Starting today, I’ll feature several films from the Noir City International virtual film festival, which kicked off yesterday. You can read my review here as well as find out how you can see this excellent Argentine noir for yourself!
El Aura (2005)
Written and directed by Fabián Bielinsky
Produced by Ariel Saúl, Victor Hadida, Cecilia Bossi
Music by Dario Eskenazi
Cinematography by Checco Varese
Edited by Alejandro Carrillo Penovi, Fernando Pardo
IFC DVD (2:18)
One of the things I appreciate most about film festivals and shows like TCM’s Noir Alley is the presenter’s ability to convey how film noir developed organically from events happening in the culture at the time those films were made. Those who excel at such presentations help audiences understand how post-WWII fears and anxieties greatly contributed to a sense of cynicism in films produced in the 1940s and 50s. Add to that the variations of what we once accepted as well-defined male and female roles in our society, the threat of communism, the problems of veterans returning home to a different world, and much more. Without these presenters as guides, it’s often difficult to navigate our own history while trying to understand the stories behind the stories, much less the experiences of filmmakers working in other countries. I explored some of this with El ángel desnudo (1946), the first movie discussed in the book Argentine Cinema: From Noir to Neo-Noir by David George and Gizella Meneses. Today, I’ll look at El Aura, a more recent Argentine noir which draws heavily from its cultural background.
Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)
Directed by Hector Babenco
Produced by Francisco Ramalho Jr. and David Weisman
Written by Leonard Schrader
Based on the novel by Manuel Puig
Cinematography by Rodolfo Sánchez
Edited by Mauro Alice
Music by Nando Carneiro, John Neschling, Wally Badarou
ICRA DVD (2:01)
The chapter for Kiss of the Spider Woman in Argentine Cinema: From Noir to Neo-Noir requires you to wrap your head around several different concepts. First of all, the authors consider not only the 1985 film by Hector Babenco, but also the 1976 Manuel Puig novel and the award-winning 1993 musical. Things get even more strange when you realize that the film (the prime focus of the chapter) doesn’t specifically take place in Argentina, nor was it an Argentine production. Finally, the locales differ significantly: Puig’s novel clearly takes place in a Buenos Aires penitentiary; the film, in an unnamed prison whose signs and street scenes suggest São Paulo, Brazil; the musical, in an unidentified Caribbean country. Having read the novel and watched the film, my comments will focus primarily on the movie.
Before an examination of Argentine noir, David George and Gizella Meneses, the authors of the new book Argentine Cinema: From Noir to Neo-Noir (Lexington Books, ISBN 9781498511865), open with a brief overview of classic film noir and neo-noir. For most people picking up this book (which is probably not a casual purchase, with a retail price of $90), the authors’ brief summary of noir will serve as a refresher. After this introductory chapter, George and Meneses examine how film noir developed specifically in Argentina. If your Argentine history isn’t quite up to speed, no worries: you’ll learn about the Juan Perón era (as president from 1946 to 1955) and the country’s years of instability, Perón’s later exile and return to power, the influence of crime fiction in Latin America, and what Paul Schrader refers to as the “rips and tears in the social fabric” of the country (p. 24). All of this is presented in a way that makes you want to read more, especially considering how these events were reflected in the movies of the era. Although its wartime and postwar history is different from that of the United States, Argentina was prime real estate for the construction and development of film noir.
March is off to a pretty good start. Let’s see what we’ve got: