Auteurs cast wider net

Embracing genre formulas, Argentine helmers go commercial

BUENOS AIRES — After huge success with low-budget auteur films, Argentine directors like Daniel Burman, Pablo Trapero and Israel Adrian Caetano, among others, are making more commercial fare in an attempt to cut into Hollywood’s dominant market share.

So far, the strategy has been rewarded by strong attendance and is expected to raise the country’s overall percentage of the box office, hovering between 12% and 18% compared with Hollywood’s 80%.

“The idea of making movies for a certain elite works for a first film, but it is different for a second and third film,” says Oscar Kramer of Kramer & Sigman Films, a Buenos Aires production outfit behind many recent commercial hits.

“The new and old generation of filmmakers are developing projects that are traveling much more than before,” he adds.

Indeed, Caetano’s political thriller “Cronica de una fuga,” which is in competition at Cannes, was the strongest opener of the April 27-May 1 period in Argentina, outpacing Tim Allen starrer “The Shaggy Dog” and Terrence Malick’s “The New World.”

Caetano made his mark with “Pizza, birra, faso” (Pizza, Beer, Cigarettes), a 1997 minimalist tale about four friends in Buenos Aires. It helped expose a movement begun in the early 1990s that has earned comparisons to a new wave of cinema in Iran, Finland and South Korea. He and other helmers like Fabian Bielinsky and Lucrecia Martel went on to earn recognition and awards at festivals worldwide.

“I write for me knowing that there are people like me, who get emotional and laugh at the same things that I do,” says Burman. “I also understand that by taking financial risks I have a responsibility to find an audience.”

Burman’s latest feature, father-son drama “Derecho de familia” (Family Law), was the favorite homegrown entry at this year’s Mar del Plata Intl. Film Festival — and the strongest local draw at the box office so far this year, with more than 170,000 admissions.

His next project is “El nido vacio” (Empty Nest), a comedy about a married couple’s crisis after their kids leave home.

Increasingly, Burman and others are gravitating toward genre filmmaking. Vet helmer Carlos Sorin is delving into comedy but maintains his trademark of using non-actors. His next project is “El camino de San Diego,” a road pic set in northern Argentina.

“We can’t make big-budget films, but we have big ideas,” says Kramer, who’s co-producing “Camino.” “Sorin is one of the most creative.”

Sorin’s “El perro,” the story of a jobless mechanic whose life changes after he gets a dog, drew 200,000 spectators in France and 100,000 in the U.K.

Damian Szifron, a young filmmaker, has earned a commercial following thanks to genre movies. “I grew up with ‘Superman,’ spaghetti Westerns and Woody Allen, and American films of the 1970-’80s,” says Szifron, whose aim is to make his stories “more attractive” to a wider audience.

His action comedy “Tiempo de valientes” (Time of the Braves) — about a down-on-his-luck cop and a leftist shrink — was a box office hit last year.

“Many directors fear working in certain genres. I don’t,” says Szifron.

The challenge of Argentine cinema is long-term growth, opines Luis Ignacio Perez Endara, head of Buenos Aires distrib-production company Compania General de la Imagen. “Years ago filmmakers were snobbish,” he says. “Now directors are telling things about the country in a way that appeals to an international audience.”

With the country producing 60-70 films a year, B.O. receipts increasing and a film school system that boasts 16,000 students, talent and ideas are in ample supply.

“It is like with (soccer),” says Pascual Condito, president of Primer Plano Film Group, “You never run out of talent in Argentina.”

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