Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Global Markets, Hyperlocal Aesthetics: Framing Childhood Poverty in Contemporary Latin American Cinema

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Global Markets, Hyperlocal Aesthetics: Framing Childhood Poverty in Contemporary Latin American Cinema

Article excerpt

Hermano (Marcel Rasquin, 2010, Venezuela), a film about two impoverished teenagers, can be described as hyperlocal. It is not just a Venezuelan tale, but a specifically caraqueña one: its viewpoint is circumscribed almost entirely by the space of La Ceniza, the violent Caracas slum where its protagonists live. There is almost no mention of the world beyond the slums: the film's young characters seemingly lack any awareness of or interest in the broader currents - social, political, historical - that gave rise to the specific place and moment they inhabit. This insularity, however, does not render Hermano inaccessible to viewers from other cultures or contexts; indeed, the film's viewings in places far removed from La Ceniza have revealed a universality to its story. After a screening in Mumbai, for instance, some twenty local children crowded around the director, Marcel Rasquin, to ask 'Did you make this film about us? Is this film based on us?' Recounting the episode, Rasquin notes 'I'd never been to India, but of course I had to say, "Yes, of course, it's about you!"' (Rasquin 2014). This apparent contradiction prompts a question: how can a film that forcefully rejects anything beyond the hyperlocal nonetheless speak to, and be recognized by, viewers from radically different cultures and contexts?

To begin to answer this question, we must first recognize that Hermano is one among many recent Latin American films that have sought new strategies with which to frame the experiences of impoverished children. Indeed, filmic depictions of dispossessed children, though long a part of Latin American cinema, have in the new millennium evolved into a robust and coherent category that demands to be considered as a significant new genre within Latin American cinema.1 In the past decade and a half, a new generation of Latin American filmmakers has arisen whose work is guided by a growing critical awareness of childhood as a global and globalized phenomenon, and who consider hyperlocal stories a powerful tool for interrogating the political and socioeconomic realities resulting from neoliberalism and global capitalism. Unlike many of their forebears, these filmmakers seldom deal directly with the social and historical reasons for the poverty they portray, and shy away from overt ideological readings of their protagonists' experiences. The goal, it seems, is simply to offer an unflinching look at the lived experiences of the young and the dispossessed - and to do so in a way that can readily be understood by, and marketed to, global audiences.2

In what follows, I will examine this trend by reading Hermano alongside two other films representative of the genre: Voces inocentes (Luis Mandoki, 2004, Mexico-El Salvador), which focuses on the plight of Salvadoran children during the country's civil war; and Los colores de la montaña (Carlos Arbeláez, 2011, Colombia), which tracks the hardships of a young boy caught up in Colombia's paramilitary conflict. Despite the films' strikingly different visual languages, each reflects on the experience of poverty through narrowly drawn narratives that focus on the personal stories of their young protagonists - and, in so doing, seek to establish affective and emotional responses in global audiences regarding the locally specific circumstances of dispossessed Latin American children. The films' hyperlocalism can thus be read, paradoxically, as an attempt to sidestep the intellectual, ideological or contextual baggage that might hinder audiences elsewhere in the world from engaging fully with the films' subject matter. In stripping away broader contextual frameworks, the filmmakers avoid potential ideological rifts with their audience, and elicit more direct and affective responses from their films' viewers.

It is for a similar reason, one suspects, that these filmmakers have chosen to turn their lenses specifically upon the experiences of children living in poverty. The figure of the child is, as Eduardo Ledesma proposes, 'especially poised to represent issues of marginality on account of their special condition of alterity' (Ledesma 2012: 152). …

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