- The Politics of Affect and Emotion in Contemporary Latin American Cinema by Laura Podalsky
Podalsky’s study of the intersection of politics and affect in contemporary Latin American film is admirably subtle in its grasp of the complex and varied ways in which film may mediate between the two. A focus on the sensorial and emotional aspects of film as separate (if related) from its ideology and aesthetics allows Podalsky to map with precision “the range and complexity of the sociopolitical work performed by films’ affective appeals” (20). Rigorously historicized, her analyses are also very attentive to relevant theoretical work. The corpus of films chosen for study is pleasingly and appropriately eclectic, ranging from the well-distributed to the relatively obscure, from the high-budget fiction film to the shoe-string documentary, and from films that are thoroughly anchored in a national context to ones whose directors, subjects and modes of production and distribution are engaged in multiple transnational crossings. Where Podalsky analyzes films which have already attracted [End Page 201] repeated critical attention—such as La hora de los hornos and Amores perros—she does so in a way that makes clear how her readings build on and contest existing scholarship.
A concise and provocative introduction situates Podalsky’s work in relation to those theorists and critics whose insights have most influenced her own, notably those working with Deleuzian notions of affect, but also theorists of modernity and the global such as Martín-Barbero, Appadurai and Bauman. Podalsky also signals clearly where her approach differs from the more dehistoricized perspectives of cognitivist film scholars such as Noël Carroll, and from the distinctly disparaging accounts of contemporary media culture in Latin America offered by Beatriz Sarlo, Nelly Richard and Jean Franco, among others.
The structure of the book more or less corresponds to the five “formal, thematic, and industrial tendencies” which for Podalsky characterize Latin American cinema of the past two decades (8). The first of these, the representation of the recent past and its relation to the present, provides the focus for a chapter on the New Latin American Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s, included here as an important precursor to the more contemporary films discussed in subsequent chapters. Taking issue with the dominant critical emphasis on these films’ eschewal of emotional appeal in favour of Brechtian techniques of distantiation, Podalsky analyzes the “sensorial dynamics” which are key to the political engagement of the viewer (30). She explores a “neorealist sentimentality” in Rio 40 Graus and traces the work of directors like dos Santos and Birri back to the nineteenth-century literary quest to promote nationalist sentiments (33). Discussions of La hora de los hornos and El chacal de Nahueltoro demonstrate these films’ tactical use of emotion, and indeed the extent to which their “sensorial charge” often exceeds their directors’ intentions to provoke a political response in their audiences (56).
The second chapter, on the recent reemergence of genre films, explores the use of the thriller—a genre constructed around questions of knowledge and time— to reexamine past social trauma and to construct knowledge of the past as something which goes beyond the rational. In contrast with O Que É Isso, Companheiro?, Podalsky finds that both Death and the Maiden and Açao entre amigos are less interested in historical revisionism and more interested in interrogating how we acquire knowledge of the past and questioning the nature of evidence in historical investigations. This chapter explicitly formulates an important point which underpins much of Podalsky’s work in this book: that “a film’s ideological stance (as measured through its narrative strategies and levels of formal experimentation) is not the sole determinant of the sociocultural work it may perform. Nor do a film’s sensorial appeals always work to serve or uphold its political propositions” (79).
This insight is what allows Podalsky to tease out how films such as Amores perros, which has been charged with complicity with the neoliberal agenda by undermining the validity of the utopian projects of the Left, can nevertheless...