of a production company founded by Monteoliva, Crudo Films.4 To date, Crudo Films’ catalogue is composed of a television programme, horror films, dramas, a detective film and a documentary. This chapter will specifically focus on three horror films directed by either Monteoliva or Garateguy: Mujer lobo/She Wolf (Garateguy, 2013), Clementina (Monteoliva, 2017) and Matar al dragón/To Kill the Dragon (Monteoliva, 2019). Critics of horror cinema, for good reasons, often deem the genre to be misogynistic (Peirse 2020, 6), owing to the 2  Any claim of a commercial turn in Argentine cinema is supported in relation to what preceded it. During the 2010s, Argentine horror cinema underwent a transition from largely low-budget productions to commercial features, with low-budget productions still remaining part of a horror film culture. While the Covid-19 pandemic has complicated commercial film releases, recent Argentine horror films that have appeared in national commercial cinema circuits include Hipersomnia/Hypersomnia (Gabriel Grieco, 2016), Aterrados (Demián Rugna, 2017), Al tercer día/On the Third Day (Daniel de la Vega, 2021), La forma del bosque/The Shape of the Woods (Gonzalo Mellid, 2021) and Nocturna (Gonzalo Calzada, 2021). In addition to domestic commercial theatres, commercial films have been accessible through national and transnational streaming sites, such as CINE.AR Play, HBO Max, Netflix and Shudder, and have figured into horror and fantasy film festivals of international reputation, including the Bogotá Horror Film Festival and Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFFF). 3  While Garateguy and Monteoliva are two female directors currently making horror and genre films in Argentina, it is important to note that Paula Pollachi and Fabiana Roth preceded them in Argentine horror and are pioneers of sorts in the genre. Pollachi directed Inzomnia (1997) and Baño de sangre/Blood Bath (2003), among other films, and Roth acted in and produced various low-budget genre films as president of Argentina DruidaFilm. Other Argentine women who have recently directed horror films include Luciana Garraza, Laura Casabé and Laura Sánchez Acosta (Robles 2020). 4  In this essay and elsewhere, I hesitate to categorise contemporary women making horror films strictly as “female horror film directors”. Monteoliva and Garateguy, as well as many of the other female directors referenced here, make other types of films in addition to horror films.



traditional and still frequent objectification of, and violence against, women onscreen, as well as the conspicuous absence of feminine issues within horror narratives. Yet, along with other contemporary female directors working outside Argentina, Garateguy and Monteoliva have crafted films that highlight and reiterate the pliability of horror to broach feminine and queer themes that can simultaneously put into relief horror’s traditional masculine and heterosexual trappings.5 If one hazards to gender a film genre based on the traditional depictions of women and the identities of its primary audiences (i.e. a young male audience), horror— along with action movies, subgenres of comedy (slapstick, buddy films, gross-out comedies) and thrillers—could arguably be conceived as a male genre. In contrast, female genres would thus be romance, romantic comedies and dramas (Peirse 2020, 18). In this chapter, I examine three Argentine horror films to consider how horror can be a feminine genre through production as well as through an analysis of the films themselves. I begin with an overview of Crudo Films. Subsequently, I focus on the content of the three horror films directed by Monteoliva and Garateguy, with particular attention to the feminine content, along with how the auteur dimensions of each film take form within the horror genre. In addition, I consider how the forms of horror in the three films complicate prevailing modes of feminine/feminist filmmaking by considering the haptic. Some scholars characterise haptic cinema as being preoccupied with the surfaces and textures of images, which would appear to disqualify horror from being haptic. However, I contend that particular forms of screen violence allow horror to potentially be haptic.

Women’s Cinema and Horror Films In her overview of contemporary Argentine women filmmakers, Isabel Maurer Queipo touches on the evasive and problematic nature of pigeonholing a film or corpus of films as women’s cinema. She presents four variations that enable the category of women’s cinema: the creation of feminine stock characters through repetitive commercial films made from 5  Although hardly exhaustive, other women who have directed horror films include Mary Harron (Canada), Issa López (Mexico), Gigi Saul Guerrero (Mexico and Canada), Julia Ducournau (France), Veronika Franz (Austria), Karyn Kusama (United States), Jennifer Kent (Australia), Nia DaCosta (United States), Juliana Rojas (Brazil) and Jovanka Vuckovic (Canada).



the perspective of a heterosexual male; cinema focusing on women and directed by male or female directors; cinema directed by a woman who has achieved the status of an auteur; and, finally, a feminist and militant cinema made about, for and by women (Maurer Queipo 2016, 217, 222). Mujer lobo, Clementina and Matar al dragón ostensibly conform to at least one of Queipo’s ideas of women’s cinema, in part, by the primary focus on female characters and, in the case of Monteoliva’s films, the inclusion of women’s themes in the narrative. Mujer lobo, for instance, describes the machinations of a female serial killer/werewolf in Buenos Aires who stalks her male victims in bars, on streets and the subway and then lures them to their deaths through seduction. The killer’s personality is fragmented and depicted through three different actresses, whose personas are occasionally at odds with each other. In Clementina, Juana (Cecilia Cartasegna) is physically abused by her husband Mateo (Emiliano Carrazzone) and suffers a miscarriage that lands her in a hospital. The couple had prepared a nursery for the child, who was to be named Clementina. After returning from the hospital, Juana begins to suffer hallucinations of a child phantom, while Mateo returns to their home after being on the lam. Matar al dragón engages with themes of drug addiction, economic class tensions and the kidnapping of young children. The protagonist, Elena (Justina Bustos), escapes from a long-term confinement by a cult that lasted some 25 years during which she was addicted to a strange drug. A former friend, Tarugo (Luis Machín), who helped Elena escape, tracks her down and kidnaps her nieces, triggering a rescue mission. While I return to the question of content below, the three horror films in question here are also women’s films on the basis of production. Crudo Films not only enables films to be directed by women but also employs technical crews that are largely female. Jimena Monteoliva founded Crudo Films in 2010 and, aside from producing films directed by Garateguy and Monteoliva, the company has participated in the production of a television series, Nafta Súper (Leonardo Oyola and Nicanor Loreti, 2016), and films by other directors, such as Leonera/Lion’s Den (Pablo Trapero, 2008) and Kryptonita/Kryptonite (Nicanor Loreti, 2015). Except for Nafta Súper, Crudo Films’ productions are otherwise exclusively cinematic. In turn, Crudo Films conforms to an industrial mode of production which is afoot in contemporary Argentina, engaging solely in film production as opposed



to the making of commercials, music videos and/or television programmes in addition to cinema (Barnes et al. 2014, 33).6 Crudo Films actively seeks to include women in the production process. Monteoliva has commented that the predominance of women participating in production was originally not intentional, but that she and Garateguy were simply working with friends (Monteoliva 2022), which is typical of low-budget filmmaking. However, Monteoliva also related that, as Crudo Films took on projects with higher budgets, the inclusion of women in production is now of cardinal importance as they seek to naturalise gender equity in film production in Argentina (Monteoliva 2022). Maurer Queipo observes that “las directoras argentinas pocas veces hacen uso de los géneros ‘grandes’, como el drama histórico, el wéstern, las películas de ciencia ficción, de guerra, de horror o de porno, sino que tienden más a los dramas, comedias [Argentine women directors rarely engage with dominant genres, such as historical dramas, Westerns, science-­ fiction films, war movies, horror movies or pornography. Instead, they tend to make drama and comedies]” (2016, 234). Albeit not singlehandedly marking a paradigm shift, Crudo Films and its genre production augments Queipo’s formulation of women’s cinema by unabashedly making films that fit within conventional genres, such as horror. And while Maurer Queipo points to the possibility of female directors transforming the genres of animation and documentaries by inserting auteuristic styles (2016, 234–236), Monteoliva’s and Garateguy’s horror films likewise highlight how these films directed by women, along with directors of other identities, can participate in the perpetual renovation of horror at national and transnational levels. Indeed, subgenres of horror have flirted with commercial and audience exhaustion, such as the slasher film in the early 1980s in the United States or the seemingly endless seasons and spin-­ offs of The Walking Dead. The three horror films directed by Monteoliva and Garateguy, along with scores of other horror films, highlight horror’s fungibility to project and narrativise feminine and feminist themes. Especially over the past 10 years, horror films directed by women have been emerging from traditional centres of horror film production (i.e. the United States, Britain, Italy and Japan) as well as other countries. And while women making horror is not necessarily a coordinated cinematic movement, female directors and fans are often aware of horror films directed by women on a transnational scale. For her part, Monteoliva 6

 See Falicov (2019).



refers to Mary Harron, the Canadian director of American Psycho (2000) and The Notorious Betty Page (2004), along with Ari Aster, to illustrate how genre cinema allows for playful possibilities (Monteoliva 2022).7

Forms of Horror Within Horror The question of what form “possibilities” will take remains somewhat open. Nonetheless, Mujer lobo, Clementina and Matar al dragón join other select horror films, both within Argentina and beyond, directed by women and men, to disrupt the repetition of mainstay dynamics within horror cinema without necessarily breaking away from the genre. If Mujer lobo, Clementina and Matar al dragón are films that can be placed within a transnational wave of horror, the films distinguish themselves within a national realm by being women’s horror films in various senses, including direction and production, having female protagonists and engaging with feminine themes.8 As Garateguy has stated in interviews, having a female serial killer who transforms herself into a kind of savage animal was a way to distinguish the film from the typical serial killer movie (Orta 2014). Mujer lobo also broaches power dynamics of sexual acts and the humiliation that women can endure. The female serial killer appears to endure rape and, in another case, is ejaculated on by the police detective García (Edgardo Castro). The murders she commits and the humiliation that she submits one man to by commanding him to masturbate could be construed as a kind of female revenge. In the case of Monteoliva’s films, both emerged, in part, from a desire to convey women’s lived experiences in Argentina and beyond. In Clementina, a woman is abused by her husband and suffers a miscarriage. In explaining the film’s genesis, Monteoliva commented that the plot is based on “cientos de casos [hundreds of cases]”: “No he conocido a ninguna mujer que no haya sufrido alguna vez 7  A similar sentiment was expressed in a recent interview which appeared in The New York Times featuring four female directors from Ireland and Great Britain: Charlotte Colbert, Prano Bailey-Bond, Kate Dolan and Ruth Paxton. The interviewer, Alex Marshall, asks how the women arrived at horror, to which Colbert replies: “I love how there’s a great artistic freedom in horror that’s perhaps not available in other genres. Obviously, in a drama, you can’t have a worm growing out of someone’s nostril, or something else so bold or artistic. But horror has really incredible freedom in terms of visuals and characters, and what’s acceptable and believable” (Marshall 2020, 34). 8  It is worth mentioning that almost all the films produced by the Argentine company Paura Flics featured female protagonists.



una situación de violencia sobre ella misma o sobre otra mujer cercana, de una forma u otra [I have not met any woman who has not suffered from violence or doesn’t know another woman who has]” (Robles 2020). In Matar al dragón, the protagonist, Elena, is held in captivity for 20 years. Monteoliva has remarked that a change in the script enabled the film to become representative of women’s experiences in Latin America: “En el guión original la historia era contada desde el punto de vista del protagonista que era varón, después cambiamos la trama para que la protagonista fuera mujer, que contara algo real, cotidiano y latinoamericano, que es que se roban a niñas todos los días para ser explotadas, torturadas, para trata de blancas y/o asesinarlas [After we changed the plot so that the protagonist was a woman, the movie became something real, lived and Latin American. Young girls are stolen every day to be exploited, tortured, trafficked and/ or killed]” (Rosa Camacho 2021). Horror, thus, becomes the framework for narrativising in cinematic form the daily traumas that women in Argentina and beyond confront. In other words, horror can be made to depict the traumas that many women endure. While Mujer lobo and Clementina have elements of detective films, all three movies squarely fit with the horror genre by virtue of their ostensible capacity to “raise the affect of horror in audiences” (Carroll 1990, 116).9 There is ominous music, low-key lighting, film violence depicted in tones typical of horror (fast editing, gore) and characters’ paranoia over a threat, all of which are essential for categorising the films as horror. Still, each of these films achieves a degree of distinction from other horror films, especially Argentine horror films. Although Mujer lobo is not the first or arguably the most well-known Argentine werewolf film, it is wholly distinct for any number of reasons: three actresses play the same female werewolf, the story unfolds in a very conspicuous Buenos Aires in which horror is meshed with the detective film, and auteuristic touches typical of an arthouse film are displayed.10 In the case of Mujer lobo, the film is shot entirely 9  This definition of horror articulated by Noël Carroll frequently provides critics with a definition of horror. However, the definition forecloses the possibility of other spectatorial reactions to horror, such as laughter at slapstick gore or boredom that might be elicited by ambient horror films. 10  Mujer lobo possibly possesses a slight allusion to Leonardo Favio’s Nazareno Cruz y el lobo/Nazareno Cruz and the Wolf (1975) with a secondary character named Juan Cruz. Apart from Favio’s film, Late Phases (2014), directed by Argentine Adrián García Bogliano, could be considered another Argentine werewolf film. However, the film is a Mexican-U.S. co-­ production, has English-language dialogue and is set in the United States. Finally, La casa de palos/House of Sticks (Sebastián Sarquís, 2020) is another Argentine werewolf film that was released in commercial cinema but attracted limited numbers of viewers at box offices.



