Tropical Sorrows

Contemporary Latin American Cinema as Political Cinema


Smutki tropików


In the face of unrelentingly bleak news from the rest of the world, at times it seems as if Latin America is the last bastion of the Enlightenment.

Greg Grandin


The book has been published in its original language (Polish) in 2016 by the Warsaw-based Książka i Prasa publishing house under the imprint of the Polish edition of “Le Monde Diplomatique”. A few of the essays contained in it had been published before (usually in their shorter initial versions) in magazines such as the Polish edition of “Le Monde Diplomatique”, but a great majority of them have been published for the first time in the book.

The volume is a collection of 13 essays, written over a few years. They try to look into selected Latin American films, into the body of work of selected filmmakers, and into wider problems of Latin American cinema of the last two and half decades (roughly). The book’s aim is to analyse, bring up or ask questions about political character of these films, these filmmakers or these national cinemas in general. It also aims at presenting how varied artistic and intellectual manifestations of the politics of Latin American cinema are.

Content Summary

The first essay looks into cinematic representations of the Chilean coup d’état of 1973, the event that is often interpreted as the founding moment of the neoliberal world order.

The second essay analyses two films: Pablo Larrain’s Tony Manero (2008, Chile) and Michael Rowe’s Leap Year (2010, Mexico), treating them as a sort of treatises on neoliberal subjectivity.

The third essay dissects depictions of masculinity in a sequence of three Mexican films: Like Water for Chocolate by Alfonso Arau (1991), Y tu mama tambien by Alfonso Cuarón (2001), and Sin Nombre by Cary Joji Fukunaga (2009). It deals with the social construction of masculinity and its audiovisual representations in connection with processes of Mexico’s neoliberal “structural adjustment” and its economic integration within NAFTA.

A long essay coming under number 4 is entirely dedicated to the work of Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu. It analyses first four films by the Mexican director (Amores perros, 2000; 21 grams, 2003; Babel, 2006; and Beautiful, 2010) as a vast panorama of capitalism as a system gradually yet inevitably collapsing, drowning deep in its own decomposition.

The essay number 5 speaks of political and intellectual bravery and radicalism of new Brazilian cinema that isn’t shying away from returning, tirelessly, to the idea and the necessity of an Utopia – the Utopia of a society that is just and egalitarian.

The sixth essay tries to figure out the political stakes raised by Gerardo Naranjo’s I’m Gonna Explode (Mexico, 2008).

The seventh essay deals with Pablo Larrain’s No (Chile, 2012). It is analysed here in the context of the thought of Argentinian Freudo-Marxist Leon Rozitchner: the democracies established in Latin America after a period of fascist/military dictatorships, aren’t they only a moment of suspension, an act of grace offered by the triumphant capital that came out of those dictatorships yet more consolidated and powerful?

The eighth essay seeks for political conclusions to be taken out of a comparison between two films dealing with “leisure classes” of Argentina and Brazil, films more than a decade apart from each other: Lucrecia Martel’s The Swamp (2001) and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Neighbouring Sounds (2012).

The ninth essay follows the tragic fate and cinematic biographies of Sandro Rosa do Nascimento, a 21 year old who “hijacked” the 174 bus in Rio de Janeiro on the 12th June 2000, accelerating a crisis that ended in his own tragic death. The films dedicated to the central character of that explosive event are: José Padilha’s documentary Bus 174 (2002) and Bruno Barreto’s feature Last Stop 174 (2008).

The essay number 10 is about films that deal with the ambivalent role of football in Brazilian society: The Year My Parents Went on Vacation by Cao Hamburger (2006) and Linha de passe by Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas (2008).

The eleventh essay goes through four gay films, each coming from a different Latin American country: The Way He Looks by Daniel Ribeiro (2014, Brazil), Leo’s Room by Enrique Buchichio (2009, Uruguay), The Third One by Rodrigo Guerrero (2014, Argentina) and The Last Match by Antonio Hens (2013, Cuba).

The twelfth essay treats Sérgio Machado’s Cidade Baixa (2005) and Karim Aïnouz’s Madame Satã (2005) as two works that complement and reinforce each other on several levels, and as such dare to try and lurk into a possibility of a post-bourgeois society.

The last essay is dedicated to an analysis and interpretation of Guillermo del Toro’s “communist mystery play”, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).

Jarosław Pietrzak, Smutki tropików: Współczesne kino Ameryki Łacińskiej jako kino polityczne, Warsaw: Książka i Prasa 2016. Language: Polish.