- New Maricón Cinema: Outing Latin American Film by Vinodh Venkatesh
Up until the turn of the twenty-first century, homosexuality scarcely materialized on screen in Latin American cinema. Those features that did carve out a space for lesbigay or queer desire in the twentieth century did so by recurring to reductive stereotypes, or, as Vinodh Venkatesh persuasively argues in New Maricón Cinema, by allowing the viewer to "see" sexual difference, but only from a sanitized distance. This timely monograph details the relatively rapid transformation of representations of non-normative desire in Latin American cinema from films that allowed the viewer to see same-sex desiring bodies, to those that compel us to feel and empathize with them. This shift from seeing to feeling, from the scopic to the haptic, is the key characteristic that Venkatesh situates as differentiating "Maricón Cinema" from its more radical successor, "New Maricón Cinema." Drawing upon scholarship in Latin American cinema studies, queer studies, and affect theory, New Maricón Cinema is an elegant intervention that carefully attends to the particularity of the Latin American context while remaining theoretically ambitious, brimming with captivating close readings that any cinephile will enjoy.
New Maricón Cinema is divided into three parts, which contain a total of ten content chapters. Rather than dive directly into the "new" films that problematize sexual difference, Venkatesh mercifully begins Part One with a rigorous review of the "Maricón Cinema" that preceded them. Building upon the groundbreaking scholarship by Sergio de la Mora and David William Foster, this section revisits key genres and films that introduced Latin American audiences to gay characters, but figured them as flat tropes, paraded out for comedic effect or to exemplify how men shouldn't act. Venkatesh carefully argues that while such films are homosexually themed, they are not queer, since "queer" signifies a site that interrogates the normative. Instead, these films can be productively categorized as "Maricón Cinema" because they maintain a strict separation between the sexual difference portrayed on screen and the ostensibly hetero viewer. By favoring the term "maricón," Venkatesh underscores how such films reinforce a schematic division of power between the viewing subject and the viewed other. Through engaging analysis of Arturo Ripstein's El lugar sin límites, Jaime Humberto Hermosillo's Doña Herlinda y su hijo, and Juan Carlos Tabío's Fresa y chocolate, Venkatesh contends that this separation is reinforced through spatial framing and the privileging of urban settings, whose "vertical and horizontal topographies … engender a scopic perception of the gendered subject that nullifies any act of orientation, alignment, or empathy" (16). Difference is flattened, and the non-normative body is distanced from the viewing subject, ultimately weakening the image's politics.
Parts Two and Three lay out the book's most original intervention, a comprehensive theorization of the recent wave of films focused on sex and gender difference, and their break from previous representations. This "New Maricón Cinema" no longer subordinates sexuality to broader concerns, but qualitatively thematizes it. Rather than simply making homosexuality visible, New Maricón films engineer hapticity to circulate affective intensities between the viewer and the viewed to [End Page 283] "stimulate an empathic viewership experience" (60). Whereas previous films favored the urban as a space where nonconformists could go about their lives safeguarded by anonymity, these New films shift to rural settings and the natural in order to re-frame our ideas about where queer bodies can be felt and seen. By focusing on cinematic techniques that make the viewer relate to the subject on screen, these films "out difference from clichéd and politically flawed exercises to a productive and fecund terrain … where difference is not merely symptomatically viewed but also allowed to enter into personal and political action" (61).
Part Two assembles a corpus of New Maricón films that engineer hapticity through audile-tactile images and nonurban environments. The opening analysis of Javier Fuentes-León's Contracorriente is particularly strong; it makes a cogent case study for why cinematographic focus...