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Text translated
from Spanish
by Pamela Bienzobas

cinemas of the south

Pablo Trapero: Family Pictures
By Diego Lerer

"The goal of the realistic film is the world, not the story nor the narration.
It does not have preconceived thesis, because the thesis appear by themselves.
It does not stay on the surface, but looks for the most subtle threads of the soul.
It rejects formulas and seeks the motivations that are inside each one of us."
Two Words on Neorealism, Roberto Rossellini, 1953

In 1999, the big surprise at the Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival (BAFICI) was Crane World (Mundo grúa, 1999), the film that in a certain way continued and furthered the neorealist trend opened in Argentinean cinema by Historias breves, Pizza, Beer, and Cigarettes (Pizza, birra, faso, 1998) and Mala época (1998). It was a debut film by Pablo Trapero, a young man that had hitherto participated in those same other films, in technical or production roles, and that surprised with this little film that took the stake on neorealism in its late-20th-century Argentinean version one step further.

Crane World.
Crane World (Mundo grúa, 1999)

What Crane World defined as the space for the new generation of filmmakers was no longer just the street and popular speech, the locations and the local colour, the empathy with the protagonists and the absence of a "vehicular" concept of cinema. Trapero's film dared to break even freer from the classic narrative models. Even though the film has a story, and one that advances with utter efficiency, Crane World respects the characters' internal rhythm like none of the other films by young Argentineans had done so far. Its main character, "el Rulo", is an ex rock musician, unemployed, looking for a job in a construction company that does not take him because he is too old and quite overweight. He is not a cinematographic construction taken from any school, but a unique, individual character, with such totally unrepeatable peculiarities in his speech that they soon became 'quotations' among cinephiles.

In Trapero's film, the scenes are developed in all their length. Most of them take the form of a sequence shot, and the dialogues among the main characters go on for much longer than the rules of the market and the conventions of cinematic storytelling would recommend. The film, full of tiny details and intimate scenes, a mixture of decency and discretion, is built like a delicate love story between two solitary people of over fifty trying to find some peace of mind in a city and a country that has left them on their own. El Rulo, his son, his mother, his two friends, his girlfriend, all form a series of characters that, though recognisable in the Argentinean social context of the nineties, are never prototypical or predictable. This is the first and the great difference of the naturalism proposed by Trapero and the classic portrait of manners (costumbrismo) in Argentinean cinema, theatre and television, which turns the small individualities and peculiarities of the "Argentinean being" into a utilitarian and repeatable format, formed by identifiable and consensual stereotypes and models.

El Bonaerense (2002)

Trapero's film was made with a minimal budget, in 16 mm, with barely any State support apart from some subsidy and the later economic aid of producer Lita Stantic. Nevertheless it was very well received among the local audience and it was a key film in the New Argentinean Cinema's consolidation process, since it was the first to start opening doors abroad, starting with its participation in the Critics' Week at the Venice Film Festival, from where it went on to a series of festivals over a year.

Thanks to the economic success and the critical support of his début film, it was not hard for Trapero to finance his second feature film, Buenos Aires (El bonaerense, 2002), where once again the accent is on characters that move in the fringes of society, in the periphery of the bigger urban centres. It tells the story of "el Zapa", a young small-town man that gets involved in a robbery and in order to avoid prison is sent to the Buenos Aires region and recommended to enter the corrupt police force in this overpopulated area of Argentina . The film sticks to the topics of the previous one, by showing the confrontation between public and private, the shattering of the bonds of solidarity once the family ties are abandoned, as well as the dramatic economic situation and work instability.

But just like in Crane World, what is still central to Trapero's cinema is his language in permanent exploration. With Buenos Aires (selected for Cannes' Un Certain Regard), Trapero insists on building scenes and sequences in an impressionist way, with an unusual editing, unexpected narrative ellipses, giving the feeling of "river-films" that could be carried by the flow to unpredictable destinations. However, it is curious to notice that in both cases the main character's journey is circular.

Rolling Family (Familia rodante, 2004).
Rolling Family (Familia rodante, 2004)

In Rolling Family (Familia rodante, 2004), Trapero's third film, the family bonds that had always been the characters' lifesavers are already quite broken. Although the story has no direct connection with the previous films, this saga of a large family (grandmother, uncles and aunts, cousins, grandchildren, etc.) that goes off in a mobile home to attend a wedding, a sort of lament for the lost innocence, for the simplicity and purity of life in the countryside.

The "families" in Rolling Family are already morally "corrupted". It is never clearly spoken, but one of the reasons is obvious: they live in the capital. They have urbanised, diversified and standardised themselves; they are no longer the safeguard against problems, but are now a part of them, and perhaps among the most serious ones. This is the difference that separates this film (presented in Venice in 2004) from the previous ones, since its free structure and its impressionist style is not very different. This time the characters are presented in a much crueler and hostile way, and the filmmaker does not just look at 'the others' with a dark gaze, but also at 'us'.

In this sense, grandmother Emilia (Graciana Chironi, the director's actual grandmother, present in all his films) would be the equivalent to the characters of "el Rulo" in Crane World or "el Zapa" in Buenos Aires , in the sense that they all work as the story's conscience. A conscience that is put to the test throughout a series of adventures, and that in the final junction prefers to return to what is safe, known and traditional.

Pablo Trapero during the shooting of Rolling Family.
Pablo Trapero during the shooting of Rolling Family

At the end of 2005, Trapero shot his fourth feature film, in silence as usual, with a small crew and in the cold of Patagonia. He has said that Born and Raised (Nacido y criado, 2006) is ".a film dedicated to discovering the inner world of Santiago, its protagonist: how his life in Buenos Aires was and how it drastically changed. The film tries to unveil and understand what it was that happened in his life to make him change so much."

Born and Raised was produced by Trapero's company, Matanza Cine, with the support of the State's INCAA and foreign co-producers. The filmmaker told that the story comes from an idea he had in the times of Crane World: "But I wrote the story much later. When my son Mateo was born, I was able to finish completing the idea. The film also has to do with parenthood. Compared to my other films, I would say it is more concentrated, with fewer characters. And, fundamentally, that it deals a bit more with private life, with feelings and with intimacy."

Diego Lerer






Adventures and    Misadventures
North African Cinema
   Tendencies, Perspectives

Western Africa
   Perpetual Renewal

Ousmane Sembene
   The Elder of Elders

Souleymane Cissé
   The Right of Expression

   South America

Brazilian cinema
   Writing the speech

Diegues on Rocha
   A Dream That Came True

Nelson Pereira dos Santos
   Making Films with People

The Re-birth
   of Brazilian Cinema

Fernando Solanas
   A Profile

The Aesthetics of the    New Argentinean Cinema
Pablo Trapero
   Family Pictures

   Southern Asia

A Short History
   of Pakistani Films

A Brief History
   of Cinema in Thailand

New Thai Cinema
Lester James Peries
   A Pioneer of a Tradition