Fig. 13.1  The still from Mujer lobo exemplifies the distinct camera placement in the film

in black-and-white; there are occasionally distinct transitions between shots;11 the soundtrack combines jazz, punk and metal themes; and there are often overhead shots with extreme angles, such as a sex scene that is filmed in a long take with the camera remaining overhead and upside down (see Fig. 13.1). Garateguy has been associated with New Argentine Cinema, chiefly for her co-direction and various other roles in the collaborative film Upa! Una película argentina/Upa! An Argentinian Movie (Camila Toker, Tamae Garateguy and Santiago Giralt, 2007). Mujer lobo generally does not conform with prevailing conceptions of New Argentine Cinema, which Gonzalo Aguilar has characterised as strategic carelessness (2008, 15), a foregrounding of the ludic and other aesthetics which render open audience interpretation (2008, 17, 20), a reformulation of the political in cinema (2008, 118), and a neo-realistic engagement with  One such transition happens after a sexual encounter between detective Juan García and the serial killer for the first time. The serial killer successfully escapes from the detective’s apartment. After failing to find her in the streets, García returns to his apartment and is framed with a close-up as he sits on the floor. The sound of water boiling on a stove is heard off-screen, merely conveying the intensity of the scene, since no such action was shown or implied in the previous scenes. Eventually, the sound of boiling water serves as a sound bridge, when there is a cut to the apartment in which the killer lives with a close-up of steam from a boiling kettle. 11



marginal characters in precarious and quotidian situations that often disallows any exteriority for a spectator (2008, 18, 23, 29). While not conforming with the tenets of New Argentine Cinema, Mujer lobo, along with Clementina and Matar al dragón, can be counted among the most recent transnational wave of horror films that double as arthouse movies, such as A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014) and Goodnight Mommy (Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, 2015), among many others. The following statement that appears on Crudo Films’ home page makes explicit the fusion between genre and auteur cinema that is apparent in the horror films directed by Garateguy and Monteoliva: “Nuestro objetivo es siempre hacer cine de género de autor y de calidad y así lo atestiguan nuestras producciones [Our objective is always to make quality genre and auteur cinema; a goal which our productions attest to]” (Crudo Films). The moments of auteurism in Mujer lobo blur the critical boundaries that often separate New Argentine Cinema from genre cinema. New Argentine Cinema is sometimes juxtaposed against genre cinema in order to create a coherent categorisation for the movement. As I have described elsewhere, funding structures, critical reception, exhibition circuits, film festivals and formal elements serve to make coherent the category of New Argentine Cinema and, in turn, differentiate it against other marginal cinemas from Argentina, such as horror, especially low-budget horror (Risner 2018, 20–25). Experimentation is crucial for distinguishing New Argentine Cinema and run-of-the-mill genre cinema, specifically those commercial genres that are usually defined by their conventions, such as screen violence and gore in horror and explosions and shootouts in action films. As David Oubiña argues, “por un lado, [el cine mainstream tiene] la forma de un espectáculo omnipresente gobernado por reglas muy precisas y, por otro, [el cine marginal] tiene diversas formas cuya característica principal consiste en seguir apostando por la experimentación y el riesgo [on one hand, mainstream cinema has ubiquitous spectacles governed by exact rules. On the other hand, marginal cinema takes different forms, but its primary characteristic is that it continues seeking out experimentation and risk-taking]” (2007, 15). Mujer lobo is just one film by a director who is or was associated with the emergence of New Argentine Cinema. Films such as Adrián Caetano’s neo-western/horror/escape film Crónica de una fuga/Chronicle of an Escape (2006), Pablo Trapero’s El Clan/The Clan (2015) and Santiago Mitre’s La cordillera/The Summit (2017) suggest that auteuristic and



experimentation intentions that defined a film movement can, at times, carry over to and manifest themselves in commercial genre films, albeit on a more minimal scale. Caetano’s Crónica de una fuga, for instance, contains occasional moments of experimentation, such as when the camera is flipped upside down to convey disorientation when a disappeared victim is moved from an Air Force truck to a torture centre. Genre cinema is often expected to eschew experimentalism, abide by conventions that establish the genre and comply with the norms of classical cinema, such as continuity editing. However, Mujer lobo, along with the aforementioned films directed by Caetano, Trapero and Mitre signal that genre films can accommodate intermittent experimentation while remaining within the framework of one or multiple genres. In turn, New Argentine Cinema indeed was and remains an historical instance in which different modes of low-­ budget filmmaking allowed directors to hone their craft and experiment. That same dynamic of low-budget and experimental filmmaking appears to have been a training ground in which select directors would go on to make genre films that contain aspects of experimentalism, albeit on minor scale, and thus avoid being run-of-the-mill genre fare. Likewise, Monteoliva’s Clementina and Matar al dragón each possesses auteuristic expressions. The soundtracks for both movies can be characterised by muted chimes or tubular bells in several cases and a menacing buzz in others. The opening sequence of Matar al dragón is animated and provides the back story of a witch who was persecuted by a town and flees. Animation aside, both films feature flashbacks that are distinguished through lighting, such as lens flares in Clementina. Coupled with claustrophobic framing, the lens flares and otherwise low-contrast lighting help to mark the scenes as subjective projections of Juana’s dreams or thoughts about her estranged husband and the loss of their baby. In Matar al dragón, scenes that take place in a family dining room are powerfully illuminated to the point of almost appearing artificial. Such lighting creates a foil against the dark underground chambers and tunnels from which Elena escaped after 20 years in captivity. The framing in both Clementina and Matar al dragón is also distinct at times. In Clementina, the protagonist, Juana, is often framed in overhead shots with extreme angles in her apartment and at work as if she were being surveilled or has internalised an onus following the trauma of domestic abuse. For example, as Juana enters into her bedroom, the camera frames her from above with a high angle (see Fig.  13.2). Likewise, in Matar al dragón, the camera occasionally frames characters from above with high angles when they are



Fig. 13.2  In Clementina, Juana is often framed from above at home and at work

lying down, accentuating a kind of powerlessness in the face of circumstances. The framing in the two films conveys a sense of unease in the environments that Juana and Elena occupy after having suffered traumas of physical abuse and protracted captivity.

Haptics and Horror Cinema Given their status as women’s horror films, one can broach the possibility of Mujer lobo, Clementina and Matar al dragón engaging in haptic modes of filmmaking. Haptic cinema has been aligned with different identities— queer, feminine, intercultural—with critics conceiving the haptic as aesthetic distillations of those identities.12 Laura Marks, for instance, has commented that she “prefer[s] to see the haptic as a visual strategy that can be used to describe alternative visual traditions, including women’s and feminist practices” (2000, 170). Marks acknowledges that any film can be received through a haptic visuality by a spectator “disposed to see haptically because of individual or cultural learning” (2000, 170). Yet, cinema, and not solely one deemed feminine, can be conceived as haptic 12  The haptic has been associated with queer cinema, intercultural and feminist cinemas. Marks’s The Skin of the Film is a fundamental critical work that connects the haptic with intercultural and feminist cinema. Katharina Lindner’s Film Bodies (I.B. Tauris, 2018) and Vinodh Venkatesh’s New Maricón Cinema (University of Texas Press, 2016) are just two interventions that consider the haptic as a queer aesthetic film practice.



insofar as it presents images in such a way that “the viewer perceives the texture as much as objects imaged” (163). Texture, or the materiality of the image, is key here. Marks argues that “haptic looking tends to move over the surface of its object” (2000, 162) and articulates how films can draw attention to surfaces of images through close-ups, lens adjustments, the overexposure and underexposure of images, and a mix of sounds, all of which draw  a hypothetical spectator’s attention to the materiality of a film. Marks alludes to a number of commercial, independent and experimental films and videos to illustrate her ideas about the haptic. Horror, however, is largely nowhere to be found and appears prima facie anti-haptic. Cinema becomes haptic via a focus on textures and surfaces. Films deemed haptic “invite a look that moves on the surface plane of the screen” (Marks 2000, 163). Jennifer Barker argues that “Marks defines haptic visuality as a kind of looking that lingers on the surface of the image rather than delving into depth and is more concerned with texture than with deep space” (2009, 35). This dynamic of surface versus depth puts into relief how some styles of horror ostensibly might not proffer a haptic visuality. Horror often shows in explicit ways the penetration of surfaces, namely skin, through screen violence and gore. Special effects, such as latex and prosthetics, enables the skin to be defiled or pierced by any number of weapons or boogiemen wielding superhuman strength. Moreover, the camera generally does not linger over a body or body part before it is maimed. In other words, setting aside the spectator’s capacity to pause an image, the speed at which violence is performed on a body in a horror film does not allow for an attention to a body’s texture. Nevertheless, the subgenre of body horror—insofar as the camera lingers over corporal transformations—holds out the possibility for the haptic mode. In specific scenes from films such as Society (Brian Yuzna, 1989), Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983) and The Beach House (Jeffrey A. Brown, 2019), the viewer can meditate on human skin undergoing some kind of metamorphoses given the camera’s attention to those changes. Select critics have articulated how the haptic mode can figure into less critically acclaimed genres. For example, Robert Rushing examines tactility and cinema in the peplum genre and its “fetishistic interest in the muscular perfection of the male body: its skin, its musculature, and […] its viscera” (90). While I will return briefly to Rushing’s comment below, Jennifer Barker’s analysis of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) is instructive on how the haptic can figure into the formal analysis of a specific



horror film owing to its focus on surfaces and questions of the protagonist’s disgust (2009, 47–50). Likewise, Martine Beugnet’s work on the haptic in contemporary French cinema appears to provide a solid footing to locate the haptic within the horror genre: “It comes as no surprise that horror cinema should make great use of haptic images; there is something both appealing and potentially threatening in the way haptic perception undermines the strategies of distanciation at work in conventional optical perception” (2007, 68).13 However, Beugnet engages only with a single film that is categorised as horror—Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day (2001)—and focuses on how close-ups, the soundtrack and “the obscurity of the image” depicts the relationship between the erotic and death in an original way. Mujer lobo, Clementina and Matar al dragón largely abstain from the formalistic strategies that critics have associated with a haptic mode. There are close-ups, for example, but the shots do not linger in a way to evidence the texture of an object or an image. Still, the haptic manifests itself through film violence and a generalised notion of a haptic spectatorship in which “tactility [is] a mode of perception” (Barker 2009, 3). That is, in a haptic spectatorship the mutuality between image and spectator (Marks 2000, 184) becomes most glaring. Without elaborating, Marks states that “thinking of cinema as haptic is only a step toward considering the ways cinema appeals to the body as a whole” (163). The mutuality between film and spectator potentially intensifies and “appeals to the body” of a spectator, at moments of film violence and, I argue, for male spectators in particular. Moments of screen violence underscore film’s capacity to act on a spectator’s body. The three horror films are not protracted acts of viewing with the same intensity, as if a spectator’s body is always engaged. Instead, instances of screen violence committed against male bodies potentially make “tactility as a mode of perception” or an attention to surfaces (here, an onscreen body) most apparent. In Mujer lobo, male necks are chewed, and a penis is bitten off. In Clementina, Juana snips off Mateo’s nipples with a pair of scissors. There are other moments of violence in the two films as well as in Matar al dragón. Yet, it is these moments of violence specifically in which the film acts most acutely upon a spectator’s body. 13  In the case of “conventional optical perception”, Beugnet distinguishes it from and haptic visuality. Beugnet associates “optical perception” with an entrenched form of Western seeing that claims to be objective, is characterised by “distance and depth” and separates the layers of an image beginning with its foreground (2007, 65).



When Juana stretches Mateo’s nipple up and cuts it off, one imagines a male spectator cringing in pain and perhaps even grasping his chest. The images, as well as sound, act on the body of the spectator. If Rushing imagined the male torsos in peplum films as depicted in a way so as to appear impenetrable, then in the three films directed by Garateguy and Monteoliva, the male body is not spared. The male body is mutilated by a woman. Though the haptic in the form of textures and surfaces of images does not figure into the three horror films, the haptic nevertheless remains and manifests itself through performances of screen violence against men.

Conclusion In an essay on films directed by women, Clara Kriger writes: “La verdad es que si observamos las prácticas profesionales que se desarrollaron en los últimos años, veremos que son absolutamente diversas y heterogéneas [The truth is that if we look at different film productions in recent years, we see incredible diversity and heterogeneity]” (2014, 77). Horror films directed by women in Argentina underscore this heterogeneity that Kriger points to. With companies such as Crudo Films, women’s cinema becomes one that can be scaled and differentiated. In an oft-quoted essay, Cynthia A. Freeland advocates foregoing psychoanalytic interpretations of horror. Instead, she states that one should instead consider a film’s ideology, taking “the nature of films as artifacts that may be studied by examining both their construction and their role in culture” (2004, 752). Freeland wrote the essay in 1996, and much has changed since then. The three horror films directed by Monteoliva and Garateguy provide a means by which to consider how horror can be a women’s cinema through content as well as production.

References Aguilar, Gonzalo. Other Worlds: New Argentine Film. Translated by Sarah Ann Wells. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Barker, Jennifer. The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009. Barnes, Carolina, José A. Borello, and Adrián Pérez Llahí. “La producción cinematográfica en la Argentina: Datos, formas de organización y tipos de empresas.” H-industri@ 14, no. 1 (2014): 17–49.



Beugnet, Maurice. Cinema and Sensation. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007. Carroll, Noël. The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart. New  York: Routledge, 1990. Crudo Films. “Nosotros.” (accessed April 18, 2022). Falicov, Tamara. Latin American Film Industries. New York/London: British Film Institute, 2019. Freeland, Cynthia A. “Feminist Frameworks for Horror Films.” In Film Theory and Criticism, edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, 742–763. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Kriger, Clara. “¿Cuántas somos en la producción de imágenes y sonido?” Cinémas d’Amérique latine 22 (2014): 68–79. (accessed January 23, 2022). Marks, Laura. The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000. Marshall, Alex. “Horror’s Freedom Lets Women Shine.” New York Times, February 22, 2022: 34–36. Maurer Queipo, Isabel. “Breve panorama del cine actual de mujeres en Argentina.” In Cine argentino contemporáneo: visiones y discursos, edited by Bernhard Chappuzeau and Christian von Tschilschke, 217–241. Madrid/Berlin: Iberoamericana/Vervuert, 2016. Monteoliva, Jimena. WhatsApp conversation. Received by author 4 Jan. 2022. Orta, Matías. “Entrevista a Tamae Garateguy.” A sala llena, September 2014.­a-­tamae-­ garateguy/ (accessed April 19, 2022). Oubiña, David. Prologue to Cines al margen, edited by María José Moore and Paula Wolkowicz, 11–15. Buenos Aires: Libraria, 2007. Peirse, Alison. “Introduction.” In Women Make Horror: Filmmaking, Feminism, Genre, edited by Alison Peirse, 1–23. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2020. Risner, Jonathan. Blood Circuits: Contemporary Argentine Horror Cinema. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2018. Robles, Micaela. “Las mujeres detrás del cine de terror argentino.” October 31, 2020.­mujeres-­detras-­del-­cine-­de-­ terror-­argentino-­l202010290001.html (accessed April 19, 2022). Rosa Camacho, Alma. “Cineasta argentina describe el terror del secuestro en AL.” El Sol de México. August 9, 2021.­argentina-­describe-­el-­terror-­del-­secuestro-­en-­al-­7061979.html (accessed April 19, 2022). Rushing, Robert. “Skin Flicks: Haptic Ideology in the Peplum Film.” Cinema Journal 56, no. 1 (2016): 88–110.


Girlhood and the Uncanny in the Coming-­of-­Age Genre: Abrir puertas y ventanas (dir. Milagros Mumenthaler, 2011) and Mamá, mamá, mamá (dir. Sol Berruezo Pichon-­Rivière, 2020) Daniel Mourenza

This chapter analyses and compares the debut films of Milagros Mumenthaler, Abrir puertas y ventanas/Back to Stay (2011), and Sol Berruezo Pichon-Rivière, Mamá, mamá, mamá (2020). Both are coming-­ of-­age stories that focus on the beginning and end of feminine adolescence, are set in all-female spaces and the protagonists are girls who go through a process of mourning, in which they learn how to deal with their losses. I argue that these films, produced almost 10 years apart, follow a trend initiated by Lucrecia Martel’s first feature, La ciénaga/The Swamp in 2001: a cinema confined to the family home that privileges the

D. Mourenza (*) Radboud Universiteit, Nijmegen, The Netherlands e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




perception of young characters, predominantly girls, and that has the capacity to render the familiar and the everyday strange. Abrir puertas y ventanas tells the story of three sisters—Marina (María Canale), Sofía (Martina Juncadella) and Violeta (Ailín Salas)—who become orphan after their grandmother passes away. The film follows the conflict among the girls, who hold different views on what to do with the house and the belongings left by their grandmother and their parents, who died years earlier. Mumenthaler’s film was a success in the festival circuit. The film won the Golden Leopard for Best Film at Locarno, apart from the FIPRESCI Prize and the Best Actress award for María Canale. At the Mar del Plata Film Festival, the film also won the Golden Aston for Best Film and the award for Best Director. When Abrir puertas y ventanas was released, critics claimed that the film recalled the cinema of Lucrecia Martel and Celina Murga because of its focus on the sensorial and the construction of a female adolescent universe (López 2012; Anon. 2012; Batlle 2012). Mamá, mamá, mamá follows the adolescent Cleo (Agustina Milstein) during three summer days after her younger sister, Erín (Florencia González Rodríguez), drowns in a swimming pool. Cleo’s aunt (Vera Fowgill) and cousins move in to stay with her while her mother remains in shock. Throughout the film, the viewer witnesses Cleo’s inability to communicate or express her pain other than through psychosomatic reactions such as vomiting, until at the end she manages to externalise her grief with tears. At only 24 years old at the time of the film’s release, Berruezo became the youngest director in the history of Argentine cinema. The film premiered at the Berlinale, where it received a Special Mention of the International Jury Generation KPLUS. It toured different festivals, including San Sebastián and Mar del Plata, before its release in Argentina on streaming platforms on 7 January 2021. This time, Mamá, mamá, mamá was not only compared with Lucrecia Martel’s oeuvre, especially La ciénaga, but also with Abrir puertas y ventanas (Batlle 2020; Engel 2021). Horacio Bernades, in his review for Página12, wrote: “La intimidad entre hermanas, primas y la hija de la mucama recuerdan a La ciénaga; el intercambio entre tres hermanas en proceso de duelo y la presencia de un hombre como posible objeto erótico hacen pensar en Abrir puertas y ventanas [The intimacy among sisters, cousins and the maid’s daughter recall The Swamp; the exchange between three sisters in a process of mourning and the presence of a man as a potential erotic object remind of Back to Stay]” (Bernades 2021).



Coming-of-age films explore the development of adolescent characters who, in their move from childhood towards adulthood, “embrace their emerging sexuality and a new awareness of themselves and their world” (Hardcastle et al. 2009, 1). As Alistair Fox argues, this “process of change is often precipitated by an experience of loss” (2017, 5). In the two films studied in this chapter, it is the death of a relative that makes the characters grow into some form of mature awareness. Although coming-of-age stories focus on the transformations experienced by individuals, Fox contends that the narrative often deals with broader societal issues and “mirrors the movement that is taking place in the nation at large” (2017, 13). The traumatic experience that leads to the protagonist’s coming of age can be read in relation to the desaparecidos—as it has  already been done with Abrir puertas y ventanas—posing questions about memory in Argentine society, symbolised in these films by the family home. Indeed, although the coming-of-age film often appears blended with other genres, such as comedy and horror, it most commonly adopts typical elements of the family melodrama.1 The home thus becomes the locus of the tensions among characters or even in the very identity of the protagonists, making the domestic sphere uncanny, instead of homely and familiar. According to Fox, this experience of the uncanny which is so typical of coming-of-age films “derives from an experience of feeling strange or dislocated in an environment that should—because it is ‘home’—feel knowable and comforting” (2017, 12). Abrir puertas y ventanas and Mamá, mamá, mamá can also be conceived as a continuation of different trends in contemporary Argentine cinema which, if not necessarily interchangeable, often overlap. These trends have received the names of “planeta ciénaga”, “sedentarism” and “realismo sinestésico”. Following on these trends, I propose that the centrality of female adolescence and the focus on their perception in these coming-of-age films unsettle a more rational, masculine and adult system of representation, revealing the unpredictable, the mysterious—and, from here, the horror—that lurks behind everyday life. I contend that the horror and unsettling elements of the two films draw not only on the familiar but also on the relationship that the present establishes with the past. I claim that this reflection on what should be done with the past adds a new 1  As I have developed elsewhere, Lucrecia Martel’s films are informed by the family melodrama, even if she drains them of emotions and avoids pathos (Mourenza 2022).



layer to these films in comparison with other films from the same trend(s), at the same time that it connects them to films such as Martel’s La mujer sin cabeza/The Headless Woman (2008).

Planeta ciénaga The term “planeta ciénaga [swamp world]” was coined by Julia Solomonoff in an interview with Deborah Martin. Martin employs this term to define an Argentine cinema “made by women filmmakers and focused in particular on young characters and girl figures”. This cinema, she argues, outstands aesthetically by its use of “tactile and immersive film languages and experimentation with sound to destabilise the cultural hegemony of the visual, the masculine and the adult” (2017, 242). Paulina Bettendorff and Agustina Pérez Rial have coined the term “realismo sinéstetico” to talk about the aesthetics of this cinema. They contend that, instead of naturalising everyday spaces such as the family home, these filmmakers produce a disjuncture of the different elements that conform the mise-en-scène, especially between the visual and aural channels, resulting in “un desplazamiento del campo semántico del hogar como espacio privilegiado de lo cotidiano familiar, de lo conocido y de lo previsible, a un espacio que es heterogéneo y desconocido [a semantic shift from the home as the privileged space of the familiar and predictable to a space which is heterogeneous and unknown]” (2014, 94). The two films analysed in the chapter are part of this trend because they complicate a purely optical perception, providing a visual rendering of bodies cropped either by the frame or by mirrors, and heightening by contrast other senses in which their indexical relationship with reality is less hierarchical. Furthermore, the girls of these films experiment with their perception, which conveys, as in Martel’s films, “opportunities for perceiving the world anew” (Martin 2016, 56). In Mamá, mamá, mamá, for example, the youngest cousin, Leoncia (Matilde Creimer Chiabrando), utters some sounds into a fan in order to distort her voice, a scene that recalls Tali’s little daughters in La ciénaga when they sing the song of Doctor Jano. As the whirling blades of the fan let some sound waves go through but block others, “[t]he familiar human voice is made strange in the process” (Martin 2016, 45). In Abrir puertas y ventanas, the grandmother’s vibrating bed, an old gadget that was particularly fashionable in the 1960s and 1970s, performs this estranging function. Once hidden to the girls, the bed is now used by Violeta, Marina and the neighbour, Francisco (Julián Tello), who refers to the gadget as “raro



[weird]”. The annoying noise of the bed and the image of the young characters shivering on top produce a disjuncture between tactile and aural sensations. In short, these films favour a perception situated in this liminal moment in which adolescents and young adults have not lost the capacity to astonish themselves at things considered otherwise banal. In the afore-mentioned interview, Solomonoff praises the effect that Martel had on other Argentine filmmakers: “En esa intimidad, en esa observación, en ese momento muerto de la tarde o de la siesta, hay un montón, y creo que ella inauguró una especie de ‘planeta ciénaga’ que le ha dado el pase a mucha gente [In that intimacy, in that observation, that dead time of the afternoon or the siesta, there is so much going on, and I think that she has inaugurated a kind of ‘swamp-world’, which has paved the way for many people]”. According to Martin, this “tendency to observe intimacy […], to observe the ‘dead time’, or seemingly eventless scenes of family and domestic life, is especially associated with La ciénaga and with the work of the other women filmmakers” (Martin 2017, 249). Berruezo recognises her indebtedness to La ciénaga in similar terms: La ciénaga pude verla cuando empecé a estudiar cine a los 18, y me impactó ver cosas de mi infancia resignificadas, cosa que la conecta con Mamá, mamá, mamá […]. Luego está esa cosa del horror en la casa. Mis veranos eran muy tristes, deprimentes, como el de La ciénaga. Cuando el sol llega a su apogeo, en Argentina no queremos hacer nada. [I saw The Swamp when I began to study cinema at 18 and I was shocked when seeing aspects of my childhood resignified, connecting it with Mamá, mamá, mamá …. Then it’s the issue of the horror in the home. My summers were very sad, depressing, as in The Swamp. When sun is at its peak, in Argentina we don’t want to do anything.] (Engel 2021)

Indeed, both films focus on that “dead time” of the summer, in which not only boredom but also horror lurks behind monotony. As in La ciénaga, characters lie together on the bed or on sofas doing nothing, watching TV or beating the heat of the summer with a fan, with water or lying in the garden. Marcela Fernández Fong notes that Abrir puertas y ventanas represents daily routine similarly to Martel’s film, through “una lente extremadamente sensorial, prestando atención a cada detalle de una atmósfera tan frágil, a cada detalle del cuerpo [an extremely sensorial perspective, paying attention to every detail of a very subtle atmosphere, to



every detail of the body]” (2021). Martin argues that such “a strong emphasis on idleness, on waiting, or on boredom […] can be seen as a means of moulding the cinematic medium to the child’s perspective”, since “the child is understood as having a different, less regulated experience of time from the adult experience” (251). In an interview, Berruezo recognised that her intention was to “despojar el relato de la mirada adulta [strip the story of an adult gaze]” (Engel 2021). Both films, indeed, strip the image of the adult gaze, which not only enacts a different regulation of time, but it also creates a sense of unease and uncanniness, because it denaturalises what adults commonly accept as a given. In their analyses of Abrir puertas y ventanas, Karrer speaks about “cuerpos improductivos [improductive bodies]” and Daniela Oulego of a “predominancia de cuerpos cansados, echados y fatigados [prevalence of tired, prostrated, exhausted bodies]” (2016, 14–21). Both authors connect these “tired bodies” with the tendency of “sedentarism” that Gonzalo Aguilar identified in the New Argentine Cinema that emerged in the late 1990s. Both Abrir puertas y ventanas and Mamá, mamá, mamá draw their influence on the representation of tired bodies from La ciénaga, a film that Aguilar characterises as the epitome of sedentarism. For Aguilar, “sedentarism shows the breakdown of homes and of families” (2008, 34). These films focus on the crisis of the traditional family, showing families in a process of disintegration, but still not replaced by another operating institution. Films following this tendency display, first, the paralysis and lethargy of the disintegration of a society that is organised around patriarchal authority. For that reason, Aguilar claims that these films also show a shift from a masculine to a feminine imagination (2008, 39). Secondly, there is a “spiral movement toward interiors” that confines most of these films to the family home (2008, 39). Finally, in many of these films “[p]arents do not appear anywhere”, making orphanhood a typical theme of this trend (2008, 33). In Abrir puertas y ventanas, the parents of the three sisters died years earlier, and the death of their grandmother marks the beginning of the narrative. In Mamá, mamá, mamá, the father figure is totally absent, and no reference is made to any male companion of the other adult women (the aunt, the grandmother and the maid). In both cases, therefore, there is no patriarchal figure around which the order of the home is organised. Karrer argues that this rejection of a fatherly figure involves at the same time a focus on the temporality of everyday life, centring on idle and reproductive time instead of the “productivity” of masculine mainstream film (2017, 25–26).



