As the 14th international BAFICI film festival gets underway and the city is awash with cinephiles, we thought we’d give you a run down of great Argentine directors so that you can hold your own this week when chatting to the moustache-twiddling, beret-sporting, Deleuze loving (that one’s for the real pros) film enthusiasts.
Far from a comprehensive list, our Top 5 Argentine Directors sets out to tell you five directors you should know about, and should give you plenty to chew on while BAFICI is underway.
Leopoldo Torre Nilsson (1924-78)
The grandfather of Argentine film, Leopoldo Torre Nilsson helped bring prestige to Argentine cinema and was the most important figure in inspiring the younger generation of film-makers who started the new-wave in Argentine cinema at the beginning of the 1960s. According to international filmmaker Roman Polanski, he helped bring Argentine cinema up to international quality without ignoring subjects that were integral to Argentina.
Obsessed with the decline of the bourgeois society in his country, his films were often filled with sexual and societal frustration and peopled with dark characters with shadowy pasts who move in decadent environments. He directed. with humour and finesse.
Born in Buenos Aires, the son of the pioneering Argentine director, Leopoldo Torres Ríos, Leopoldo spent his formative years working under with his father and lost in the books of Jorge Luis Borges, Marcel Proust and James Joyce. His mother was an Argentine of Swedish descent and he cited her compatriot, the director Ingmar Bergman, as one of his greatest influences. He lived young and directed fast, making 30 features in little over 25 years.
His most fruitful collaboration was with his wife, the writer Beatriz Guido. Together, they adapted her novels ‘La mano en la trampa’ and ‘La casa del ángel’ into screenplays that became two of his most successful and critically acclaimed films. When the latter came out, French filmmaker and critic Éric Rohmer called it “the best film to have arrived from South America since the beginnings of cinema.”
No stranger to Argentine literature, Torre Nilsson was a friend of the author Ernesto Sabato and also known for directing screenplays based on the work of other Argentine writers including Roberto Arlt, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Jorge Luis Borges, and gauchesque poet, José Hernández.
Leonardo Favio (born 1938)
Born Fuad Jorge Jury, Leonardo Favio lived through a tough childhood in a small town in the north of Mendoza. An Argentine of Syrian descent, he is a true artistic polymath who built a career out of directing, writing, composing, singing and acting. Much lauded in his home continent, many believe he never got the recognition he deserved on the international scene.
Working under the tutelage of Argentine director Torre Nilsson, he was invited to act in films at the end of the 1950s, and the beginning of his career as a director followed shortly after with the production of his first short film in 1960. Four years later, his debut feature ‘Crónica de un niño solo’ cemented his place at the forefront of Argentine cinema.
The influence of filmmakers like the Spanish born Luis Buñuel and founder of French new-wave cinema François Truffaut was evident, although his personal style and strong aesthetics also shone through. He turned the focus away from a popular fixation with the urban bourgeoisie, towards the tough life at the fringes of society. For this reason he is credited with helping to break the barrier between popular culture and high art.
His films, despite shirking away from the mainstream and embracing the experimental, enjoyed a mass appeal in Argentina. Another of his most acclaimed films, ‘El romance del Aniceta y la Francisca’, is considered by many to be one of Argentina’s best.
An element in his life that cannot be ignored is his vehement support of Peronism. In 1999 he released an exhaustive 340-minute documentary about his political idol: ex-president and controversial figure Juan Domingo Perón.
In 2010, he was appointed Argentina’s Cultural Ambassador by fellow Peronist and current president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
For more information find Leonardo Favio on IMDB
Fernando ‘Pino’ Solanas (born 1936)
Fernando ‘Pino’ Solanas was born in Buenos Aires province and has made his name as one of the most important Argentine directors and documentary-makers.
Solanas’ work comes inextricably linked with politics. Any discussion on the director must surely go hand-in-hand with the mention of ‘Grupo Cine Liberación’ – a cinematic movement with which he was strongly affiliated. In the 1960s and 70s, the movement offered a reaction to Latin American politics and global cinema, focusing on making films that were socially and politically committed rather than purely entertainment driven. With their militant cinema they tried to demonstrate that Argentina was a society in crisis.
Their trademark was to make films anonymously, a move that encouraged collective creative processes and also protected them from political repression at a time when dictatorships were starting to emerge across the continent. Their most acclaimed film from the period was a four-hour documentary titled ‘La hora de los hornos: Notas y testimonios sobre el neocolonialismo, la violencia y la liberación’. The film became a symbol of activist cinema during the zenith of leftist politics.
Armando Bó (1914-81)
The inclusion of director Armando Bó in this list might raise a few eyebrows, but his influence and cult following should not be underestimated.
US filmmaker John Waters once said that when he was searching for inspiration he would look to the Argentine director’s films and wish he spoke Spanish. And well, that’s about as apt an introduction as the director could hope for. He described ‘Fuego’ (Bó’s best-known film) as “a huge influence”, admitting “I forgot how much I stole”.
In a time when sexploitation films were taken more seriously and the line between art-house and soft-core was slightly blurrier, Armando Bó was king. This auteur of sorts made 30 films between 1954 and 1980 – none of which were too subtle or nuanced. He hacked his way through plots, played for slapstick laughs and flashed a lot of flesh but the audience loved it and kept coming back for more.
He made 27 films starring the now retired model and actress Isabel Sarli. Sarli was Miss Argentina 1955, the Brigitte Bardot of Latin America and the filmmaker’s real-life lover.
“You inspired us all to a life of cheap exhibitionism, exaggerated sexual desires and a love for all that is trash-ridden in cinema,” Waters once said of Sarli, but it’s a comment that works just fine for Bó too.
For more information find Armando Bó on IMDB
Juan José Campanella (born 1959)
Probably the most recognisable name on this list for a contemporary audience, Juan José Campanella is a member of the exclusive two-man club of Oscar-winning Argentine directors. He has spent much of his working life in the United States and has directed several English language films as well as a number of North American television series.
Born and raised in Buenos Aires, he began studying engineering at university but famously dropped out with only a year to go to pursue a career in filmmaking.
He is credited with helping to restore pride in the Argentine film industry which has historically suffered from “chronic self-depreciation”. “In Argentina, a Hollywood movie is innocent until proven guilty. An Argentine movie is the other way around. I have to work really hard to break down that barrier,” he told one US publication in an interview.
Having been previously nominated for an Oscar in 2001 for his film ‘El hijo de la novia’ (‘The son of the bride’), Campanella’s talents as a director were finally recognised in 2010 when his film ‘El secreto de sus ojos’ (‘The secret in their eyes’) was awarded the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
A classy, unpredictable film noir set in 1975 Buenos Aires – it brought the spotlight back on Argentine cinema and helped make him the most bankable homegrown director in Argentine history.
He is currently working on an animated feature called ‘Metegol’ (‘Foosball’) and, the way things are going, it probably won’t be the last time we see him fumbling at his collar nervously at another red carpet event.
For more information find Juan J. Campanella on IMDB