Eleven episodes by different directors, plus two interview segments: “The Beginnings,” Ivan Trujillo; “When We Started Talking, Maria Novaro; “Bodily Pleasures,” Marcela Fernandez Violante; “When We Wanted To Become Adults,” Edmundo Aray, David Rodriguez; “Round Table, n.d.; “Memories of an Island,” Juan Carlos Tabio; “Cinema Novo,” Orlando Senna; “A Cry at 24 Frames/Second,” Julio Garcia Espinosa; “Playing Seriously,” Jacobo Morales; “Independence Day,” Federico Garcia; “Round Table 2,” n.d.; “Are Only the Shapes Permanent?” Fernando Birri, Pablo Rodriguez Jauregui; “Every End is a Beginning,” Andres Marroquin. The recent renaissance of Latin American filmmaking would seem to make a cinematic celebration of the medium’s centenary south of the Rio Grande a timely endeavor. In a bold undertaking, Mexican producer Jorge Sanchez and a host of organizing bodies all over Latin America created a compilation of eleven segments, plus two round-table sections, drawn from several countries. Some are good, some really bad, but the distressing fact is that no consistent style or methodology traverses the whole. Most interested audience will be academics and students specializing in subject, but tube sales in some Spanish-speaking territories are possible.
Most provocative segments are the first three, all Mexican. Ivan Trujillo’s “The Beginnings” is a montage of fascinating sequences from silent Mexican films. Maria Novaro’s “When We Started Talking” focuses on the first Mexican talkie, the sentimental “Santa” from 1931.
Besides actual footage of finished pic, helmer shows behind-the-scenes footage that explains and demystifies the process, and creative use of intertitles to elaborate on the proceedings is congruous with subject. Marcela Fernandez Violante’s “Bodily Pleasures,” while much more abstract and academic than the other two, is an imaginative medley of thematically arranged sequences from old Mexican pics that provokes and suggests far-reaching sociological, psychological and aesthetic implications.
It’s downhill from there. Edmundo Aray and David Rodriguez’s “When We Wanted To Become Adults” is a trite examination of Venezuelan cinema, the premise of which is that ’60s activism beget a new ’70s exploration of violence in that culture. Cuban helmer Juan Carlos Tabio’s “Memories of an Island” is an over-adoring service job on Fidel’s film industry.
Orlando Senna’s “Cinema Novo” should have been one of the best segments, given the subject of socially engaged and metaphorically loaded Brazilian films that followed in the wake of Glauber Rocha’s work in the late ’60s.
Unfortunately, Senna opts for abstract language and obtuse jargon rather than rich images from the films themselves. Jacobo Morales’ “Playing Seriously” is self-serving fluff from Puerto Rico, and Federico Garcia’s “Independence Day” is a ridiculous look at Peruvian folklore that has little to do with its national cinema.
Compilation has memorable interviews with late Spanish helmer Pilar Miro and Costa Gavras about the influence of Latin American cinema on their work, but most incredible is Robert Redford, a longtime supporter of south-of-the-border films.
After talking about growing up in a barrio, blond actor-director praises late Cuban helmer Tomas Gutierrez Alea in a self-aggrandizing manner that strangely parallels stranglehold (never addressed in pic) that U.S. has had on Latin American production and exhibition: “In celebration of (Alea’s) work, we can look at my participation in this film as a recognition of his importance.”
Inclusion of such hubristic remarks only further sabotages this attempt to cover a century of Latin American cinema in 90 minutes.