Academic journal article Chasqui

Reclaiming the Cinematic: Lisandro Alonso's Aesthetics of Excess in Liverpool

Academic journal article Chasqui

Reclaiming the Cinematic: Lisandro Alonso's Aesthetics of Excess in Liverpool

Article excerpt

Argentine cinema's penchant for realist representation of national spaces has been considered a disease by Marcos Perez Llahi (69). The critic considers that Argentine directors' dependence on government funding has contributed to keeping alive a constant telluric tradition that has stifled formal and generic experimentation in Argentina's seventh art. It is in response to this sickly condition, perhaps, that a talented new generation of young directors emerged, setting out to renovate and reinvigorate the traditional modes of representation of the national cinema. Critics have grouped this generation of directors under the rubric of Nuevo Cine Argentino (NCA), and have traced its origins as far back as 1995. Javier Porta Fouz points out that by 1994 both the number of new Argentine releases and the interest for national cinema had reached an all-time low and considers the release of the series of shorts Historias breves (1995) as the key catalyst that would eventually give rise to this new generation of directors (34). Jaime Pena, on the other hand, situates its start as late as 1999, when Pablo Trapero presented his Mundo grua in the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema (Bafici). It was only then, he claims, that the NCA gained international recognition and acquired some degree of homogeneity (11). One should note, however, that although renowned directors such as Lucrecia Martel, Pablo Trapero. Adrian Caetano, Martin Rejtman, and Lisandro Alonso have all been placed under the convenient rubric of NCA. their thematic concerns and aesthetic approaches are quite diverse. As Emilio Bernini points out. the main unifying trait among NCA filmmakers may well be that they all attempt to describe the "small worlds" of their protagonists, while also generally adhering to what he calls a "poetics of abstention," which keeps directors at a healthy distance from characters they prefer not to overly judge or psychologize (31).

In any case, the success of this new generation of Argentine directors is undeniable: if 1994 represented the nadir of Argentine national cinema, 2008 has been considered one of the best years in its history. The talent, originality and maturity of NCA filmmakers was made apparent by the fact that they presented an unprecedented five full-length films in Cannes in May of that year, including, of course, Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool (2008). Despite the worthy work of Martel. Trapero, Caetano, Rejtman. and others, it seems likely that Alonso will stand out as the most visible representative of this generation. His cinematic style, characterized by a blurring of the distinctions between fiction and documentary, actor and character, and narrative and observation, has captivated critics and viewers alike (Bettendorf 124). Although Liverpool is Alonso's fourth film, it can be taken to be the third in an original trilogy that portrays the lives (or "small worlds") of a host of unconventional and marginal characters. In his first film. La libertad (2001). Alonso uses minimalist narrative development and near-documentary technique to represent just one day in the life of Misael, a solitary woodcutter living in Argentina's emblematic Pampa region. In his second effort, Los muertos (2004), a relatively more sophisticated plot features Argentino Vargas, a fratricide, who, after being released from prison, sets out to tind his daughter with a trip down the Parana River in the jungle of Misiones. In Liverpool, his penultimate film. Alonso follows the trajectory of yet another lonely character: an impassive sailor called Farrell (Juan Fernandez), who returns to his hometown of Tolhuin, the southernmost city in the world, located in the remote province of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. (1)

In this article I carry out an innovative reading of the perplexing Liverpool. While applying the theoretical framework developed by Kristin Thompson in "The Concept of Cinematic Excess" (1981), I first suggest that the defining trait of Alonso's cinematic style is an "aesthetics of excess," by which the Argentine director brings to the forefront the off-screen spaces and receding backgrounds that are so often neglected, forgotten or unseen by directors and movie-goers alike. …

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