Fernando “Pino” Solanas (1936-2020) – I

Image: João Nitsche


Commentary on the artistic career and work of the Argentine filmmaker

It is impossible to think of Argentine cinema in the last half century without the presence of Fernando “Pino” Solanas, who died in the early hours of November 07th in Paris after several weeks of hospitalization after having contracted the coronavirus. His figure was decisive in all fields of Argentine cinema: documentary and fiction, theory and practice, direction and production.

Awarded at major international festivals – Berlin, Cannes, Venice – Solanas never made a film, however, that was not related to the country to which he also dedicated his knowledge, energy and commitment as an activist and political leader. If he had to define in a single word the essential theme of his work as a filmmaker, that word would be “Argentina”. The country as a whole – with its struggles and contradictions, riches and miseries, workers and intellectuals – was his passion and obsession, from the first to the last film, from the hour of the horns (1968) until Three in the drift of chaos (2020), still unpublished due to the pandemic.

In this huge arc, which goes from one extreme to the other of his filmography, in which essay films and documentaries prevailed, there were also great milestones in the field of fiction, such as Tangos – The exile of Gardel (1985) and Public chat (1988), two crucial films from the first period of democratic recovery, which respectively account for the experiences of foreign and internal exile experienced by the Argentine people under the civil-military dictatorship. These two out-of-the-ordinary films also opened unthinkable paths for national cinema, until then a prisoner – with rare exceptions – of a costumbrismo to which Solanas always turned his back to risk new aesthetic experiments, with which he created his own, unique poetics. .

Born in Olivos, in the Province of Buenos Aires, on February 16, 1936, into a middle-class family that supported the Radical Civic Union, Solanas took some courses in Law and Literature, but his first decisive studies were piano and musical composition, before graduating from the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art in 1962. This experience would be decisive in his cinematographic work because it confirmed in Solanas the notion of staging as the art of convention, a metaphorical approach to representative matter. At that time, Solanas frequented what he considered to be “in practice, my little university”: the intellectual circles that stirred around the writers Gerardo Pissarello and Enrique Wernicke, meeting places that brought together the young cultural groups of the independent left of the time and where texts by Leopoldo Marechal, Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz and Arturo Jauretche were discussed.

At that time, Solanas encouraged himself to try his luck with two short films, the fiction keep walking (1962), which participated in the San Sebastián Festival, and citizen reflection (1963), an ironic chronicle of the presidential inauguration of Arturo Illia, with texts by Wernicke. But he also had to earn a living and Pino did an advertisement for a tanning cream that was so successful that in the next three years he made around 400 short commercials. This intense exercise allowed him to train in all areas of cinema (photography, editing, sound, music) and to raise money to make what would become one of the most influential films in the history of Latin American cinema: the hour of the horns.

Since 1963, when he met Octavio Getino (“One of those encounters that leaves a mark on a man’s life and encourages him to create and experiment”, Pino dixit), Solanas had been collecting reports and documentaries about Argentina with the embryonic idea of ​​making a film that addressed the problem of the country's identity, its historical past and its political future. In June 1966, when Solanas and Getino began making the film that would become the hour of the horns, the military coup of Juan Carlos Onganía overthrew the civilian government of Illia and thus the 1967 elections were brought forward, in which it was assumed that Peronism, long outlawed, would emerge victorious. The film is then filmed under clandestine conditions, not only outside conventional production structures, but also outside the dictatorship's police controls.

at the origin of The hour of the horns, there was an inalienable budget, which responded less to aesthetic than ideological motivations, but which would inevitably manifest itself decisively in the form of the film. if the hour of the horns intended to be a work that presented the thesis of liberation as the only alternative to dependence (political, cultural, economic), so the film should renounce the cinematographic models established by the dominant system. Without having yet developed the theory of the “Third Cinema”, which would come after the filming of the hour of the horns, Solanas and Getino already had it clear that they aspired to make a cinema that tended to the total liberation of the spectator, understood as his first and greatest act of culture: the revolution, the seizure of power.

And, for that, the film would have to break with the structural and linguistic dependence that Latin American cinema had on American and European cinema. The film would have to arise from a need of its own, Latin American. “We have to discover, we have to invent…” was a motto of the liberation ideologue Frantz Fanon who the hour of the horns always had as an emblem and which he put into practice like no other Latin American film had done until then, except for those by Glauber Rocha in Brazil, in whom Solanas recognized a traveling companion.

Premiered at the Pesaro Festival in June 1968, the hour of the horns not only did it win the top prize, it also became a political and cultural event. Not even a month had passed since the “French May” riots, and the flame of Paris was just beginning to spread across Europe. In this context, the emergence of a Latin American film like the hour of the horns, which was a declared call to revolution and concluded its first part with a fixed and continuous shot of the motionless face of Che Guevara (whose shooting had not been a year ago), caused a real commotion in the field of cinema, which at that time questioned not only the its language, but also its political and social function.