Girlhood and the Uncanny In both films, the family home is the setting in which the transformation of the characters takes place. Except for the scene in Mamá, mamá, mamá in which the girls get lost in the woods, both films take place entirely within the confines of the home. In Abrir puertas y ventanas, this confinement is clearly marked from the outset. The first shot situates the camera just outside the gate. Once Marina’s boyfriend, Pedro (Andrés Granier), gets in, the camera never leaves the confines of the family home, not even when the characters are outside the fence. As Horacio Bernades suggests, the audience enters the house as a stranger and gets to know the rooms, the furniture, the objects and the inhabitants. However, the spectator never loses a sense of strangeness (2012). This sense of strangeness can be explained by Freud’s concept of das Unheimlich (the unhomely, uncanny). What is uncanny—or, better, unhomely—is not something new or strange, states Freud, but something that was familiar (heimlich) and has been repressed (2003, 147). It is this repression that estranges what was once familiar and its return may cause fright or dread. In this way, the familiar or the domestic can become its opposite: unfamiliar, unhomely, uncanny. It is not surprising that the uncanny appears especially in childhood, since children are continuously deprived of information that is considered only for adults. Children need to invent stories to fill in the gaps of their knowledge. Freud argues that uncanny elements arise “when the boundary between fantasy and reality is blurred” (2003, 150). This happens, for example, with Luchi and his obsession for the mythical “perro-rata [rat-­ dog]” in La ciénaga, which leads the boy to scale a ladder to check if the neighbours’ dog is the fearsome “perro-rata” and, eventually, fall and die. In Mamá, mamá, mamá, something similar happens when Ailín (Siumara Castillo), the maid’s daughter, tells Cleo and her cousins the story about a school-bus driver who kidnapped girls in Paraguay and Buenos Aires. The girls use this story to explain some mysteries that remain unanswered for them. Manuela (Camila Zolezzi), for example, tells Cleo that one day a girl from her school never went back to class. In the school, however, they did not tell the children anything and Manuela connects that disappearance to the fact that the girl took the school bus every day. In relation to these stories, Berruezo has acknowledged that “la cuestión de los mitos y las historias de terror escondidas tiene que ver con cómo nos crían como mujeres, cómo nos crían con miedo [the point about myths and horror stories has to do with how we are brought up as women, we are brought



up fearful]” (Lencina 2020). There is, indeed, something uncanny about feminine adolescence. In both films the characters are female adolescents who live in all-female spaces, albeit they situate themselves in the two different edges of adolescence. In Mamá, mamá, mamá, Cleo is 12 and experiences her first menstrual period. Her elder cousin, Nerina (Chloé Cherchyk), a 15-year-old, explains to a confused Cleo, who thinks she is pregnant, what the period is and tells her: “Te hiciste señorita [You are now a woman]”. She also tells Cleo that the period is caused by babies that could not be born and, therefore, die and fall. Cleo’s entry into puberty is celebrated by a ritual, the funeral of the blood-stained knickers, which is attended by her cousins and her new friend Ailín. “Estamos acá reunidos para despedir al bebé de Cleo que no pudo ser, Anita. Te extrañamos, aunque no te conocimos, pero te rezamos para que te vayas en paz, y te reúnas con todos los bebitos que no pudieron ser de todas las mujeres y niñas del mundo. Amén [We’re here to say farewell to Anita, Cleo’s baby who never existed. We miss you, even if we never met you, but we pray so you can leave in peace, and join the little babies of all girls and all women of the world who never existed. Amen]”, declares Nerina, officiating the ceremony. Interestingly, this transition from childhood to feminine adolescence is marked by a loss, connecting the death of that baby “que no pudo ser” to the actual death of her younger sister Erín. This also further symbolises that the death of her sister indicates the abrupt end of Cleo’s childhood. In Abrir puertas y ventanas, the three sisters are at the end of adolescence: Violeta is still at high school, whereas Sofía and Marina attend university. Catherine Driscoll argues that adolescence is framed within a dialectic of dependence and independence. The supposed dependence of adolescents marks the control and monitoring of their identity formation and social placement (2002, 53). The death of their grandmother means the end of their dependence and their sudden entry into adulthood, as they need to find their place in the world. The sisters are confronted with responsibilities that exceed their age, such as dealing with a notary to discuss the grandmother’s will, administering her properties and paying the bills. Each of the sisters takes on a different role to mark their adulthood: Marina takes charge of the family’s economy; Sofía wants to become independent and takes a job; and, finally, the youngest sister, Violeta, unexpectedly leaves the house with her mysterious boyfriend. These coming-of-age stories underscore the changes experienced by girls at the beginning and end of their adolescence. They reflect on the



development and construction of femininity in the adolescence and the dialectics between activity and passivity that mark this development. As Deborah Martin has shown, social and cultural norms that equate femininity with passivity are imposed on the adolescent girls who are awakening sexual desires and are thus active selves (2016, 69). There is, therefore, something uncanny about the acquisition of female sexuality during adolescence, since girls are asked to repress their active part “in order to allow for the development of femininity” (2016, 68), but they need to do so by disavowing the same sexuality that defines them as feminine adolescents. Mamá, mamá, mamá consciously reflects on the sexual education received by girls and on the ambivalent consequences that this has on them, for example, through a test in a girls’ magazine about how they should behave with boyfriends. In another scene, Manuela and Cleo rehearse their first kiss with two tomatoes. The way that this action is conveyed in the film is haptic, especially in the extreme close-ups in which the girls wash the tomatoes and kiss them. According to Laura U. Marks, haptic images “encourage a bodily relationship between the viewer and the image”, rather than a rational identification (2002, 3). In this case, the images privilege the sensorial experience of the girls touching the tomatoes with their hands and mouth. Furthermore, the experience, instead of being with the boy they refer to, is shared by the two girls, who are positioned in front of each other in a shot/counter-shot. What would appear at first sight as a mere surrogate of a (heterosexual) kiss becomes a sensorial experience of bonding and sexual awakening by the two cousins. This ambivalence between active and passive being is featured in an earlier scene in which Nerina performs an over-sexualised dance in the garden, pouring water over her body with a hose to attract the gaze of a young bricklayer who is building a fence around the swimming pool. Here Nerina is learning to become the sexual object of the male gaze, but what she achieves by actively and clumsily becoming the subject of this move is to produce a disjunction between her active sexuality and the social rejection of adolescent girls as sexual beings. In Abrir puertas y ventanas, the three sisters are more sexually active and their bodies are imbued with eroticism. In fact, the word mostly used in the reviews of the film is “sensuality”. Marcela Fernández Fong argues that the representation of the sweaty, rubbing bodies draws on an atmosphere of sensuality (2021), the review for Cahiers du Cinéma speaks about an allusive sensuality (F.G. 2012, 66) and Philippe Engel suggests that the film is for lovers of sensuality (2017). Indeed, there is something



erotic about the bodies in the film: Violeta wanders along the house in knickers and braless, her boyfriend lies nude on the sofa, Sofía takes off her very tight jumpsuit and strips naked in bed. However, the film does not show the bodies sexualised and these are not transmitted purely visually, as mere objects of the gaze, but synaesthetically or haptically, privileging a way of sensing closer to the skin. There is, admittedly, something erotic in the girls’ bodies, but there is also an uneasiness in this relationship, for the girls play an active role and never conform to the to-be-looked-at-ness position that Laura Mulvey identified in her seminal essay on the male gaze (1975). It is, in fact, their neighbour, Francisco, who becomes the object of the gaze of the sisters, especially Marina. At some points, spectators share the gaze with her and look at Francisco through the window, making him an object of desire. Nevertheless, he never becomes objectified, because he is also provided with subjectivity and is rather represented as a good example of masculinity.

The Presence of Memory Both films are imbued with absences. In Abrir puertas y ventanas, it is the death of the grandmother before the narrative begins and, later, the disappearance of Violeta, who secretly leaves with her boyfriend without telling her destination to anyone. In Mamá, mamá, mamá, it is the accidental death in the swimming pool of the younger daughter Erín that leaves an irreparable void. The two films enact a discourse on memory from the presence that the absences leave in the spaces and objects of the house. This ghostly presence of what is at once present and absent furthers the sense of strangeness that imbues both films. At some points, the films take on an eerie tone. This happens predominantly when the shots focus on the empty spaces of the houses, creating a temporal disjuncture between the presence in the past of those who once inhabited those spaces and their absence in the present. It is the audience’s confrontation with these two temporal layers and with their gap that causes the eerie. Mark Fisher argues that the eerie responds to the failure of a presence, as “nothing where there should be something”, often presented through gaps and disappearances (2016, 74). This gap cannot be filled in with stories, as in the case discussed above in relation to the uncanny, because, as Fisher argues, “disappearance is a gap which conceals itself” (2016, 74). When Violeta disappears, Marina and Sofía realise that she was a mystery to them: they did not know that she smoked, that she had a boyfriend. “No sé, mucho



misterio [I don’t know, it’s so mysterious]”, Marina tells Francisco when he asks about Violeta. This eerie presence is particularly connected to the objects around the house. In the case of Abrir puertas y ventanas, the objects belonging to the departed grandmother and those of the deceased parents, which are kept in the garage, convey this disjuncture of presence and absence, past and present. As Kerrer argues, “[l]a cámara está atada a estos objetos y espacios, y parece más comprometida con ellos, que a la acción de las propias protagonistas [the camera is linked to these objects and spaces, and seems more committed to them than to the action of the protagonists]” (2017, 20). In Mamá, mamá, mamá, the objects recall not only the recent past (when Erín was still alive) but also what Roger Koza calls a “potential memory” (2021). The close-ups of the fan, the stickers, the flute and, more eerily, the rubber ring in the swimming pool will conform in the future the memory of such a traumatic accident. Berruezo’s cinematography reinforces such an eerie temporality by shooting the same spaces before and after the accident. Erín’s bedroom is shown at least twice after her accident, with close-ups of the objects she interacted with: the fan with which she was beating the heat and the TV on which she was watching cartoons. The same space and objects are brought back again in a memory in which Cleo remembers being on bed with her sister. The camera also captures the necklaces and clothes that Cleo was trying on when the accident happened. The shots of those empty spaces, once inhabited, are now filled in with the memory of the accident. This eerie presence is also emphasised with the insertion of 8 mm recordings of Erín, which are combined with voice recordings of the two sisters. Image and sound are thus disjointed from each other, making the presence of a person who is no longer alive all the more eerie. It is particularly symptomatic that Cleo’s mother orders a fence to be built around the swimming pool to deter the girls from getting close to it. Although this may be seen as an over-protective cautionary measure to prevent anyone else from drowning, it can also be seen as a way of keeping children out of trauma and sadness—for it aims to block any memory or association to the accident by hiding the very space where it happened. Berruezo has argued that the film reflects on the taboo of child’s unhappiness: De hecho, la infancia tiene algo de perverso y algo de oscuro, me parecía re importante poder conectar con eso. Conectar con el hecho de que un niño



pueda estar triste. Ese estado que socialmente no está aceptado, que es tabú porque se considera que los niños siempre tienen que ser y estar felices. [In fact, childhood is somewhat perverse and obscure. I thought that it was very important to explore the fact that a child may be sad. That mood isn’t socially accepted, it’s a taboo, because it’s considered that children must always be happy.] (Lencina 2020)

