Recoveries of the Real

New Argentine and Brazilian Cinema in the Global Image-World

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Project partnersJens Andermann (Birkbeck College, London, UK); Alvaro Fernández Bravo (New York University, Buenos Aires, Argentina); Mauricio Lissovsky (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); Denilson Lopes (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); Gabriela Nouzeilles (Princeton University, U.S.A.)

In a series of encounters, the network attempts to interconnect debates on the emergence, in contemporary Brazilian and Argentine cinema, of a new concern with the real and with the peculiar indexical qualities of the filmic sound-image. It also attempts to map these concerns into the larger context of current film theory and discussions on world cinema as a potentially counter-hegemonic audiovisual space.

Starting in the mid-1990s, both Brazilian cinema da retomada (‘recovery cinema’) and Argentine nuevo cine have taken part in a wider resurgence of Latin American film following its near-collapse at the height of the debt crisis of the previous two decades. However, this re-emergence of cinema has taken place in markedly different ways between one country and the next, as has the impact of neoliberal adjustment policies on local production structures, audiences, relations between cinema, television and alternative audiovisual media circuits, and so forth. These specific constellations, then, call for a comparative rather than a unifying approach, precisely in order to call attention to shared traits and concerns, and the way these engage and respond to cinematic tendencies beyond the context of the region.

Much of the criticism produced on present-day Brazilian and Argentinian cinema focuses on the ways in which these share a similar concern with the observational capacity of the filmic apparatus. Sometimes marked as a contrast between imaging technologies within the films themselves, the cinematic sound-image is conceived as being traversed in a fundamentally different way by what it records than its televisual counterpart. The relation, then, between film and ‘the real’ is claimed to be, at the same time, more reflexive and more immediate than in other audiovisual media, not so much because of an inherent difference in recording technology (many films are today shot in digital video) as of different spaces and temporalities of production and circulation. In terms of film genres, visual and sound aesthetics, acting techniques, etc., this concern with the real has led to a marked blurring of boundaries between fiction and documentary films, and to the incorporation of the very mode of production as an essential component of cinematic form.

Yet whereas this renewed interest in a cinema capable of observing the social landscapes of neoliberal postdictatorship seems to suggest a return to central aesthetic concerns of 1960s and 1970s ‘Third Cinema’, critics still committed to the latter’s cause have accused the new generation of filmmakers of political complacency or indifference, as evidenced in their works’ lack of explicit moral judgements or prise de partie. However, it has been argued that the new cinema’s concern with the indexicality and (staging of) immediacy of the filmic sound-image responds to an exhaustion of the political as understood by the film-activism of the Sixties and the highly allegorical postdictatorship cinema of the Eighties and early Nineties, a change that also affects the figure of the film-auteur who ceases to be a public intellectual crafting images and narratives of the nation and its destiny.

The network thus attempts to produce a novel understanding of contemporary Latin American film, at once locating it in the particular conditions of its emergence and in relation to an increasingly global space of production and consumption of sound-images. It attempts to understand in what ways the ‘recoveries of the real’ can be understood as, at the same time, a form of insistence (and resistance) of the local and as part of the construction of an alternative, trans-local form of globality that echoes and dialogues with developments in other regions of ‘world cinema’.