In order to engage in meaningful ethnographic studies and attempt to understand different cultures, one must expand his or her mindset by analyzing historical events, contemporary issues, and, most importantly, the art that emerges as a result of the formers within that culture. For the past century or so, film has served as the most influential medium for philosophical artists to express their opinions, values, and beliefs to spread messages to the masses. However, due to the impact of neo-liberalism and commercialism on the world’s film industry, these meaningful, carefully constructed works of art are often trapped in the shadows of Hollywood blockbuster-type films that lack political or social merit. For this reason, it is important to filter through films to remove commercial films with minimal cultural significance and identify the films that accurately represent a culture’s ideology and convey political, social, economic, or ethical messages. As the attitudes and happenings within a culture constantly continue to change and develop, it is important that filmmakers adapt and develop accordingly, as Fabián Bielinsky has shown.
Due to limitations on funding, distribution constraints, and even sometimes censorship by political authorities, the information-rich auteur films have typically suffered and failed to reach the masses, especially in Latin American nations, causing two new generations of motivated filmmakers to arise in Argentina in the 1960s and then again in the 1980s. These generations of filmmakers, part of the “new Argentine cinema” movement, vary in techniques and messages with some wishing to start political and social revolutions, and some wishing to simply express their attitudes toward an event or situation.
According to Fernando Solanas, there was a distinct duality that existed in the film industry before the emergence of new Argentine cinema involving motives of the filmmakers, dividing films into either “First Cinema” or “Second Cinema” based on their content and the directors’ motives. Commercial films that exist only for profit represent this “First Cinema” category, and they contain fast-paced, nonsensical images and plots that lack any cultural significance. “First Cinema” films produced in Latin America essentially attempt to mimic the Hollywood-type film, plaguing the minds of the masses with false realities. The existence and popularity of these films comment on the impact of neo-liberalism, but the films do not spark any meaningful points of cultural analysis, belittling their value for anthropologic studies. On the other hand, “Second Cinema” films are independently produced expressions of an individual’s beliefs and opinions, meant for specific niche audiences of like-minded peers. With the coming-of-age of the new generation of Argentine filmmakers in the 1960s, a new form of “Third Cinema” emerged as a tool to try to start revolutionary movements in response to the poor conditions in Argentina. Many of these filmmakers attended INCAA, where they developed similar techniques for creating these “Third Cinema” revolutionary films, heavily influenced by French New Wave cinema and Italian Neorealism. Utilizing a unique fusion of documentary-style realist cinematography and fictional narratives, directors like Fernando Birri and Fernando Solanas created powerful films that were obvious, blatant challenges to hegemony and authority in Argentina.
The next generation of filmmakers that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s looked to push the boundaries of culturally significant films, providing commentary on the “Dirty War” of the 1970s and its lingering effects through colorful narratives. A common theme of these films is the inescapable cycles of repetition that trap the citizens of Argentina in their impoverished, uneventful lives. Trapped by the societal structure of Argentina’s social classes and economic recessions, characters in Silvia Prieto, Mundo Grua, and Pizza, Birra, Faso endure the never-ending cycle of going through the motions in order to survive. Whether the characters are serving coffee, working in physical labor, or robbing other people, they all feel hopelessly trapped in their mundane lives with no knowledge of how to improve their situations, so they live on auto-pilot to get through to the next day.
Each of these films contains more interesting, attention-grabbing cinematography than the first generation of new Argentine films, abandoning the French New Wave influences. Instead of documentary-type hybrid films, the directors were able to maintain the same level of political and social significance but improve the visual pleasure of watching the films. Fabián Bielinsky was especially gifted in his ability to create culturally significant films at a very high level of quality, offering unique perspectives on the economic and social distraught of Argentina in the 1990s.
Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Bielinsky had a passion for filmmaking from a young age, and his years studying psychology have definitely impacted his style of direction. Despite his talent and early success, Bielinsky only directed two feature films before his untimely death. Both of his films, titled Nueve Reinas and El Aura, were personal manifestations of Bielinsky’s attitudes and perspectives on life in Argentina, but only one of the films was successful. Stuck in the classic dilemma between making films for profit and making films that he actually wanted to make, Bielinsky was able to successfully cover both ends of the spectrum with Nueve Reinas.
