Argentine Movies: Five of the Best

Gringo in Buenos AiresFilm22 Comments

By now most of us have probably seen El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes) – the 2009 release, directed by Juan José Campanella, that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards. It’s undoubtedly a great film. But if it piqued your curiosity about Argentine cinema and you want to see more, what is there? Pour yourself a mate and settle down to one of the following fab five:

1. Un Novio para Mi Mujer (A Boyfriend for My Wife)

A rare Argentine comedy, this 2008 release was the biggest hit of the year domestically. The plot is basically this: a man (Tenso) is unhappily married; his wife, Tana, is perhaps best described as ‘a whiny bitch.’ She complains about everything: the newspaper headlines; the government; her friends; the weather, and whatever else crosses her path.

Tenso has had enough, but he’s unable to summon the resolve to tell Tana that he wants to separate, so he hatches a plan to end it by hiring another man to seduce her and then using that as an excuse to divorce her. Tana falls for the seducer, but unexpectedly this makes her a much nicer person – she starts to appreciate life and stops complaining – and Tenso realizes that he’s jealous of the seducer and that he loves her after all.

If you’re familiar with the romcom genre then Un Novio para Mi Mujer will offer you no surprises, but it’s interesting to see how a pretty familiar plot translates into an Argentine setting. It’s good fun and well worth a couple of hours of your time.

2. No Sos Vos, Soy Yo (It’s Not You, It’s Me)

‘It’s not you, it’s me’ is of course the classic breakup line that we’re all familiar with. In this amiable romcom the line comes from Maria, the newlywed wife of Javier. At Maria’s behest the couple have decided to emigrate to the United States, but Maria goes a couple of weeks before Javier, then calls him and tells him she doesn’t want him to join her anymore as she’s met someone else! Javier is devastated and struggles to adjust to his new life as a bachelor.

If you’ve seen the Jennifer Aniston – Ben Stiller vehicle ‘Along Came Polly’ then the plot of this movie will be pretty familiar: faithful/straight/loser guy gets dumped; tries to get back into the dating scene; fails miserably; finally meets ditzy new woman who just might change his life. A happy ending, of course, ensues.

Like most Argentine movies, No Sos Vos, Soy Yo will seem slow and drawn out to those of us more used to pacier Hollywood fare. It’s also more realistic however, and all in all it’s a thoroughly enjoyable date movie. The only caveat is that some of the best jokes require a good understanding of Argentinean Spanish, so for best results, watch it with an Argentine who can explain them to you.

3. Historias Minimas (Intimate Stories)

When people describe movies as ‘heartwarming’ I normally run for the hills, but Historias Minimas (2002) is a heartwarming movie that I really liked. It’s essentially a road movie about three people travelling through Patagonia. They’re all travelling alone and none of them are known to the others, but they’re all heading to the same destination: the little town of San Julian.

The youngest character is María, a poor mother who works in a gas station. She’s travelling because her best friend has told her that she’s a finalist for the grand prize of a local San Julian television game show. Next oldest is Roberto. He’s a middle-aged salesman who’s trying to win the affections of a young widow who lives in San Julian. He’s taking a cake in the shape of a football for her son’s birthday…but is the birthday boy actually a girl? The oldest character is Don Justo Benedictis, an elderly man with failing eyesight in the twilight of his life. He’s hitchhiking to San Julian to look for his beloved lost dog Badface who has apparently been spotted near the town.

This is a lovely film about remorse, yearnings and illusions. It has some great, highly realistic and unaffected performances from the (mostly non-professional) cast. It’s unpretentious, affecting, and yes, heartwarming.

4. Kamchatka

The 2002 film Kamchatka is, according to many, one of the best films yet made about the 1970s military junta in Argentina.

Set in 1976, it’s about a lawyer who specializes in working for people who have been accused of political crimes. When his partner gets arrested and disappears he knows that it’s only a matter of time before the military ‘disappears’ him too, so he decides to take his family underground in order to escape.

It’s hard for any of us gringos to understand the impact that the junta had, and continues to have, on the Argentine psyche, so this film should be required watching. The acting is great and overall it’s a very touching experience (I shed a tear or two).

What about the title? Kamchatka is a peninsula in the far east of Russia. In the movie the father and his son play a board game called TEG where the idea is to control all 50 territories on a map of the world. The son controls nearly all of the countries but his father holds him off for hours while controlling only the obscure Kamchatka, thereby showing his son that successful resistance against overwhelming odds is possible.

The DVD has a very helpful Extras section that you should watch first if you don’t know much about the situation in Argentina during the 1970s, as the movie itself takes absolutely no steps to explain it.

5. Cama Adentro (Live-In Maid)

From the military junta to economic crises – Argentina cinema covers all your important historical and cultural knowledge! This 2004 release is set in late 2001 and tells the story of two women in late middle age. Beba is an ageing beauty, a slim blonde (European-looking) from the upper class. The other main character is Dora. Dora has been Beba’s live-in maid for 30 years and is now her only companion, despite their wildly divergent social positions.

As the film begins we learn that Dora hasn’t been paid by Beba in 7 months. It’s clear that, due to the economic crisis, Beba can no longer afford to pay Dora, and so Dora resigns. From this point the movie tracks the paths of the two women, their ongoing relationship, and the different ways in which they attempt to deal with the difficult times.

One of the main themes of the movie centers on the arresting truth that despite their supposed ‘inferiority,’ it’s actually lower-class people who are far better equipped to survive the vicissitudes of life. Dora is tough, resilient, and able to change and adapt, while Beba is nearly helpless in the face of her new and much harsher reality.

Cama Adentro is a slow, moving, highly nuanced art house gem. It was a favorite at the Sundance film festival in 2005. You should watch it!