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Reviewed by:
  • Colección Mosaico Criollo: Primera antología del cine mudo Argentino (First Argentine Silent Film Anthology)
  • Michael Talbott (bio)
Colección Mosaico Criollo: Primera antología del cine mudo Argentino (First Argentine Silent Film Anthology); Museo del Cine-Pablo Ducrós Hicken, 2009

As Paula Félix-Didier points out in her introductory essay included with this three-disc DVD set, Argentine silent cinema has long remained a largely unknown territory, even to film scholars. Though silent film production in the country was one of the most substantial in Latin America, fewer than 10 percent of those works have survived, leaving little window into this early period. Most knowledge of the Argentine silent cinema has been drawn largely from secondary accounts of and references to these elusive works, a gap that the release of this set aims to make a little smaller. Recalling Benedict Anderson's notion of "imagined communities," Félix-Didier points to the significant role that the early silent cinema played in constructing the image of the Argentine nation, allowing its diverse inhabitants to discover each other on screen. As one of the most popular pastimes during the early decades of the twentieth century, she writes, film allowed Argentines both to recognize the world around them and to imagine a world outside their own, to construct a national self-identity.

Including materials that span from 1899 to 1932, from some of the earliest actualités through one of the first attempts at sound, this set offers a strikingly diverse group of films indicating the nation's racial, social, and geographical diversity, a welcome counterpoint to the heterogeneity and unity so often projected by Argentine cultural production. These works were captured during a period of rapid modernization and economic expansion during which the nation's potential was limitless—before world wars and a series of military dictatorships would disrupt the country's trajectory—and both the positive and negative valences of such changes can be read across these films. More than anything, both within individual films included in this set and across the selection as a whole, these films project the ongoing binaries of civilization versus barbarism, urban versus rural, and European versus Latin American, the struggles between which have long defined the Argentine social imaginary. In these ways, the images and narratives captured in these films serve both as a valuable historical document of the lived realities of this vibrant period of early modernity in Argentina and as a reflection of the nation's internal tensions and transformations.

The films selected for inclusion on this set immediately make clear that Argentine silent film was characterized by many modes of film practice, from newsreels to social dramas, from epic war documentaries to lighthearted musical revues. The first disc starts off with the short feature El último malón (The Last Indian Raid) (1918), a film that explores the negative consequences of modernization on an indigenous population in the country's north. Recalling Robert Flaherty's documentary-fiction hybrids, the film opens with director Alcides Greca drawing up a scenario in which he states that the film will be neither "sick poetry" nor "pulp fiction" but rather a heroic depiction of the lives of the Mocovi tribe. The film's first act presents documentary images of the living conditions [End Page 174] of the Mocovi on reservation-like land outside the town of San Javier. As intertitles detail their hunting methods and prey, compelling documentary footage captures what are probably staged hunts. As they work as farmhands for the white San Javier ranchers, a series of sequences depicts the activities of roping and taming, recalling the lengthy documentary-like sequences that open Nobleza gaucha (Gaucho Nobility) (Ernesto Gunche and Eduardo Martínez de la Pera, 1915), the most successful production of the Argentine silent era. The film eventually narrativizes the building tensions that led to the indigenous uprising via a fictional love triangle involving a crooked chief, his mistress, and his brother, culminating in an epic re-creation of the 1904 attack on San Javier. For a country in which many believe there is no indigenous ancestry, the film is, quite surprisingly, incredibly sympathetic toward its indigenous...


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pp. 174-177
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