- Latin American Women Filmmakers: Social and Cultural Perspectives by Traci Roberts-Camps
Traci Roberts-Camps introduces her book with an anecdote that highlights the need for, and the raison d'être of, a book dedicated specifically to the study of Latin American women directors. While doing research, she enters a video store in Chile and asks for films by women directors, and in response gets a laugh from the clerk, who asks, "Are there any?" (xi). Obviously undeterred by the unenthusiastic response, Roberts-Camps, in a thought-provoking and informative study, delves into a systematic analysis of pertinent scenes from each film. She meticulously contextualizes each within its sociohistorical and political context as well as within the trajectory of each director's oeuvre. Although the directors vary in age and national origin, Roberts-Camps asserts that they are united by their focus on "presenting women's stories from the standpoint of a woman" (xiv) and by the theme of transgression. Whether their boundary breaking is expressed through filmic techniques or thematically, through challenges to the patriarchy, the film industry, the Catholic Church, social and national identities, or gender roles, these women directors and their protagonists question the status quo of women in society, past and present. The directors studied include María Luisa Bemberg (Argentina, 1922–1995), Suzana Amaral (Brazil, 1932–), Tizuka Yamasaki (Brazil, 1949–), María Novaro (Mexico, 1951–), Dana Rotberg (Mexico, 1960–), Carmen Luz Parot (Chile, 1967–), Alicia Scherson (Chile, 1974–), and Lucía Puenzo (Argentina, 1976–).
One of the strengths of Roberts-Camps's book is how she distills the analyses down to a tight focus on one succinct theme, expands on the theme by situating the film in its sociohistorical or political context, and then rounds out the analysis with a discussion of the filmic techniques that mirror or complement the theme. Part 1 centers on Argentinian film. Chapter 1, "Transgression: María Luisa Bemberg's Camila and Yo, la peor de todas," features historically based protagonists, Camila O'Gorman and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, whose lives embodied transgression. The uses of music and silence, lighting, slow camera movement, and character placement on-screen are singled out as techniques that heighten the threat that women's sexuality [End Page 195] represents to repressive institutions. Chapter 2, "Isolation: Lucía Puenzo's XXY and El niño pez," centers on Puenzo's depiction of marginalized individuals: an intersex youth in XXY (2007) and a lesbian relationship in El niño pez (2009) that also depicts class and ethnic disparities. In XXY, Roberts-Camps identifies three types of isolation and notes that often characters are separated from the camera's gaze, just as they are separated from each other. The pervasive use of blues and grays, the ominous sound of storms, ocean, wind, and rain, reiterate the theme of isolation.
Part 2 focuses on the Mexican directors María Novaro and Dana Rotberg, whose very different styles and thematic material nevertheless both embody the breaking of boundaries as they tell women-centered stories. In chapter 3, "Female Solidarity: The Films of María Novaro," the author traces the theme of female solidarity in four feature-length films: Lola (1989), Danzón (1991), El jardín del Edén (1994), and Sin dejar huella (2000). Roberts-Camps argues that Lola suggests an alternative to the structure of the traditional family in the neoliberal era. The need for solidarity becomes more apparent in the subsequent films in which Novaro develops an aesthetic of female solidarity. Solidarity is seen as indispensable for women in a social and political environment (Mexico of the 1970s–1990s) in which potential male partners are "missing" (36), absent, or even "menacing" (52). Chapter 4, "The Female Body as Spectacle: Dana Rotberg's Ángel de fuego (1992) and La mujer del pueblo: Otilia Rauda (2002)," analyzes Rotberg's portrayal of young women characters that do not benefit from female solidarity, and whose extreme self-reliance pushes them to use their bodies as revenge...