How to waste the light outside
Back in November, myself and a few friends from my film course at the Universidad de Buenos Aires decided to head to Mar del Plata for the last two days of the film festival there, which is probably the most important in Latin America. Mar del Plata is a seaside resort in the south of Buenos Aires province, about a 5 hour drive from the capital. The town itself is not particularly attractive – apart from one pleasant seaside square, it’s a mix of cement apartment blocks and (oddly enough) very English-looking, mock-Tudor style houses. The population is, I’m told, largely retired, making ‘Mardel’ a sort of Argentine Bournemouth, though admittedly with better weather.
We arrived early on a Saturday morning, after a 6 hour train ride in carriages which can’t have been altered in 30 years, and whose doors were open onto the tracks the entire way. Despite having to concentrate on not falling out of the train on the way to the toilet, I still got the peculiarly epic feeling that trains, and especially old ones, give to travel.
This was my first experience of a film festival, which are by their nature overwhelming and destined to frustrate those of a box-ticking mentality. So after painful deliberation I ‘limited’ myself to six films over the weekend, three on each day. The first one, A Woman, was a bit of an inauspicious start. Directed by Giada Colagrande, wife of Willem Dafoe, it stars him as a writer who, unable to get over the death of his wife, invites a girl from New York back to live with him in Italy.
The film was nicely shot and quite unsettling (in a good way), but the script was so awful and unnatural (on purpose?) that I couldn’t really appreciate much of it. In fact, I nearly left before the end, and I don’t get that urge very often. Is it entirely uncharitable and cynical to suppose that without the presence and influence of Dafoe, this film probably wouldn’t have made it off the page?
I’m not going to go through each of the films one by one, but there are two that I want to mention. The first is a collection of shorts made just after the Egyptian Revolution this year, called 18 days. Perhaps inevitably, given how quickly it was made, it’s of uneven quality, and could be accused of presenting a one-sided view of events (but then who, really, was rooting for Mubarak?)
There are some gems, though, such as ‘Window’, and ‘Curfew’, which are among the quieter, more considered, more personal tales. The last short, ‘Ashraf Seberto’, about a barber who turns his shop into a makeshift surgery, is particularly good at instilling revolutionary fervour, at least if you’re as susceptible to that sort of thing as me.
The second film that stood out for me, which I saw on Sunday, was Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur. It was weirdly comforting to be immersed in a British environment for an hour and half, after some four months living in Argentina. Yet this is a film which offers little comfort – the main character kicks his dog to death within the first minute.
That said, it’s a brilliant exploration of how two people from seemingly different worlds, yet both equally screwed up, stumble towards a kind of friendship and mutual support, and Olivia Colman puts in a particularly moving performance. It’s telling that despite how full of nasty behaviour the film is, its message isn’t a depressing one in the end.
To end with a cultural aside: I find it hardly coincidental that Latin America’s biggest film festival is in Argentina. This is a country with an enviable cinematic pedigree (the Oscar-winning El secreto de sus ojos is just the latest prize-winner). Yet even more than that, it is a country which takes the arts very seriously. That implies a great deal of state funding, which can be a blessing or a curse – I wouldn’t recommend the recent, propagandistic cartoon Eva de la Argentina about Eva Perón, for example.
But it does at least mean that festivals such as Mar del Plata generate a lot of enthusiasm, and aren’t dismissed as a luxury or irrelevance. Which is at the very least reassuring if you’ve spent a weekend holed up in a dark room, wasting the summer light outside.
This is an adapted version of a post from my blog Thoughts in Colour