This month at Intelatin, I was invited to watch Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales) by Damián Szifron of Argentina. This film opens on February 20 in New York and Los Angeles.
Eric Kohn at Indiewire says the following of the film: “Judging by the movies, Argentinians are itching to take a stand against the country’s backward social constructs and bureaucratic hangups.” I question: How much do you need to know about the history of Argentina to understand the level of frustration that exists in present-day Argentina? Today, there are essentially four news bytes about Argentina that make it to the United States: Messi did something miraculous; Maradona did something ridiculous; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner did something outrageous; Argentina defaulted on their debts. Again. These are the popular characters of Argentina.
Externally, the reason why there is a dearth of news about Argentina in the United States is because it is a Latin American country that cannot negatively affect this country’s power dynamic. Internally among Latinos, Argentines have a more complicated reputation because it is believed that they have always felt above the rest of the hemisphere. Above all others because of ancestral ties to Italy and Germany. Above all others in terms of talent on the soccer pitch. Above all others in terms of sex appeal with the tango. Above all others in terms of beef and Malbec. In reality, Argentina has been the rare example of a Latin American economic powerhouse that always manages to dribble into the 18-yard box and its about to shoot the most amazing goal and in the final minute …. they shank it.
Within the arts community, Mariana Yegros, recording as La Yegros, tells Intelatin that she does in fact feel frustrated by the government of Argentina. She says:
El gobierno de la ciudad de Buenos Aires clausuro espacios culturales … lugares que a los artistas nos permiten desarrollarnos y expandir nuestra cultura. Sinceramente siento que muchos dirigentes están absolutamente alejados de la intención de preservar, desarrollar e invertir en la cultura en nuestro país. Más escuelas, más cultura, más salud es lo que necesitamos para que Argentina goce de un bienestar general en el 2015 y siempre.
So, going back to the quote by Mr. Kohn, it is quite possible that homies in the U.S. have no clue why Argentines would be cosmically frustrated nor would they understand why the country has potentially backward social constructs or bureaucratic hangups. But assuming they were interested, they would head to the theaters and watch Relatos Salvajes by Damián Szifron and here’s what they might unravel:
Relatos Salvajes is a collection of six shorts that showcase the negative effects of critical thinking, or lack thereof, in a civil society. These instances of bad decision making converge intellectually around a hybrid of morality and karma. The film asks: What might happen in a twisted fantasy world if your bad decisions had the most outrageous and immediate repercussions?
It is interesting that the filmmakers chose to title the film with pictures of wild animals. Three beautiful lions for the three producers. A big-eared hyena for the sound artist. A delicate fur pattern for the designer. A fox for the director. It’s interesting because there is no comparable morality, or karma, in the animal kingdom in the way that there is in the human kingdom. The humans in Relatos Salvajes don’t have to act or communicate the way they do but they do so anyway. For the audience, the result is shocking and comedic.
There are six shorts total—underlying all of them is a negative interaction that goes extremely south. Money is vaguely at the root of all of them. In Pasternak, money roots a ticket exchange for a group of “travelers.” In The Rats, money roots a watershed foreclosure in the childhood of a waitress in a diner. In The Road to Hell, money roots an exchange between a rich guy in an Audi and a poor guy in a Peugeot. In Till Death Do Us Part, money roots a posh wedding and an extortion between a newly-married couple. In The Deal, money roots a judicial bribe. In Firecracker, money roots a tow truck scheme that afflicts an unlucky engineer.
Impunity is an interesting topic. It seems to be a major part of life in Latin America. It makes for an entertaining black comedy filled with crisp audio and visual. I estimate that if film lovers make it out to their local foreign cinema to catch Relatos Salvajes, they will be impressed with the film. For me, Sergio Muñoz at Intelatin, black comedy is not my thing. I don’t think it is fun to get tense under the threat that somebody is going to die a horrific death on screen but I do love learning about the culture of Argentina.
Before we close the show, I want to refer you to one of the movies in the Film Movement catalog. It is called Esclavo de Dios, or God’s Slave, directed by Joel Novoa Schneider.
A few weeks ago, Argentina was in the news under the outrageous Kirchner tag. It was purely coincidental that I would be doing a radio broadcast featuring Argentina and that my homegirl at Film Movement sent me this film for my review. I want to footnote this review by telling my homies through Latino Rebels that I am not a journalist and that I am not disciplined enough to report factual news because I do not have the resources to fact check anything
Here is my paraphrase working off the premise of the film: A boy’s father haggles over four dollars for a lamb with a vendor in Lebanon in 1975. A few minutes later, the father is executed over the conflict because the boy’s father is taken for a friend of the Jewish people in an Arab barrio. The boy is educated and then in his twenties he moves to South America. He is stationed in Caracas where he becomes a surgeon and he is goaded into becoming a familyman. He marries and has a child and then he is recruited into some sort of suicide mission in Buenos Aires. As he is being trained, a Jewish building in Buenos Aires is bombed by his trainers. 85 people are killed and Argentina is obviously scarred. The rest of the film documents his suicide mission of a popular synagogue in Buenos Aires.
I won’t say much about the premise of the film but as I was saying about why Argentina was in the news a few weeks ago. It seems that there was a Jewish man in Attorney General’s office who was investigating the bombing. His name was Alberto Nisman. At the conclusion of his investigation, he pointed the finger at two culprits: The country of Iran and his own country. He drafted a 500-page indictment of both culprits. This indictment was obstructed. He drafted a 300 page complaint against the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and a few hours before he was scheduled to testify in front of Parliament, he died mysteriously. Kirchner was supposedly quick to call it a suicide but friends close to Nisman claim that he was strong and in good spirits. They believe that it was an assassination. Like I said, I don’t have the capacity to judge one way or another but the impetus for understanding the underlying tragedy is featured in this movie which opens in February on VOD, video on demand. Search for it on iTunes.
Credits: Music performed on this episode by Chancha vía Circuito, Brian Blade, Emel Mathlouthi, El Buho & Barrio Lindo, Tremor, Zee Avi, La Yegros, Gustavo Santaolloa, El Remolón, Frikstailers and Luzmila Carpio con Captain Planet. Wild Tales courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics and God’s Slave courtesy of Film Movement. For details or tracklists, connect with Sergio on Twitter: @Intelatin.
About Intelatin: The radio broadcast for Intelatin was started in 2012 at California State University Long Beach as outreach for their majority Latina/o campus. The broadcast aired on KBeach Global and KKJZ 88.1 FM. It podcasts in 2015 on iTunes and Podbean. The next Filmcraft episode will be released at the end of March.