Local film buffs are getting a unique boon these days, as a highly commendable undertaking called the Argentine Movie Week kicks off nationwide with an accommodating enough line-up at a fraction of the cost of regular theatre tickets: 35 pesos for a series of screenings scheduled between October 1 and 4, courtesy of the National Film board (INCAA) and the Ministry of Culture.
It’s no small thing either: the impressive 80-plus line-up – which includes premières, restored copies of old classics, box-office hits and film festival entries – will be screening both at traditional arthouse venues as well as the mainstream movie theatre chains which charge, on average, 155 pesos compared to the 35 pesos of the Argentine Movie Week tickets.
The opening feature of the Argentine Movie Week, screening at the Gaumont movie theatre, is Teresa Constantini’s Yo soy así, Tita de Buenos Aires, a long-awaited biopic about larger-than-life tango singer, actress and dancer Tita Merello, whose career spanned most of the 20th century. Constantini’s film stars Mercedes Funes as the unparalleled Merello and tries to portray her both as a woman and as an artist. The biopic is set mostly in the period running from the 1920s to the 1950s, including the times of the Revolución libertadora during which mMerello, a supporter of the ousted Juan Domingo Perón, was ostracised, banned and relegated to obscurity. This historically-rich period also had the artist getting to know some of Argentina’s leading musicians, including Hugo del Carril, Francisco Canaro, Carlos Gardel, and enrique Santos Discépolo. the filmmaker paid special attention to Tita’s torrid love affair with actor Luis Sandrini and her relationship with Eva Perón.
Other noteworthy local premières include films that took their bow recently at leading film festivals: Lucrecia Martel’s fourth feature Zama, which screened in Venice to raving reviews from international critics who rushed to applaud her comeback after nine years on the sidelines.
Another is Anahí Berneri’s Alanis, which screened in the official competition of the San Sebastián festival ending today. In her fifth film, Berneri turns her eye to the dour topic of prostitution and illegal immigration through the story of a 25-year-old young woman struggling to stay afloat and raise her baby in a ruthless Buenos Aires.
Alanis, the title character, played with stunning naturalness by Sofía Gala Castiglione, is locked out of the apartment she rents with her friend and fellow prostitute Gisela, who is arrested for procurement. left out in the street with her 18-month son Dante, the young woman turns to an aunt who lives in once’s dismal Plaza Miserere and tries to find work, eventually falling back on her trade, which is easier said than done as she has to navigate a quagmire of established territories and codes.
Alanis’ real name is Maria – and the film mirrors that polarity to a fault. berneri shows us the saint and the sinner, the prostitute and the madonna as Alanis fights her way among streetwalkers, dressed in the typically cheap, slinky wear of her trade, or as Maria cares for her infant son, changing diapers and breastfeeding the little boy, who happens to be Gala Castiglione’s real-life son, a connection which thrives onscreen.
Gala Castiglione’s defiant performance complements Berneri’s own unforgiving aesthetics which paints an almost claustrophobic urban landscape without falling into a sense of misery or desolation. As much as Maria/Alanis may roam dingy streets and look at herself in grimy bathroom mirrors, the portrait that emerges at Berneri’s hands is more punctilious and diligent: the unapologetic hooker and the loving mother –whose natural rapport with her infant son shines throughout to an almost documentary-like degree – are impressively shot, albeit not as polar opposites of the same personality. the filmmaker’s critical view of society is there, but its rich visuals and thematic echoes transcend the baseline as she manages to draw a solidly textured image of a woman who has earned the right to live as acutely as she chooses.
Also from the San Sebastián official competition comes Diego Lerman’s effective social drama A Sort of Family, an exploration of the facets and consequences of legal adoption, nuanced with thriller overtones. the lead character, a middle-class doctor from buenos Aires, has to embark on an uncertain voyage to the rural north of the country as she learns that the baby she was expecting to adopt is about to be born. The journey is packed with legal and moral obstacles which reveal a corrupt system where the placement of the child is a mere transaction.
Another film hailing from a top film festival, this time Cannes, which is also included in the Argentine movie Week’s line-up is the first feature by Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato The Desert Bride. The film stars lauded Chilean actress Paulina García as a housekeeper who has just lost her job and ends up also losing her luggage on the way to San Juan, which leads to an adventure that is aimed at the protagonist finding not only her belongings, but also a stronger sense of self.
Also screening during the Argentine Movie Week are Goya winner The Distinguished Citizen, by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis, by Andrea Tsta and Francisco márquez, which screened in Cannes’ Un certain Regard category and won best Film at BAFICI, and Emiliano Torres’ award-winning The Winter.
WHEN AND WHERE. October 1-4, via the INCAA network, as well as Hoyts, Cinemark, Village, Showcase, Cinemacenter, Atlas and other venues.