While the film – conceived as an essay film in three parts totaling 4 hours and 20 minutes – traveled around the world, in Onganiato's Argentina, its exhibition was only possible clandestinely, in sessions organized in unions and social organizations, which were conceived as political acts of resistance. And the exchanges of the rolls of the 16mm copies were used for the debate, under banners that bore another of Fanon's motto: “Every spectator is a coward or a traitor”.

From the hour of the horns, Solanas and Getino created the Cine Liberacion Group, which included director Gerardo Vallejo, producer Edgardo Pallero and critic Agustín Mahieu, among others. From there came several theoretical manifestos about the “Third Cinema”, which included definitions about militant cinema, and which, in 1971, resulted in two famous “instruments” entitled Political and doctrinal update for taking power e The justicialist revolution, which consisted of in-depth personal interviews with Juan Domingo Perón at his residence-in-exile in Madrid. It was about “counter-information”, to divulge – in “acts” similar to those of The hour of the horns – not only the word but also the image of the proscribed leader.

Em Fierro's children (1975), his first fiction feature film, Solanas faced a complex cultural and symbolic operation: a version of José Hernández's national poem from a Peronist point of view. Fierro's sons in title are the descendants of that rebellious gaucho, the suburban Peronist working class, hounded for power as Martin Fierro himself was in his time. The protagonist thus ceases to be an individual and solitary hero and becomes a collective actor, which made Solanas' film an unprecedented experience in Argentine cinema. Finished in 1975, however, it could only be seen in the country a decade later, because both Solanas and almost all of his technical and artistic team were persecuted, first by the Triple A and later by the civil-military dictatorship, which took the director into exile.

From this painful experience, Solanas would extract one of his most enduring creations, Tangos – The exile of Gardel, which premiered at the 1985 Venice Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize, ratified a few months later by the main prize at the Havana Film Festival. Unlike his previous films, which tried to provoke a process of critical reflection, The exile of Gardel above all, it required an emotional commitment from the spectator to its characters, men and women adrift in a foreign city, seeking refuge in the cultural imaginary of Argentina, which they had to forcibly leave behind.

The polyphony that was already present in the hour of the horns e Fierro's children find in The exile of Gardel a freer and more spontaneous form of expression, with space for music, dance and even humor. To talk about his film, Solanas (like his alter ego in the film, played by Miguel Angel Solá) uses the term “tanguédia”, an expression that subsumes Tango + comedy + tragedy and reveals the filmmaker's desire to save the barriers that separate the different genres and create an original form that breaks with traditional aesthetics.

Perform a symmetric operation with Public chat, best director award at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival, which works as the other side of the same coin. The setting is no longer Paris, but the suburban landscape to which the protagonist (again Miguel Angel Solá) returns, after years in prison for his union militancy, a situation that metaphorically reflects the country's return to democracy. “Public chat it is a journey: from prison and death to freedom; from dictatorship to democracy; from night and from fog to dawn”, said Solanas, who, as in his previous film, again had the complicity of Astor Piazzolla in the original soundtrack, to which he added a string of classic tangos that – in the voice of Roberto Goyeneche – are commenting on the action.

Compared to these modern classics, El viaje (1992) and Cloud (1998) were not such successful films, but in both it was clear that they correspond in themselves to a set of works with an absolute uniqueness in Argentine cinema as is Solanas. In the first, it was about the initiatory journey of a teenager from Tierra del Fuego, who departs from the southernmost city in the world on an adventure of formation throughout the South American continent. In the second, the tone became confessional and Solanas, somehow, saw himself reflected in this veteran playwright played by his friend Eduardo “Tato” Pavslovsky, who resisted not only the clashes of time, but also the raw and memoryless modernity of the crass menemism.

Solanas' work received a new impetus from Memory of the looting, when he received the Golden Bear for his work in the Berlinale of 2004, a documentary that was also the cornerstone of an enormous fresco that he was composing for more than fifteen years. The titles of this great overview of the social, political and economic reality of the country are eloquent for each of the themes that was approached. The dignity of the nadies (2005) latent Argentina (2007) the next station (2008) Tierra sublevada: impure gold (2009) Tierra Revolted: Black Gold (2010) The fracking war (2013) Juan Perón's strategic legacy (2016) and Travel to fumigated towns (2018) accounted for the resistance of the working people, the scientific and creative potential of the country, the abandonment of the railroad as an instrument of communication and progress, the extractive greed, the teachings of the leader and the brutal contamination of the land by pesticides.

Nothing about the country was alien to Solanas, who left pending a documentary on fishing and the Argentine ocean shelf and ended up Three in the drift of chaos, an intimate and Socratic dialogue with two of his many great friends in the art world, the painter Luis Felipe “Yuyo” Noé and the playwright “Tato” Pavlovsky. “Argentine cinema lacks contact with reality”, he reflected in recent years. To compensate for this lack, Solanas decided – with that noble ambition and arrogance at work that characterized him – to take care of all aspects of the complex Argentine reality himself, which he embraced like no one else.

* Luciano Monteagudo is a journalist and film critic.

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves

Originally published in the newspaper Página12.


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