Read down for an insight into Argentine cinema.
Argentina's cinema is one of its liveliest art forms and has enjoyed a recent renaissance with some brilliant films being made, more in the European or auteur tradition, than in Hollywood style, but with a couple of worldwide successes and Oscar nominations. Watching a couple of Argentine films is certainly one of the best ways of tapping into the country's culture before you arrive.
In 1922, Buenos Aires had some 27,000,000 film goers each year and 128 movie theatres, the largest, the Grand Splendid seating 1350 people. By 1933 there were 1608 cinemas throughout Argentina, with 199 in the capital. However, the taste of the cinema going public was for Hollywood movies. Hollywood has dominated the screens in Latin America for the first hundred years of film history, averaging some 90% of viewing time in Argentina.
However, in 1950's, New Argentine Cinema started as a movement of independent films which were a far more honest and accurate reflection of life in the country. Film clubs and journals created a climate of awareness of film as an art form and the tenets of Italian neo-realism and the 'politique des auteurs' of Cahiers du Cinema provided alternatives to the studio-based Hollywood system. In Argentina, Leopoldo Torre Nilsson (1924-1978) explored aristocratic decadence and his early film La casa del ángel (The House of the Angel, 1957) was greeted with praise all over the world. Fernando Birri (1925-) used neo-realist principles to explore the hidden realities of Argentina. His film school in Santa Fé made an important documentary about young shanty town children, Tire dié (Throw us a dime, 1957) and helped pioneer a more flexible, socially committed, cinema.
Younger film makers of the 60s like Manuel Antín (1926-), David Kohon (1929-) and Leonardo Favio (1938-) explored middle-class alienation or the sexual rites of passage of the young, set in the cafés and streets of Buenos Aires. Meanwhile, the growing climate of revolutionary sentiment of the late 1960s was reflected in Solanas's La hora de los hornos (The Hour of the Furnaces, 1966-1968), a key work of populist radicalism.
After a brief spell of radical optimism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, reflected in a number of other nationalist-populist movies, the dream of the second coming of Perón turned into the nightmare that led to the brutal military takeover in March 1976. Strict censorship was imposed on cinema, with only the lightest comedies and thrillers escaping total ban or cuts. Film makers such as Solanas, who went into exile, found it difficult to adapt to the new conditions and remained in a cultural wilderness. Within Argentina, the tight military control began to slacken in the early 1980s and some important films were made, including María Luisa Bemberg's (1922-1995) Señora de nadie (Nobody's Woman, 1982) which was premiered the day before the invasion of the Falklands/Malvinas.
With the return to civilian rule in 1983, the Radical government abolished censorship and put two well known film makers in charge of the National Film Institute, Manuel Antín and Ricardo Wullicher (1948-). Antín's granting of credits to young and established directors and his internationalist strategy had an immediate effect. For several years there was a great flowering of talent, a development that would only be halted temporarily by the economic difficulties of the late 1980s. The trade paper Variety (25 March 1987) commented on this new effervescence: 'Never before has there been such a mass of tangible approval as in the years since democratic rule returned at the end of 1983. In 1986, the Hollywood Academy granted the first Oscar for an Argentine picture, The Official Version, directed by Luis Puenzo (1946-), which dealt with the recent traumas of the disappearances of the 'Dirty War', but in rather sentimental Hollywood terms. This followed the massive box office success of Bemberg's Camila, which commented by analogy on the same subject. Solanas' two films about exile and the return to democracy, Tangos, el exilio de Gardel (Tangos the Exile of Gardel, 1985) and Sur (South, 1988), both offer interesting insights in Solanas' idiosyncratic poetic style. Puenzo, Bemberg and Solanas remained the most visible directors in the 1980s and 1990s, but dozens of other directors made movies in a range of different styles. Lita Stantic made perhaps the most complex film about the 'Dirty War' of the military regime, the superb Un muro de silencio (A Wall of Silence, 1993). This was a success with the critics, but was ignored by the public who preferred to view politics and repression through a gauze of melodrama and rock music, as in Marcelo Piñeyro's Tango Feroz (1993).
After 1989, the Menem government introduced credits and a percentage of box office and video sales to the film industry and Argentine cinema has undergone a revival in the last few years. The hard economic fact is that by far the vast majority of screens in the country show Hollywood product, and home-grown movies have to compete on these very commercial terms. However, the Oscar nomination of Argentine film El Hijo de la Novia in 2002 boosted national self confidence, and was a big success within Argentina. Its anti-hero Ricardo Darín also starred in Fabiano Belinski's sophisticated heist movie Neuve Reinas (Nine Queens) which through a labyrinth of tricks and scams neatly articulates a Buenos Aires where no one can trust anyone. It was a huge success worldwide as well as in the country, and the death of Bielinsky following his second film. El Aura was a tragic loss to Argentine cinema.
Successes of the new Argentine cinema included a return to cinema with a social conscience in Adrián Gaetano's Bolivia, addressing the sorry plight of an illegal Bolivian worker in urban Argentina, and his Un Oso Rojo (2002) charting the fate of a newly released prisoner trying to reclaim the affection of his daughter from his wife's new boyfriend. Pablo Trapero's Mundo Grua is a stark but touching portrayal of the life of a crane driver, while Lisandro Alonso's astonishing Libertad shows with utter honesty the life of a peon on an estancia. In Luis Ortega's charming Caja Negra a young woman's relationship with her outcast father and eccentric ancient grandmother is explored with great humour and compassion. Two of the most striking films of recent years are Pizza, Birra, Faso by Stagnaro and Gaetano, and No Quiero Volver a Casa by Albertina Carri. Lucrecia Martel showed an original voice in her disturbing La Cienaga, a vivid portrayal of a divided family's unhappy summer in their country house. Highly allegorical and rich in atmospheric detail, it's a wonderful contemporary portrait of the country. Her La Nina Santa (Holy Girl) was less successful.
Most cinemas in the country show Hollywood movies, but the larger cities have an art house cinema, and if you happen to be around during any of the film festivals, you can usually catch a few recent Argentine releases: Mar del Plata Film Festival in mid March, Buenos Aires, film festival in mid April, and Salta's film festival in the first week of December.