Borderstan Movie Fan: Favorites from Argentina, Brazil

by May 23, 2010 at 10:23 pm 6,035 3 Comments

From Mary Burgan

Mary the Borderstan Movie Fan’s column on movies runs every two weeks. She is a retired professor of English and association executive. Mary’s previous reviews are listed at the end of this post.

One of the best movies playing in town these days is from Argentina. The Secret in Their Eyes/ El secreto de sus ojos (2009) is a gripping thriller, though with its shifting time lines it can be difficult to follow. But be patient; the plot will become clear by the end, though as with all good mysteries, there will be a residue of sadness after the secrets are revealed.

I think the length of the movie is a plus, for it gives the audience time to get to know the three main characters–all worth knowing and expertly played by three of Argentina’s proven screen actors. The Secret in Their Eyes won the 2009 academy award for best foreign language film.

The Secret in Their Eyes is like the very few films from Latin America that manage to break through our geographical and linguistic barriers to be shown in American theaters. I have viewed only a small percentage of them, but the ones I have seen are always interesting and frequently brilliant.

The first South American film that I became aware of was also from Argentina, and it also won the Academy Award for best foreign film of its year, 1985. The Official Story/La historia oficial was similar to The Secret in Their Eyes in that its story is tied up with the politics of Argentina in the 70s. Latin American film makers do not seem afraid of politics, though their films tend to reflect the difference that civil disorder makes in the daily lives of ordinary people, rather than preaching a lesson.

One of the most notable things about The Official Story is the performance of the famous Argentinean actress Norma Aleandro as Alicia, its central character. Her belated recognition about the brutality of the regime that she has unthinkingly supported builds before our eyes. And although there is a brief scene of unbearable physical violence in the film, Alicia’s epiphany about the nature of the regime happens without the blood and gore of American movies.

Aleandro was featured in several American films after her success in The Official Story, but as a woman whose age shows in her face, she is not as famous here as she is in her own country. If you want to see her in a recent film, check out Live-In Maid/Cama adentro (2004), not as profound as The Official Story, but still a film of domestic life touched by national politics–in this case Argentina’s economic collapse at the end of the last decade.

Aleandro is Beba, a rich divorcee on her way down and out, who depends more than she knows on the kindness of her maid, Dora, played by a non-professional actress named Norma Argentina. Working in tandem, both Normas present a portrait of strange interdependence between privilege and patient servility.

A recent film from Argentina, Family Law/Derecho de familia (2006), has very few political echoes, though I could try to prove my point about politics in Latin American films by pointing out that its hero is a Jewish lawyer in Buenos Aires. But that would be too programmatic. There are no Nazi plots here, just a tender story of fathers and sons.

The other great Latin American film that has stayed with me since I first saw it in the late 90s is Central Station/Central do Brasil (1999). It stars another marvelous actress, Fernanda Montenegro. Both she and the film are from Brazil, but Central Station transcends nationality in its humanity as expressed in the beautifully lined face of its leading actress.

Central Station was nominated for a 1999 Academy award but lost out to Life is Beautiful/La vita è bella from Italy. Comparisons are said to be odious, but I think time will show that the Brazilian film was more deeply moving than the popular Italian one, and without any hint of sentimentality.

The House of Sand/Casa de Areia (2006)–a recent film in which Montenegro stars with her daughter, Fernanda Torres–never made it to Washington movie houses. That film is worth watching, though. It is not a masterpiece like Central Station, but it’s a beautifully filmed saga of generations of women trying to make their way in a desolate outpost in northern Brazil.

I will close by recommending a film that may seem overtly political (I think it’s not), and that gives a stunning panorama of many countries in South America unknown to those of us in the northern hemisphere.

The Motorcycle Diaries/Diarios de motocicleta (2004) details a road trip taken by Ernesto Guevara and his friend Alberto Granada before Ernesto became a political revolutionary. The film was directed by the Brazilian Walter Salles (director of Central Station), starred actors from Mexico and Argentina, was filmed in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Venezuela and Columbia, and was produced with multinational resources.

Like the other films I’ve mentioned here, it approaches politics through the lives of characters who seem both believable and, eventually, idealistic. The terrible injustices they live through make them so.

Suggestions, Please!

I am not the one to offer a catalog of all the good South American films that are waiting to be discovered by American film-goers. The films of Central America, for example, are plentiful and rich, but I’ve mentioned none here. Now is a good time for readers to help me out by offering other suggestions. Make yours in a comment.

Other Reviews by The Borderstan Movie Fan


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