For the same reason, children are kept away from the sight of the traumatised mother. She is locked in her bedroom and Cleo can barely see her through the crack of the door. When she eventually gets out, the mother is unable to tell the neighbours that Erín died. She lies down on the grass and remains paralysed for hours. When Leoncia brings her a piece of cake, her mother takes her away because the image of a traumatised adult is not suitable for children and asks the other girls to stop looking. The piece of cake remains untouched in the garden and a close up shows us that it is being invaded by ants, bringing up an eerie tone that could easily belong to a horror film. In Abrir puertas y ventanas, there are also shots of empty spaces which were once inhabited by the grandmother: the desk as she left it, with an old typewriter, a book and a teapot; her bed, with her medicines on the bedtable; the staircase of the once sumptuous home. These spaces and objects are shown once Violeta has left the house and, therefore, take on a new meaning. She was the most emotionally attached to the grandmother and tried to conquer and make hers those spaces. However, they are now void again, deprived of a presence that can still be sensed. In fact, in one scene, the grandmother appears in the kitchen as a ghost, stressing the presence she still holds in the house. Many of the objects that belong to the grandmother date back to the 1970s and suggest that she was a left-­ wing intellectual. For this reason, the film has been read in connection not only to the last military dictatorship but also to the years that preceded it, a time in which it was possible to imagine what Silvia Schwarzböck has called “la vida de izquierda [left-wing life]” (2015, 23). The presence of these objects produces an uncanny disjuncture between past and present. The vinyl records that the sisters find and listen to together (“Chimacum Rain” by Linda Perhacs, from 1970, and “Back to Stay” by Bridget St John, from 1971) are especially telling of this double temporality and their affective connection to the grandmother. Sophie Dufays reads the use of the vinyl in the film as giving voice to the dead grandmother, rendering



her present rather than representing her—particularly, because the record player also helps the adolescents to find their own voice, as when Violeta decides to record her own song (2018, 86). The deceased parents inevitably remind of the desaparecidos. Temporally, this explanation cannot sustain itself, since if the film is set in its contemporary time—there are some contemporary technological devices such as mobile phones, a computer and a DVD player—the three sisters should have been born in the early 1990s. However, the presence of so many objects from an earlier period may destabilise—although not reject—that interpretation, in a similar way to Martel in La mujer sin cabeza. In fact, apart from the grandmother’s typewriter, vinyl record player and vibrating bed, the girls still use an answerphone, a Walkman, an old cassette player and floppy disks, which were very common in the 1980s and 1990s but hardly survived the 2000s. According to Cecilia Sosa, La mujer sin cabeza, by using music from the 1970s and locations associated to the dictatorship, “does not represent but enacts that past” (2009, 257). Something similar could be said of Abrir puertas y ventanas, although in this case the film may enact the periods before and after the dictatorship, rather than the period of the military Junta. Mumenthaler has recognised that she told the actors during the shooting that the parents died in an accident, although this information is never given in the film. However, she does not totally reject the reading that the parents were desaparecidos, even if it was not a conscious decision: “Supongo que es inevitable que la propia historia de tu país se acabe reflejando en tu película, por más que no lo pretendieses [I guess it’s inevitable that the history of your country ends up reflected in your film, even if you didn’t intend it in the first place]” (Pena 2013). María M. Delgado and Cecilia Sosa have read the film against the culture of mourning, understood as a “national duty”, that permeated Argentine society during the Kirschnerist years. According to them, the grief that hovers in the house can be related to the recent death of the grandmother and the longer absence of their parents but also appears “to draw on a broader, more surreptitious culture of mourning” (Delgado and Sosa 2017, 243). The objects that belonged to the grandmother and the parents do not permit the sisters to move on. The relationship with that past, ghostly imbued in those belongings, is managed differently by the sisters: whereas Marina is the most protective of that heritage, Sofía wants to get rid of everything, including the grandmother’s ashes, and sells their belongings to a crap dealer. At the end, the clearance of all those objects means a liberation for



the sisters, who have left behind that culture of mourning and the mental structures that constrained them. Nevertheless, Marina recovers the vinyl records that Sofía had sold and keeps them next to her computer, juxtaposing two different temporalities. This shows that the grandmother’s memory can stay with them without hindering them from moving on.

Conclusion The end of both films can be read as the need for freeing oneself from the constraints that attach one to the past, but without dispensing with memory altogether. In the last scene of Abrir puertas y ventanas, Marina, Sofía and Francisco listen to the song sent by Violeta, which ends with a reassuring, but enigmatic, “Todo volverá a su lugar [Everything will be back as usual]”. The three of them are placed in a similar position as in the scene in which the three sisters listen to “Back to Stay”, this time in a living room in which the wallpaper has been completely peeled off and has been decorated anew by the sisters. The presence of Violeta is now sensed through her voice, while Francisco fills physically her void, even if without replacing her. After the song, Marina and Sofía leave with Francisco to the city centre, showing that they are learning to find their place in the world. In Mamá, mamá, mamá, Cleo needs to process her trauma to move on. Images of the accident are repeated twice during the film as memories. The first one takes place when Cleo is taking a bath and submerges herself in the water, stressing the parallels in the film between liquid and death. The second time is towards the end of the film, when she is looking for Leoncia. This scene shows that Cleo witnessed the accident. Once she remembers the event, she finally weeps and externalises her grief. At the end, the adults and the girls reunite, for the first time in the film, since Cleo’s mother is finally out of her bedroom. She is finally no longer paralysed and manages to hug Cleo and ask her forgiveness. The final scene, therefore, can be conceived as a point of departure to live with the loss of Erín without being paralysed by the trauma. Abrir puertas y ventanas and Mamá, mamá, mamá are fine examples of a relevant trend in the contemporary Argentine cinema made by women that focus on the everyday life as experienced and perceived by girls, and which has received the name of “planeta ciénaga”. By focusing on their perception, coming-of-age films manage to render strange what is commonly taken as normal and familiar, particularly from a male adult perspective, denaturalising what is taken as a given in gender and social



relations. The two films, however, add another layer of strangeness to investigate the weight of the dead on the present. Through this aesthetics of strangeness, both films represent girls who have to find their place in the world independently, while going through a process of mourning in which they have to face their past before moving on.

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Epilogue. On Cinematic Disobedience Inela Selimović

… si el cine siempre tuvo un rol social preponderante, hoy más que nunca tiene entre sus manos una responsabilidad cívica, poética y social, inmensa. […] convoqué hacer un cine ladilla, un cine inspirado en una lógica de contagio que se mete entre los intersticios de lo no dicho, de lo no hegemónico; un cine de la desobediencia. (Albertina Carri, “¡Albertina, Finlandia!” 40) … if film always had a central social role, it has today, more than ever, an immense civic, poetic and social responsibility. […] I called for the production of a crabs cinema, a cinema inspired by the logics of contagion, spreading through the interstices of the unsaid, of the non-hegemonic; a cinema of disobedience.

Using the notion of a multidirectional journey, Argentine art director Cecilia Barrionuevo recently brought together a film series at the Harvard Film Archive (Fall 2022) entitled “¡Rebeladas! Una aproximación al cine de mujeres en Latinoamérica” [Rebels! An Introduction to Women’s

I. Selimović (*) Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




Cinema in Latin America]. Barrionuevo delineated the series in the spirit of acknowledging “an extensive map of artists: women who in their work explore genders and territories, question the centers and the periphery, reveal diverse universes, and explore all their possible representations” (2022). Similarly, scholars have continued to explore the different aesthetic inclinations, thematic perspectives and identity-diverse subtleties of both past and present Argentine women directors without “ghettoising women and their work” (Martin and Shaw 2017, 2). Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers draws on said scholarly inquiries through its well-researched studies of both established and promising women directors. In her recent contribution to ¿Qué será del cine? Postales para el futuro, Albertina Carri invokes the notion of “cinematic disobedience” as a politically and aesthetically contagious practice for denaturalising any form of incrusted oppression (2020, 40). Carri’s notion of disobedience also implies certain collaborative efforts towards radical creativity in order to spotlight the boom of women’s (feminist) films, but also their equitable presence across the industry. In a similar vein, Deborah Shaw insists on the significance of scholarly analysis on women’s films from wide-ranging perspectives, while also strengthening connections among different academic institutions, cultural entities and women filmmakers, including academics, cultural critics, art directors, film festivals, programming committees and students, among others (Shaw 2018, 41–42). “El boom actual de películas realizadas por mujeres y de contenido feminista [the current boom of films made by women with feminist content]”, explains Shaw, “así como la respuesta académica que se le está dando, marcan un período relevante, para cuya cartografía se precisa una colaboración [as well as its response from academia show that this is a very relevant period, and that collaboration is needed to map it out]” (Shaw 2018, 41). Shaw’s essay reiterates, above all, the importance of deepening and broadening meaningful cross-­ disciplinary modes of inquiry in women’s filmmaking. The notion of reimagining the aesthetics of film through sensorial practices and innovative thematic inquiries interconnects the scholarly analyses in Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers through heterogenous forms of disobedience, thereby highlighting the book’s commitment to dissecting the distinctly personal, professional and political incursions these (and other) Argentine women filmmakers continue to manifest. The focus of Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers on the dynamic and already splendidly disobedient presence of Lita Stantic, Eva Landeck,



María Luisa Bemberg and Vlasta Lah connects to additional aesthetic rebellions among those who belong to Martel’s generation and beyond. The examination of such connections between Argentina’s pioneer women filmmakers and their contemporary counterparts—vis-à-vis different modes of professional choice, thematic attentiveness and aesthetic revolt— illuminates one of the most transformative forces of the past century in Argentina’s film industry. By building on several fundamental cross-disciplinary studies about women’s filmmaking in Argentina and across Latin America, the volume co-editors, Mirna Vohnsen and Daniel Mourenza, provide a forceful and historically grounded introduction to the 13 chapters of the collection. Although Lucrecia Martel’s films are not analysed in the volume extensively, the introduction anchors the book around Martel’s cinematographic contributions. In so doing, Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers engages with other recent scholarly works on key women filmmakers, including The Films of Lucrecia Martel (2022), thus upholding its co-editors’ perspective on Martel as “a Latin American woman who has achieved the status of global auteur more often reserved for men hailing from the Global North” (Christofoletti Barrenha et al. 2022, 18). By crystalising certain heterogeneous cultural and aesthetic ties among the works of several pioneers (Angélica García de García Mansilla, Vlasta Lah, Lita Stantic, Jeanine Meerapfel and María Luisa Bemberg), those who have emerged as distinctly subversive filmmakers (Cecilia Atán, Valeria Pivato, Nele Wohlatz and Sol Berruezo Pichon-Rivière) and still those who have cemented their prominence during the past two decades (Lucrecia Martel, Albertina Carri, María Victoria Menis, Julia Solomonoff, Lucía Puenzo, Gabriela David, Verónica Chen and Paula Markovitch), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers places the spotlight on academic inquiries not solely about Argentine women directors, but also their roles and contributions as producers, screenwriters, art directors and editors. Cross-disciplinarity is therefore critical across the volume, for it honours the studied filmmakers’ multidimensional trajectories in conjunction with their thematic interests and aesthetic tendencies. The multidimensionality of struggles, achievements, frustrations and aspirations allows that Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers nestles its discussions around and beyond key auteurist radical transformations—from Lita Stantic’s illustrious career in filmmaking and production since the mid-­1960s; María Luisa Bemberg’s filmmaking but also activism through and beyond the 1979 project “La Mujer y el Cine,” whose major focus



was to “visibilizar a las directoras de todas las épocas [make visible the women filmmakers of all periods]” (Soto 2014, 11); Lucrecia Martel’s and Albertina Carri’s role in the New Argentine Cinema as key figures at the outset of the twenty-first century; and all the way to the momentous agreement on gender parity in the Argentine film industry at the I Foro de Cine y Perspectiva de Género in 2018  in Mar del Plata. Such a layered contextualisation showcases a formidably multifocal system of filmic contributions despite these (and other) filmmakers’ frequently nonlinear expansions. Consequently, the volume’s scholarly voices further reenergise current debates on women’s filmmaking from different gender-based perspectives and identity angles. Without essentialising the studied filmmakers’ complex personal, professional and political subjectivities and trajectories, the preceding inquiries are also an intellectual call for additional attention to both fluid and revitalised cultural spaces of filmmaking in Argentina. As the volume makes clear, Argentine women filmmakers’ aesthetic splendour and thematic diversity continue to inspire scholarly explorations of their unique cultural rebellions and, by extension, singular forms of cinematic disobedience.

References Barrionuevo, Cecilia. “¡Rebeladas! Una aproximación al cine de mujeres en Latinoamérica.” Translated by Alejandro Eduarte. September 23, 2022.­una-­approximacion-­al-­ cine-­de-­mujeres-­en-­latinoamer (accessed February 2, 2023). Carri, Albertina. “¡Finlandia, Albertina!” In ¿Qué será del cine? Postales para el futuro, edited by Cecilia Barrionuevo and Marcelo Alderete, 37–40. Buenos Aires: INCAA, 2020. Christofoletti Barrenha, Natalia, Julia Kratje, and Paul R.  Merchant. “Metamorphosis and Persistence: An Introduction.” In Refocus: The Films of Lucrecia Martel, edited by Natalia Christofoletti Barrenha, Julia Kratje, and Paul R. Merchant, 1–17. Edinburgh University Press, 2022. Martin, Deborah and Deborah Shaw. “Introduction.” In Latin American Women Filmmakers: Production, Politics, Poetics, edited by Deborah Martin and Deborah Shaw, 1–28. London: I.B. Tauris, 2017. Shaw, Deborah. “Cómo estudiar el cine hecho por mujeres iberoamericanas: un manifiesto.” In Cineastas emergentes: mujeres en el cine del siglo XXI, edited by



Annette Scholz and Marta Álvarez, 31–42. Madrid/Berlin: Iberoamericana/ Vervuert, 2018. Soto, Moira. “Palabras preliminares.” In Tránsitos de la mirada: mujeres que hacen cine, edited by Paulina Bettendorff and Agustina Pérez Rial, 9–13. Buenos Aires: Libraria, 2014.


NUMBERS AND SYMBOLS 50 Chuseok (2018), 168 A Abrir puertas y ventanas/Back to Stay (2011), 5, 21, 233–247 Academy Awards, 5 Acrobacias del corazón (2000), 10 Action movie, 10, 219 Aerocene Pacha: historia sustentable/ Aerocene Pacha: Utopia Sustenable (2020), 81 Agamben, Giorgio, 108n3, 109 Agency, 9, 20, 105, 107–111, 151, 169–171, 173, 174, 176–178, 184, 188, 191, 213 Agorreca, Laura, 148 Agua/Water (2006), 202, 203, 214 Agüero, Pablo, 150 Salamandra/Salamander (2008), 150

Aguilar, Gonzalo, 13n6, 37, 100, 115, 224, 238 Ahora (2003), 81 Akademie der Künste, 43, 59 Alanis (2017), 6, 9 Alberti, Rafael, 12 Alché, María, 17 Aleandro, Norma, 194 Alfonsín, Raúl, 35, 53, 55 Alma Film, 54 Alonso, Guadalupe, 83, 205, 207 Althusser, Louis, 20, 148–150, 155, 156 American Psycho (2000), 222 Amigomío (1995), 57, 58 Amirpour, Ana Lily, 225 A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), 225 Andermann, Jens, 37, 98, 100, 141 Andrés no quiere dormir la siesta/ Andrés Doesn’t Want to Nap (2009), 150

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.


© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Vohnsen, D. Mourenza (eds.), Contemporary Argentine Women Filmmakers,




Animality, 103, 104 Annas Sommer/Anna’s Summer (2001), 57 Anzaldúa, Gloria, 83, 88 Argentina, 1–21, 27, 31, 34, 41n1, 42–48, 50–58, 56n5, 61–63, 70, 73, 75, 82–85, 87, 89–91, 93, 94, 97–99, 106, 115, 121, 135n2, 139, 140, 142, 143, 143n6, 148, 154, 158, 165–169, 171, 173, 175–178, 183, 195, 196, 202, 203, 206, 212, 217–230, 234, 237, 253, 254 Argentina, Norma, 194 Arias, Abelardo, 13 Arias, Imanol, 15 Aristarain, Adolfo, 30 Armani, Fernando, 66 Armstrong, Sergio, 184, 187, 188, 195 Arribeños/Arribeños Street (2015), 168 Art-house film, 218, 223 Asociación de Cine Experimental (ACE), 13, 29 Aster, Ari, 222 Atán, Cecilia, 4, 20, 183–197, 253 La novia del desierto/The Desert Bride (2017), 20, 183–197 Madres de Plaza de Mayo, la historia/The History of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (2015), 187 Atlantic, 164 Augé, Marc, 86 Avellaneda, María Herminia, 14 Juguemos en el mundo/Let’s Play in the World (1971), 14 Ávila, Benjamín, 150 Infancia clandestina/Clandestine Childhood (2012), 150 Azcuénaga, Elena de, 13

B B. de Celestini, María, 12 Baek-ku, 166 Bambú Cine, 201 Barbie también puede eStar triste/ Barbie Can Also Be Sad (2001), 115n2 Barrionuevo, Cecilia, 5n1, 251, 252 The Beach House (2019), 228 Bechis, Marco, 36, 132, 141n4 Garage Olimpo (1999), 36, 132, 141n4 Belloso, Carlos, 1 Bemberg, María Luisa, 6, 7, 12, 14–18, 27, 29, 29n1, 30, 39, 62, 113, 114, 203, 218, 253 Camila (1984), 14, 15 De eso no se habla/I Don’t Want to Talk About It (1993), 15 El mundo de la mujer (1972), 15 Juguetes (1978), 15 Momentos (1981), 15, 29 Yo la peor de todas/I, the Worst of All (1990), 15, 16, 114 Benaim, Abner, 186 Chance (2009), 186 Berlin, 5, 34n8, 43, 47, 49, 50, 54, 59 Berlin Film Festival, 17 Berneri, Anahí, 6, 9, 128 Alanis (2017), 6, 9 Por tu culpa/It’s Your Fault (2010), 128 Berruezo Pichon-Rivière, Sol, 4, 9–11, 17, 19, 21, 233–247, 253 Mamá, mamá, mamá (2020), 9, 11, 11n5, 21, 233 Berthold, Joaquín, 67 Bertuccelli, Valeria, 83 Bettendorf, Paulina, 2, 3, 6, 11–13, 16, 210, 236 Bhabha, Homi, 171


Bianchi, Marta, 9, 29n1 Bilbao Fantasy Film Festival, 211 Biraben, Gastón, 150 Cautiva/Captive (2005), 150 Bogdasarian, Mirta, 66 Bolivia, 43, 57, 196 Bolivia (2001), 27 Bong Joon Ho, 213 Parasite (2019), 213 Borensztein, Sebastián, 168 Un cuento chino/Chinese Takeaway (2011), 168 Borges, Jorge Luis, 42 Brandoni, Luis, 14 Brazil, 166, 167 Brecciaroli, Paula, 167 Brockenshire, Sofía, 10 Brooklyn College, 81 Brown, Jeffrey A., 228 The Beach House (2019), 228 Buena Vida Delivery (2004), 213 Buenos Aires, 14, 31, 43, 51, 53, 54, 57, 61, 70, 75, 117, 123, 131, 132, 134, 142, 163–167, 169, 183, 189, 196, 202, 204, 207, 210, 220, 223, 239 Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema (BAFICI), 16 Buñuel, Luis, 151 Los olvidados/The Young and the Damned (1950), 151 Burman, Daniel, 16, 84 El abrazo partido/Lost Embrace (2004), 84 Esperando al Mesías/Waiting for the Messiah (2000), 84 Burucúa, Constanza, 19, 28, 51, 55 Bustamante, Daniel, 150


Andrés no quiere dormir la siesta/ Andrés Doesn’t Want to Nap (2009), 150 Bustos, Justina, 220 Butler, Alison, 8, 9, 32 C Cáccamo, María Laura, 132 Cáceres, Luciano, 205 Caetano, Adrián, 16, 27, 30, 225, 226 Bolivia (2001), 27 Crónica de una fuga/Chronicle of an Escape (2006), 225, 226 Cahiers du Cinéma, 29, 241 Cama adentro/Live-in Maid (2004), 186, 188, 194, 196 Camila (1984), 14, 15 Campanella, Juan José, 54, 187 El secreto de sus ojos/The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), 54 Luna de Avellaneda/Avellaneda’s Moon (2004), 187 Canal, Milton de la, 83 Canale, María, 234 Canevari, Eugenio, 186 Paula (2015), 186 Cannes Film Festival, 4, 183 Carnevale, Marcos, 186 Viudas/Widows (2011), 186 Carrá, Gloria, 211 Carrazzone, Emiliano, 220 Carri, Albertina, 4, 5, 10, 11, 17–19, 36, 36n9, 97–111, 115n2, 128, 150, 218, 251–254 Barbie también puede eStar triste/ Barbie Can Also Be Sad (2001), 115n2 La rabia/Anger (2008), 5, 19, 97–111, 128



Carri, Albertina (cont.) Las hijas del fuego/The Daughters of Fire (2018), 11, 18 Los rubios/The Blonds (2003), 5, 10, 19, 36, 36n9, 97–111, 150 No quiero volver a casa/I Won’t Go Back Home (2000), 17 Carri, Roberto, 36n9, 97, 98 Carrizo, Víctor Hugo, 101 Cartasegna, Cecilia, 220 Cartwright, Lisa, 107 Caruso, Ana María, 36n9, 97 Casabé, Laura, 10 Casares Pearson, Olga, 12 Cascallar, Nené, 12 Castillo, Siumara, 239 Castro, Edgardo, 222 Catholic Church, 114 Catrani, Catrano, 12 Cautiva/Captive (2005), 150 Cavarero, Adriana, 119, 119n3, 120, 122, 126, 127 Caven, Ingrid, 43 Cedrón, Lucía, 30 Centro Experimental de Realización Cinematográfica, 13 Cervio, Rosario, 9 De nuevo otra vez/Again Once Again (2019), 9 Chamamé (1987), 52 Chance (2009), 186 Chang Sum Kim, 168 Chascomús, 206 Chávez Castillo, Susana, 11n4 Chávez, Julio, 31 Chen, Verónica, 10, 20, 168, 201–215, 253 Agua/Water (2006), 202, 203, 214 Marea alta/High Tide (2020), 20, 201–203, 211–214 Mujer conejo/Rabbit Woman (2013), 20, 168, 201–207, 209

Rosita (2019), 20, 201–203, 208–210 Vagón fumador/Smokers Only (2001), 202, 203, 207, 214 Cherchyk, Chloé, 240 Chiesa, Alcides, 52, 53, 57 Desembarcos/When Memory Speaks (1986), 47, 51–53, 56n5 Chignoli, Andrea, 187 Chile, 183, 186, 195, 196 Chilean National Fund, 187 China, 165–167 Chinatown, 204–206 Chinese, 20, 163–178, 201, 204–207 Christeller, Gabriella, 14 Cielo azul cielo negro (2004), 128 Cinematic disobedience, 251–254 Cinema Tropical, 17 Ciudad Juárez, 11n4 Clementina (2017), 218, 220, 222, 223, 225–227, 229 Cohn, Mariano, 213 El hombre de al lado/The Man Next Door (2009), 213 Coloniality of seeing, 163–178 Colonial mimicry, 171 Columbia University, 81 Comedi, Agustina, 18 El silencio es un cuerpo que cae/ Silence is a Falling Body (2017), 18 Comedy, 10, 18, 219, 221, 235 Coming-of-age film, 235, 246 Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas (CONADEP), 94 Comolli, Jean-Louis, 208 Constantini, Teresa, 10 Acrobacias del corazón (2000), 10 Contardi, Marilyn, 13 Contreras, Paloma, 132 Corralito, 135n2


Cosmopolitan transnationalism, 44 Couceyro, Analía, 99, 101 Counter cinema, 19, 28, 29, 63, 76 Countervisuality, 188 Couto, Laura, 53 Chamamé (1987), 52, 53 Crisis of 2001, 166, 167 Cronenberg, David, 228 Videodrome (1983), 228 Crónica de una fuga/Chronicle of an Escape (2006), 225 Crónica de una señora/Chronicle of a Lady (1971), 15 Crudo Films, 21, 217–230 Cuarón, Alfonso, 185n3 D David, Gabriela, 16, 20, 85, 113–128, 131–143, 253 La mosca en la ceniza/A Fly in the Ashes (2009), 20, 131–143 Taxi, un encuentro/Taxi, An Encounter (2001), 20, 113–128, 131 De acá a la China/From Here to China (2019), 168 De eso no se habla/I Don’t Want to Talk About It (1993), 15 De nuevo otra vez/Again Once Again (2019), 9 Deleuze, Gilles, 149 Dell’Isola, Patrick, 67 Denis, Claire, 229 Trouble Every Day (2001), 229 Desanzo, Juan Carlos, 69 El polaquito/The Little Polish (2003), 69 Desaparecidos, 14, 32, 33, 35, 36, 36n9, 53, 55, 84, 94, 97–101, 105, 106, 141, 148, 150, 226, 235, 245


Desembarcos/When Memory Speaks (1989), 47, 51 Desny, Ivan, 43 Detective film, 218, 223 Di Cesare, Leonardo, 213 Buena Vida Delivery (2004), 213 Diamante mandarín (2016), 168 Die Kümmeltürkin geht/Melek Leaves (1985), 47, 49 Die Verliebten/Days to Remember (1987), 45, 50 Director’s Guild of America, 82 Dirty War, 53, 139 Doane, Mary Ann, 115, 125, 126 Documentary, 5, 10, 18, 41, 41n1, 43, 44, 46–49, 51, 52, 81, 98, 99, 114, 139–141, 141n4, 150, 164, 168, 170, 187, 201, 218, 221 Domestic work, 185, 188, 196 Doria, Alejandro, 30 Doudchitzky, Pablo, 168 Hotel de la Amistad (2014), 168 Drama, 10, 63, 69, 75, 83, 164, 177, 218, 219, 221 Duarte, Nazarena, 101 Duprat, Gastón, 213 El hombre de al lado/The Man Next Door (2009), 213 E Ecuador, 43, 57 Eerie, 36n9, 242–244 Efrón, Inés, 123 El abrazo partido/Lost Embrace (2004), 84 El amigo alemán/The German Friend (2012), 58, 59 El bombero está triste y llora (1965), 28 El cielito/Little Sky (2004), 61, 62, 128



