Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Gastón Biraben's Cautiva (2005): An Instance of Enduring Grief

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Gastón Biraben's Cautiva (2005): An Instance of Enduring Grief

Article excerpt

Aesthetic representations of a violent political past - including cinematic narratives - nearly always run the risk of producing monochromatic, simplified, or reductive mnemonic artifacts.1 In the Argentine democratic context, Elizabeth Jelin reminds us of such perils when negotiating both 'subjective perceptions and objective actions' as part of aesthetic attempts to remember traumatic pasts.2 Such negotiations of cultural memories, as Jelin stated in a keynote address in November of 2013, are unquestionably significant when seeking to firm up our responsibilities for 'legacies and transmissions to the new generations [...] as both material and symbolic markings of memory and promoters of meanings'. Jelin's references to rites of memory in the Argentine democratic context resonate strongly with what Tzvetan Todorov states in Memory as a Remedy for Evil (2010). According to Todorov, 'the appeals to memory as an effective cure against evil are not in short supply. The past is well preserved and commemorated' (Todorov 2010: 6). In addition to the long-standing, tenacious, and symbolic 'promoters of memory' - such as the Asociación Madres Plaza de Mayo and Asociación Civil Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, as well as their most vocal successors, Hijos por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio (H.I.J.O.S.), among other human rights entities - mnemonic vigour towards the political violence of the recent Argentine state terror (1976-1983) continues to be ubiquitous in different aesthetic productions, especially film.3

Repeated aesthetic returns to unforgettable or haunting events, eras or periods have been conceptualized by Astrid Erll as processes of 'remediation'. 'Remediation manifestations' are described as 'memorable events [...] usually represented again and again, over decades and centuries in different media: in newspaper articles, photography, diaries, historiography, novels, films [...] [where] the boundaries between documentary material and fictional reenactment (cf. Sturken) are often blurred' (Erll 2010: 392, 394). Remediation processes are, therefore, intrinsically linked to archives. Jacques Derrida viewed the latter in an 'aporetic' flux, thus coining the term 'archive fever' (1995: 10). For Derrida, according to Leonard Lawlor, an archive 'consists in both a fever to safeguard information within for one person and a fever to expose information to the outside for others' (1998: 797). Viewed in this way, remediation is an obsessive aesthetic devotion to preserving or fossilizing the past through cultural memory.

As a remediation of the illegal adoptions of political dissidents' offspring during Argentine state terror, Biraben's Cautiva is a rather straightforward appeal to memory.4 This straightforwardness furthermore echoes through the film's plot. Cautiva is, above all, remarkably similar to the Oscar-winning film The Official Story released in 1985.5 Yet the story of appropriation in Biraben's film is told from the point of view of the child rather than the wife of the appropriator. More precisely, it is the story of a fifteen-year-old porteña, whose fairly ordered academic routine at a Catholic school in Buenos Aires becomes interrupted when she learns that her identity was falsified during the 1970s. Upon learning of her biological parents' origins, lives, and disappearances, Cristina Quadri embarks on an emotional journey of negotiating both the lived and acquired memories of her past. The film thus unfolds into two largely interconnected parts. The first is a quinceañera celebration through which the spectator learns of the protagonist's adoptive family during the first few minutes of the film. The rest of the film predictably focuses on the protagonist's mobilized incursions into her biological parents' pasts through encounters with family members, photographs, and archives. The trope (child or adolescent subjectivity as a symbolic repository for memorial incursions into the past) has prompted critics such as Carolina Rocha, Verónica Garibotto and Ana Ros, to mention just a few, to align this film's central theme largely with those in Pablo Agüero's Salamandra (2008), Daniel Bustamante's Andrés no quiere dormir la siesta (2009), Sabrina Farji's Eva y Lola (2010), Paula Markovitch's El Premio (2011), or the TV series Televisión por la identidad (2007), among others. …

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