He had been told that in order to make a profit off of his first film, it would have to feature popular actors and actresses, contain minimal political relevance, and fall into the comedy genre. Despite what trends had established as far as what would constitute a successful film, Bielinsky went ahead and created a mind-bending, wildly entertaining crime drama that was a huge hit with audiences.
Nueve Reinas, features a twisting and turning story of deceit and trickery as two con artists make an attempt at a life-changing scheme for riches, and the brilliantly executed cinematography makes the film seem commercial, despite containing some relevant themes about the real world. In this film, the elder con artist named Marco, played by Ricardo Darín, explains to his partner that the entire city is filled with con artists. According to Marco, every person in the city is acting selfishly for his or her own benefit, willing to step on anyone else in order to bring in enough money to survive another day. Bielinsky received plenty of praise for this high quality film, and it was made into an American film called Criminal a few years later. Nueve Reinas presents a world in which everyone has turned on each other, causing society to implode and fall apart, but El Aura goes further and portrays the aftermath of this downfall.
Pushing the boundaries of genre, El Aura contains many elements of noir, especially shown through the character of the protagonist played by Ricardo Darín, but is drastically different visually than typical film noir. Emphasizing internal struggles over interpersonal conflicts and tension over action, El Aura is a twenty-first century adaptation of the dark, existential film noir from half a century ago. Darín’s character is a lonely taxidermist who is constantly disconnected from the world in which he lives without any meaningful personal relationships. He is epileptic, and the few seconds before his unavoidable episodes are the only points in the film when he is truly living in his environment as part of his surroundings. During the rest of the film, Darín is going through the motions in a haze, choosing to act out imaginary heists in his mind, never quite conscious of the magnitude of the events around him.
The setting of El Aura is an important factor to consider when examining the film’s protagonist because it adds to the existential, almost post-apocalyptic feel of the film and enhances the protagonist’s isolation. Darín’s character goes up into the wilderness on a hunting trip away from any kind of civilized human interaction, which has a similar feel to the typical city in noir films like Double Indemnity because he is essentially traveling through a maze. This forest of isolation seems to represent the period following the economic recession and collapse represented in Nueve Reinas. In Nueve Reinas the characters maliciously scheme and cheat each other, stuck in dark times of crime and inescapable repetition of mundane daily lives, but El Aura has an even darker mood, portrayed as an unhappy, cloudy dream where there is minimal light and only the dark sadness of isolation. El Aura represents a world where every day is potentially a deadly fight for survival, conveying a more serious tone than its sometimes comical predecessor Nueve Reinas. The people in Argentina knew there could be happiness out there, but it was difficult to see, just as the film’s protagonist had difficulty truly seeing the world around him, stuck in constant disconnect with his surroundings.
Bielinsky achieved success with his first film, Nueve Reinas, due to its audience-pleasing action and plot twists, giving him the ability to create the psychological thriller El Aura. His passion for psychology and developing deeply troubled characters came out in his second film, which was clearly not written or directed to satisfy audiences. In interviews, Bielinsky claims to have made these films to satisfy himself and spread his ideas and perspectives, which would fall under the “Second Cinema” category, despite the commercial-level quality of the films. He had no desire to produce “First Cinema” films with support from Hollywood, because he wanted complete creative control over his films, and had worked for decades making actual television commercials.
Despite his distaste for the commercial film industry, his first film and his work with commercials gave him the necessary funding to create El Aura, which is a better representation of his style of direction because it contained elements of psychological tension and noir. Both of his films appear commercial quality and may appear “First Cinema” based purely on visuals, but he was still able to create two cinematographic masterpieces while maintaining a level of auteurism. For this reason, Bielinsky was truly a revolutionary filmmaker and one of the most exciting members of the class of new Argentine cinema directors.