El Clan/The Clan (2015), 225 El delantal de Lili/Lili’s Apron (2004), 186 El futuro perfecto/The Future Perfect (2016), 20, 163–178 El hombre de al lado/The Man Next Door (2009), 213 El lugar del humo (1979), 14 El mundo de la mujer (1972), 15 El niño pez/The Fish Child (2009), 18, 20, 113–128, 186, 188, 196 El polaquito/The Little Polish (2003), 69 El premio/The Prize (2011), 20, 147–160 El secreto de sus ojos/The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), 54 El silencio es un cuerpo que cae/Silence is a Falling Body (2017), 18 El último verano de la Boyita/The Last Summer of the Boyita (2009), 18, 82 Embodiment of the voice, 20, 115, 116, 122, 125, 127, 128 Encina, Paz, 30 Escuela de Cine de la Universidad de la Plata, 13 Escuela Documental de Santa Fe, 13 Escuela Nacional de Experimentación y Realización Cinematográfica (ENERC), 61, 202 Ese loco amor loco/Crazy Love (1979), 14, 113 Esperando al Mesías/Waiting for the Messiah (2000), 84 Estadio Nacional (2003), 141n4 Estrada Mora, Jorge, 54 Europe, 5, 41n1, 43, 44, 57, 143n5, 183 Euro pudding, 44, 57

F Facio, Sara, 29n1 Falicov, Tamara, 16, 84 Fantasy, 10, 47, 63–65, 67, 69, 71, 75, 100, 110, 176–178, 217, 218, 239 Farji, Sabrina, 128 Cielo azul cielo negro (2004), 128 Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, 81 Feldman, Simón, 43 Femicides, 11, 117, 121 Feminism, 2, 6, 8, 11n4, 14, 15, 27–30, 37–39, 37n10, 45, 63, 64, 114, 115n2, 133, 134, 174, 185, 203, 203n1, 204, 212, 213, 219–221, 227, 227n12, 252 Fendrik, Pablo, 213 La sangre brota/Blood Appears (2008), 213 Fernández de Kirchner, Cristina, 11 Fernández Murray, Alejandro, 70 Fiala, Severin, 225 Goodnight Mommy (2015), 225 FIPRESCI, 82 I Foro de Cine y Perspectiva de Género, 5n1, 254 Fisher, Mark, 242 Flores (district of Buenos Aires), 166 Fondeville, Marina, 31 Fondo Nacional de las Artes (FNA), 13 Fontán, Gustavo, 30 Forcinito, Ana, 6, 19, 62, 115, 133, 137–139 Foucault, Michel, 62, 89, 92 Fowgill, Vera, 234 Franz, Veronika, 225 Goodnight Mommy (2015), 225


G Gaggero, Jorge, 186 Cama adentro/Live-in Maid (2004), 186, 188, 194, 196 Galinelli Hertzog, Paula, 148 Galperin, Mariano, 186 El delantal de Lili/Lili’s Apron (2004), 186 Garage Olimpo (1999), 36, 141n4 Garateguy, Tamae, 10, 21, 168, 218–222, 224, 225, 230 50 Chuseok (2018), 168 Mujer lobo/She Wolf (2013), 218, 220, 222–227, 229 Upa! Una película argentina/Upa! An Argentinian Movie (2007), 224 García de García Mansilla, Angélica, 3, 12, 253 Un romance argentino (1915), 3, 12 García, José Luis, 168 La chica del sur/The Girl from the South (2012), 168 García, Paulina, 20, 183, 195 Gardel, Carlos, 48 Gastarbeiter programme, 49, 50 Gender-based violence, 11n4, 20, 115, 115n2, 116, 121, 123, 125, 127, 128, 196 Generación del 60, 13, 13n6 Gente en Buenos Aires/People in Buenos Aires (1974), 13, 113 Germany, 42–50, 53, 54, 57–59 Getino, Octavio, 29, 30, 55n4, 98 La hora de los hornos/The Hour of the Furnaces (1968), 98 Ghettoisation, 8 Gilda, no me arrepiento de este amor/I’m Gilda (2016), 5 Giménez Cacho, Daniel, 1 Giralt, Santiago, 224 Upa! Una película argentina/Upa! An Argentinian Movie (2007), 224


A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), 225 Goethe Institute, 51–53 Goity, Elena, 42, 43 Golden Leopard, 5, 234 González, María Paz, 186 Lina de Lima/Lina from Lima (2019), 186 González Rodríguez, Florencia, 234 Goodnight Mommy (2015), 225 Gorodischer, Angélica, 64 Granier, Andrés, 239 Grant, Catherine, 28, 34, 54, 56n5 Greece, 43 Grupo Cine Liberación, 27, 29 Guarini, Carmen, 16, 62 Guattari, Félix, 149 Gugliotta, Sandra, 16 H Happy Together (1999), 168, 169 Haptics, 2, 3, 20, 109, 110, 115, 126, 149, 153, 159, 219, 227–230, 241 Harron, Mary, 222 American Psycho (2000), 222 The Notorious Betty Page (2004), 222 Harvard Film Archive, 251 Havana Film Festival, 5 Hecho a mano/hand, writing (2020), 81 Hermanas/Sisters (2005), 10, 19, 81–94 Hernández, Paula, 5, 16, 82 Las siamesas/The Siamese Bond (2020), 5 Los sonámbulos/The Sleepwalkers (2019), 5 Historias breves (1996), 16, 115n2 Historical drama, 10, 221 Hitchcock, Alfred, 204 Rear Window (1954), 204



Hochschild, Arlie, 38 Hollywood, 68, 174, 214 hooks, bell, 20, 173, 174, 178 Horror, 10, 21, 68, 106, 217–230, 235, 237, 244 Hotel de la Amistad (2014), 168 Hoy partido a las 3/Today Match at 3 (2017), 18 Hsu, Juan Martín, 168 Diamante mandarín (2016), 168 La Salada (2014), 168 Huelva Latin American Film Festival, 131n1 Hybridity, 83, 201–215 I Ibero-American awards, 5 Ideological State Apparatus (ISA), 149, 155 Iguazú, 168 Im Land meiner Eltern/In the Land of My Parents (1981), 47, 49 Inés de la Cruz, Sor Juana, 15, 114 Infancia clandestina/Clandestine Childhood (2012), 150 Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales (INCAA), 4, 9n3, 99, 187, 217 Instituto Nacional de Cinematografía (INC), 51, 53 Intercultural cinema, 201, 206, 211, 212, 214 International Cinephile Society, 17 Intersectionality, 37, 131–143, 203 Italy, 221 Itzcovich, Mabel, 13 J Japan, 221 Japanese, 165–167

Jerusalem, 34n8 Jewish, 41, 45, 47–49, 54, 57, 62, 64, 66, 67, 75, 84 Jews, 47–49, 84 Johnston, Claire, 19, 28, 29, 63 Journal Film, 54 Juguemos en el mundo/Let’s Play in the World (1971), 14 Juguetes (1978), 15 Juncadella, Martina, 234 K Kamiya, Alejandra, 167 Kang, Cecilia, 168 Mi último fracaso (2016), 168 Kaplan, Nelly, 41n1 Katz, Ana, 9 Mi amiga del parque/My Friend from the Park (2015), 9 Kawamichi, Sancia, 167 Kerala International Film Festival, 131n1 Kluge, Alexander, 43, 45 Korean, 166, 168 Kryptonita/Kryptonite (2015), 220 Kuri, Verena, 10 L La amiga/The Girlfriend (1988), 41, 51–56, 56n5 La cámara oscura/Camera Obscura (2008), 19, 61–76 La casa de palos/House of Sticks (2020), 223n10 La chica del sur/The Girl from the South (2012), 168 La ciénaga/The Swamp (2001), 5, 16, 17, 21, 27, 185, 233, 234, 236–239 La cordillera/The Summit (2017), 225


La Difunta Correa, 184, 189, 191, 193 La hija/The Daughter (2016), 186 La historia oficial/The Official Story (1985), 54, 55, 139, 139n3 La hora de los hornos/The Hour of the Furnaces (1968), 98 La idea de un lago/The Idea of a Lake (2016), 9, 10 La mosca en la ceniza/A Fly in the Ashes (2009), 20, 131–143 La mujer sin cabeza/The Headless Woman (2008), 5, 10, 17, 185, 208, 209, 236, 245 La Mujer y el Cine, 9n3, 15, 29, 29n1, 82, 253 La nana/The Maid (2009), 186 La niña santa/The Holy Girl (2004), 1, 5, 17, 185 La novia del desierto/The Desert Bride (2017), 20, 183–197 La rabia/Anger (2008), 5, 19, 97–111, 128 La Salada (2014), 168 Lah, Vlasta, 12, 113, 253 Las furias/The Furies (1960), 12, 13, 113 Las modelos (1963), 13 Lairana, Mónica, 9 Landeck, Eva, 13, 14, 113, 252 El lugar del humo (1979), 14 Ese loco amor loco/Crazy Love (1979), 14, 113 Gente en Buenos Aires/People in Buenos Aires (1974), 13, 113 Landes, Alejandro, 81 Lanusse, Alejandro, 85 Larraín, Pablo, 187 Las furias/The Furies (1960), 12, 13, 113 Las hijas del fuego/The Daughters of Fire (2018), 11, 18


Las mil y una/One in a Thousand (2020), 18 Las modelos (1963), 13 Las Pañuelos Verdes, 143 Las siamesas/The Siamese Bond (2020), 5 Latin America, 11n4, 17, 43–45, 143n6, 166, 167, 223, 252, 253 Law, 11, 35, 39, 51, 53–55, 74, 85 León, María Teresa, 12, 68, 75 Leonera/Lion’s Den (2008), 220 Lerman, Diego, 30 Lesa humanidad/Against Humanity (2018), 139 Les Pibes, 143, 143n6 Levinas, Jaime, 168 Pinpin (2021), 168 Ley de Fomento y Regulación de la Actividad Cinematográfica, 16 Ley de Obediencia Debida, 51 Ley de Punto Final, 50, 51 Lima, Fernando Juan, 5n1 Liminality, 19, 81–94, 158 Lina de Lima/Lina from Lima (2019), 186 Lincovsky, Cipe, 54 Locarno Film Festival, 5, 234 López, Issa, 234 López Merino, Susana, 29n1 Lorenzo, Javier, 101 Loreti, Nicanor, 220 Kryptonita/Kryptonite (2015), 220 Nafta Súper (2016), 220 Los decentes/A Decent Woman (2016), 186 Los dueños/The Owners (2013), 186 Los olvidados/The Young and the Damned (1950), 151 Los rubios/The Blonds (2003), 5, 10, 19, 36, 36n9, 97–111, 150 Los sonámbulos/The Sleepwalkers (2019), 5



Losada, Matt, 7, 12, 14, 15, 18, 19 Lumiton Studios, 13 Luna de Avellaneda/Avellaneda’s Moon (2004), 187 Luque, Paula de, 128 Cielo azul cielo negro (2004), 128 Lury, Karen, 98, 108, 108n3, 109, 151 M M (2007), 150 Machín, Luis, 220 Madres de Plaza de Mayo, la historia/ The History of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (2015), 187 Male gaze, 2, 9, 57, 64, 68, 136, 164, 174, 197, 211, 241, 242 Malou (1981), 41, 43–47, 56 Mamá, mamá, mamá (2020), 9, 11, 11n5, 21, 233–247 Manga, 203, 204, 206 Mar de Ajó, 211 Mar del Plata, 234, 254 Mar del Plata International Film Festival, 5, 5n1, 9n3, 16, 234 Marcello, Federico, 168 De acá a la China/From Here to China (2019), 168 Marea alta/High Tide (2020), 20, 201–203, 211–214 Margen de error/Margin of Error (2019), 18 María y el Araña/María and the Spiderman (2013), 19, 61–76 Markovitch, Paula, 20, 147–160, 253 El premio/The Prize (2011), 20, 147–160 Marks, Laura, 20, 148–150, 153, 154, 157–159, 201, 205, 206, 209, 211, 212, 214, 227–229, 241 Marshall, Niní, 12

Martel, Lucrecia, 1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 15–17, 21, 27, 30, 37, 62, 81, 82, 111, 115, 115n2, 185, 203, 208, 209, 218, 233, 234, 236, 237, 245, 253, 254 La ciénaga/The Swamp (2001), 5, 16, 17, 21, 27, 185, 233, 234, 236–239 La mujer sin cabeza/The Headless Woman (2008), 5, 10, 17, 185, 208, 209, 236, 245 La niña santa/The Holy Girl (2004), 1, 5, 17, 185 Rey muerto/Dead King (1996), 115n2 Zama (2017), 1, 5, 17 Martin, Deborah, 2, 6–8, 151, 236–238, 241, 252 Martínez de Perón, Isabel, 14, 85 Massuh, Gabriela, 29n1 Matar al dragón/To Kill the Dragon (2019), 218, 220, 222, 223, 225–227, 229 Matayoshi, Maximiliano, 167 Maurer Queipo, Isabel, 10, 219–221 Mayne, Judith, 31 Medina, Ofelia, 31, 34n7 Meerapfel, Jeanine, 19, 41–59, 253 Amigomío (1995), 57, 58 Annas Sommer/Anna’s Summer (2001), 57 Desembarcos/When Memory Speaks (1989), 47, 51–53, 53n3, 56n5 Die Kümmeltürkin geht/Melek Leaves (1985), 47, 49 Die Verliebten/Days to Remember (1987), 45, 50 El amigo alemán/The German Friend (2012), 58, 59 Im Land meiner Eltern/In the Land of My Parents (1981), 47, 49


La amiga/The Girlfriend (1988), 41, 51–55, 56n5 Malou (1981), 41, 43–47, 56 Melodrama, 2, 12, 15, 18, 176, 218, 235 Memory, 4, 5, 10, 32, 33, 33n5, 42, 45, 57, 58, 64, 68, 84, 87, 88, 90, 91, 98–101, 105, 106, 119n3, 120, 121, 137, 139, 140, 147–160, 209, 210, 235, 242–246 Menem, Carlos Saúl, 35 Menis, María Victoria, 16, 19, 61–76, 128, 253 El cielito/Little Sky (2004), 128 La cámara oscura/Camera Obscura (2008), 19, 61 María y el Araña/María and the Spiderman (2013), 19 Mexico, 11n4, 15 Mi amiga del parque/My Friend from the Park (2015), 9 Miami International Film Festival, 211 Military dictatorship in Argentina, 10, 14, 20, 31–33, 35, 51, 52, 54, 55n4, 56–59, 84, 85, 89, 94, 97–101, 106, 141, 147, 148, 152, 156–160, 244, 245 Military dictatorship in Uruguay, 14 Milos Forman Fund, 82 Milstein, Agustina, 234 Mitre, Santiago, 30, 225, 226 La cordillera/The Summit (2017), 225 Mi último fracaso (2016), 168 Moi, Toril, 7, 8 Momentos (1981), 15, 29 Montenegro, 43, 50 Montenegro, Diana, 17 Monteoliva, Jimena, 10, 21, 218–223, 225, 226, 230


Clementina (2017), 218, 220, 222, 223, 225–227, 229 Matar al dragón/To Kill the Dragon (2019), 218 Montes, Marcos, 208 Monti, Félix, 36n9 Montoneros, 84, 85, 97 Morán, Mercedes, 1 Moreno, Rodrigo, 186 Réimon (2014), 186 Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, 53–55 Muchnik, Annamaría, 15 Mujer conejo/Rabbit Woman (2013), 20, 201 Mujer lobo/She Wolf (2013), 218 Mulvey, Laura, 2, 29, 68, 242 Mumenthaler, Milagros, 5, 9, 17, 21, 233–247 Abrir puertas y ventanas/Back to Stay (2011), 5, 233 La idea de un lago/The Idea of a Lake (2016), 9 Mundo grúa/Crane World (1999), 27 Muñoz, Lorena, 5 Gilda, no me arrepiento de este amor/I’m Gilda (2016), 5 Murat, Júlia, 81 Murat, Lucía, 81 Murga, Celina, 17, 81, 186, 218, 234 Una semana solos/A Week Alone (2008), 186 Murúa, Lautaro, 31 N Nadie nos mira/Nobody’s Watching (2017), 82, 83 Nafta Súper (2016), 220 Naumann, Gerardo, 164 Ricardo Bär (2013), 164



Navas, Clarisa, 18 Hoy partido a las 3/Today Match at 3 (2017), 18 Las mil y una/One in a Thousand (2020), 18 Nazism, 43, 46, 58 New Argentine Cinema, 16, 27, 114, 115n2, 133, 137, 202, 224–226, 238, 254 New York, 46, 83 New York University Graduate Film Department, 81 Ni una menos, 11, 11n4, 115n2, 143, 143n6 Nilsson, May, 12 No quiero volver a casa/I Won’t Go Back Home (2000), 17 Nosilatiaj. La belleza/Beauty (2012), 186 The Notorious Betty Page (2004), 222 O Oberhausen Manifesto, 43 Oliveira Cézar, Inés de, 16 Olivos, 210 Oppositional gaze, 20, 163–178 Oro, Renée, 12 Oroz, Silva, 13 Oyola, Leonardo, 220 Nafta Súper (2016), 220 P Palomero, Pilar, 17 Pampas, 205 Paolinelli, Liliana, 18 Margen de error/Margin of Error (2019), 18 Papá Iván (2004), 150 Paraguay, 123, 124, 196, 239 Paraguay River, 1

Paraná, biografía de un río/Paraná, Chronicles of a River (2012), 81 Parasite (2019), 213 Parot, Carmen Luz, 141n4 Estadio Nacional (2003), 141n4 Patriarchal violence, 121, 123–125, 127 Paula (2015), 186 Paula, Romina, 9 De nuevo otra vez/Again Once Again (2019), 9 Pauls, Nicolás, 85 Pecoraro, Susú, 15 Pérez Biscayart, Nahuel, 174 Pérez, Gonzalo, 101 Pérez Rial, Augustina, 2, 3, 6, 11–13, 16, 236 Perhacs, Linda, 244 Perón, Eva, 56 Pfening, Guillermo, 83 Picado fino (1996), 72 Pinochet, Augusto, 141n4 Pinpin (2021), 168 Pita Martínez, Lola, 12 Piterbarg, Ana, 81 Pivato, Valeria, 20, 183–197, 253 La novia del desierto/The Desert Bride (2017), 20, 183–197 Planeta ciénaga, 235–238, 246 Polanski, Roman, 228 Repulsion (1965), 228 Poliak, Ana, 16 Ponce, Luis, 139 Lesa humanidad/Against Humanity (2018), 139 Pornography, 221 Por tu culpa/It’s Your Fault (2010), 128 Postmemory, 98, 106, 147, 151 Primavera camporista, 14 Prividera, Nicolás, 150 M (2007), 150


Puenzo, Lucía, 4, 5, 8, 18, 20, 111, 113–128, 186, 253 El niño pez/The Fish Child (2009), 18, 20, 113–128, 186, 188, 196 Wakolda/The German Doctor (2013), 5 XXY (2007), 18 Puenzo, Luis, 54, 139 La historia oficial/The Official Story (1985), 54, 55, 139, 139n3 Pussi, Dolly, 13 Q Qiu, Haien, 204 Quilmes, 56n5 R Radusky, Ezequiel, 186 Los dueños/The Owners (2013), 186 Ragone, Vanessa, 16, 82 Rangil, Viviana, 6, 82, 203 Realismo sinestético, 2, 236 Rear Window (1954), 204 Recoleta Park, 178 Redgrave, Vanessa, 31, 34n7, 36n9 Regás, María Luz, 12 Réimon (2014), 186 Reitz, Edgar, 43 Repressive State Apparatus (RSA), 155, 156 Repulsion (1965), 228 Retiro Station, 210 Rey muerto/Dead King (1996), 115n2 Ricardo Bär (2013), 164 Rich, Ruby B., 3, 4, 6 Riegl, Aloïs, 149 Río de la Plata, 164 Rípodas, Mariela, 187 Rissi, Claudio, 189


Rocha, Carolina, 19, 63, 108 Rodríguez, Marcos, 168 Arribeños/Arribeños Street (2015), 168 Román (2018), 11, 11n5, 18 Romance, 14, 18, 50, 58, 63, 69, 73, 75, 76, 219 Romantic comedy, 219 Roque, María Inés, 150 Papá Iván (2004), 150 Roquet, Clara, 17 Rosita (2019), 20, 201–203 Rubio, Ingrid, 83 Ruiz Ortiz, Lucía, 72 S Said, Marcela, 17 Salamandra/Salamander (2008), 150 Salas, Ailín, 234 Salas, Florencia, 70 Saleny, Emilia, 12 Sampieri, Luis, 186 La hija/The Daughter (2016), 186 San Clemente del Tuyú, 147, 148 San Juan (province), 183, 189, 193 San Martín, José de, 56 San Sebastián Film Festival, 6 Sansinena de Elizalde, Elena, 12 Sapir, Esteban, 72 Picado fino (1996), 72 Sardegna, Miguel, 167 Sarmiento, Domingo F., 70 Sarquís, Sebastián La casa de palos/House of Sticks (2020), 223n10 Science-fiction, 206, 221 Scratch (2001), 81 Sedentarism, 235, 238 Seggiaro, Daniela, 186 Nosilatiaj. La belleza/Beauty (2012), 186



Selimović, Inela, 6, 101, 107, 109, 148, 154 Serna, Assumpta, 15 Sesán, Jorge, 211 Shaw, Deborah, 7, 8, 184, 185, 252 Showalter, Elaine, 7 Siesta/Nap Time (1998), 81 Silva, Sebastián, 186 La nana/The Maid (2009), 186 Silver Condor Award, 131n1 Silverman, Kaja, 114 Sirota, Graciela, 59 Sitges Film Festival, 211 Society (1989), 228 Solanas, Fernando, 30, 98 La hora de los hornos/The Hour of the Furnaces (1968), 98 Solomonoff, Julia, 10, 16–19, 81–94, 111, 203, 236, 237, 253 Aerocene Pacha: historia sustentable/ Aerocene Pacha: Utopia Sustenable (2020), 81 Ahora (2003), 81 El último verano de la Boyita/The Last Summer of the Boyita (2009), 18, 82 Hecho a mano/hand, writing (2020), 81 Hermanas/Sisters (2005), 10, 81 Nadie nos mira/Nobody’s Watching (2017), 82 Paraná, biografía de un río/Paraná, Chronicles of a River (2012), 81 Scratch (2001), 81 Siesta/Nap Time (1998), 81 Un día con Angela/A Day with Angela (1993), 81 Sotomayor, Dominga, 17 South America, 184–186 Southern Cone, 184, 185 St John, Bridget, 244

Staffolani, Majo, 11, 18 Román (2018), 11, 11n5, 18 Stagnaro, Bruno, 16 Stantic, Lita, 13, 15, 16, 19, 27–39, 203, 252, 253 El bombero está triste y llora (1965), 28 Un muro de silencio/A Wall of Silence (1993), 19, 28 Stein, Edith, 102 Suardi, Luciano, 71 Suárez de Deza, Enrique, 12 Sukowa, Barbara, 43, 50 Sundance Film Festival, 211 Szir, Pablo, 28, 31 El bombero está triste y llora (1965), 28 T Taiwanese, 166 Tarrío, Gustavo, 168 Una canción coreana (2014), 168 Taxi, un encuentro/Taxi, An Encounter (2001), 20, 113–128, 131 Tello, Julián, 236 Texas, 19, 83, 86, 88, 89, 94, 201 Thriller, 10, 202, 204–206, 208, 210, 211, 213, 219 Tisch School of the Arts, 81 Toker, Camila, 224 Upa! Una película argentina/Upa! An Argentinian Movie (2007), 224 Toronto Film Festival, 17 Torre, Raúl de la, 15 Crónica de una señora/Chronicle of a Lady (1971), 15 Torres Ríos, Leopoldo, 12 Toscano, Agustín, 186 Los dueños/The Owners (2013), 186


Toselli, Ignacio, 213 Trapero, Pablo, 27, 30, 220, 225, 226 El Clan/The Clan (2015), 225 Leonera/Lion’s Den (2008), 220 Mundo grúa/Crane World (1999), 27 Trauma, 19, 20, 39, 75, 90, 91, 97–111, 115, 116, 119, 121–123, 128, 151, 208–210, 215, 223, 226, 227, 243, 246 Treise, Nicolás, 82–83 Trinh T. Minh-ha, 133 Trouble Every Day (2001), 229 Tujsnaider, Yael, 168 Una canción coreana (2014), 168 Turkey, 43, 49, 50 Turks, 45, 49, 50 Turner, Victor, 82, 83, 86, 88, 89 U Ullmann, Liv, 53, 54 Ulm Institute, 43 Una canción coreana (2014), 168 Una semana solos/A Week Alone (2008), 186 Uncanny, 31, 107, 233–247 Un cuento chino/Chinese Takeaway (2011), 168 Un día con Angela/A Day with Angela (1993), 81 Unión Feminista Argentina, 14 United States (US), 45, 89, 221 Un muro de silencio/A Wall of Silence (1993), 19, 28 Un romance argentino (1915), 3, 12 Upa! Una película argentina/Upa! An Argentinian Movie (2007), 224 Uruguay, 14


V Vagón fumador/Smokers Only (2001), 202 Valenta Rinner, Lukas, 186 Los decentes/A Decent Woman (2016), 186 Vallecito, 184, 189, 190, 192 Vega, Daniel de la, 85 Vegezzi, Diego, 70 Venice Film Festival, 5 Videodrome (1983), 228 Villa Gesell, 211 Villalba Welsh, Beatriz, 29n1 Villamil, Soledad, 31 Visual subject, 188, 192, 196, 197 Vitale, Mariela, 123 Viton, Josefina, 117 Viudas/Widows (2011), 186 W Wagner, Dulce, 208 Wakolda/The German Doctor (2013), 5 The Walking Dead (2010-2022), 221 Walsh, María Elena, 14 War films, 98, 110 Western (genre), 10 Wohlatz, Nele, 20, 163–178, 253 El futuro perfecto/The Future Perfect (2016), 20 Ricardo Bär (2013), 164 Women’s art, 7 Women’s cinema, 7–9, 14, 21, 28, 63, 203, 219–222, 230 Wong Kar-Wai, 168 Happy Together (1999), 168, 169 World War II, 166 X Xenophobia, 43, 49, 59, 205, 207



Xunge Ma “Miró,” 205 XXY (2007), 18

Yuzna, Brian, 228 Society (1989), 228

Y Yo la peor de todas/I, the Worst of All (1990), 15, 114 Ypoá (lake), 123

Z Zama (2017), 1, 5, 17 Zhang, Xiaobin, 20, 163, 169, 173 Zolezzi, Camila, 239