10 January 2009

BORN AND BRED (Dir. Pablo Trapero, 2006, Argentina) - 'Argentina - do they even have a cinema?'

Why is it that so much of the best cinema rarely ever gets mentioned in the endless pages of criticism dedicated to Hollywood cinema? Apart from the singular and undying attention Sight and Sound adorns to other kinds of cinema, most of the mainstream print publications including magazines are essentially extensions of expensive marketing campaigns run by Hollywood studios. For a while, in its initial few years, the UK’s biggest selling film magazine, Empire, was arguably offering a broad range of content and features that did not solely represent the interests of Hollywood. Yet as the magazine developed into something much more mainstream, advertisers were quick to foresee the potential of being able to target a cine literate audience of professional males with a noticeably attractive spending power.

Today, flicking through the pages of a magazine like Empire, one is overwhelmed with a deluge of banal product placements, blatant DVD promotions and poorly disguised advertorials. The mediocrity of Empire is no better illustrated then the review section, which struggles not only to provides some competent journalism but also sinks beneath the despairing conformity of its star ratings that rarely ever damn a Hollywood blockbuster in fear of being denied access to the best and the brightest in the business. Anyhow, much continues to be debated and written about the current state of film criticism and whether or not the film critic will sooner rather than later meet their demise seems irrelevant to the general public. Some publications, rare that they are, continue to bring to our attention to the voice of a new and emerging film talent.

Such is the case with Pablo Trapero, an Argentinean film maker who with his most recent feature, ‘Born and Bred’, confirmed his status as a key Latin American film maker and as another burgeoning world cinema auteur. Set in contemporary Argentina, Trapero’s emotionally assured study of grief, guilt and masculinity is beautifully rendered against the backdrop of Northern Patagonia, an inhospitable and mountainous terrain that beholds an unspeakable spiritual precedence. In his previous films, Trapero’s aim was squarely pointed at the repeated failings of a bankrupt Argentinean society that had left millions of people in abject poverty and though ‘Born and Bred’ shifts the focus away from criticising institutional power, it still retains a familiar brand of poetic realism that has become strongly associated with Latin American cinema of late.

I was unaware that Walter Salles produced ‘Born and Bred’ until the credits and it immediately got me thinking how Salles may yet be the most important cinematic figure to have emerged out of Latin American cinema in the last fifty years. Not only did Salles help finance and support Meirelles ‘City of God’, he has worked tirelessly to promote indigenous film making in the arena of film festivals, attracting critical acclaim for his own realist cinema with films like ‘Central Station’, ‘Behind The Sun’ and ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’. I strongly doubt that the current success being enjoyed by much of Latin American cinema today would not have been possible without the articulate campaigning of Walter Salles; he has honestly and rightfully earned his place within the evolution of much of today’s highly intelligent Brazilian and Argentinean cinema.

‘Born and Bred’ is a deeply emotional and involving film, observational in parts and elliptically structured so that as the past and present gradually move closer to another, the sense of loss experienced by Santiago (Guillermo Pfening) is simply not reduced to melodrama. Trapero never feels the need to explain everything, allowing his characters to exist in the realm of an acutely trivial reality that is unable to offer nothing more than a temporary state of exile. The exhausting trauma that Santiago undergoes to reach an internal reconciliation for the insurmountable guilt he harbours for the loss of his daughter may even reflect Trapero’s own personal grievances with the failings of his country. At the end, Santiago discovers that his wife is very much alive but their final reunion is fraught with ambiguity and discloses an awkwardness that points to a fractured relationship, one that will probably never heal no matter how hard they try at living with a past haunted by an unfortunate accident.

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