The Argentina Film Festival in Hollywood was established in 2001 but had to go dormant for a year in 2017. In 2018 it maintained a very small event due to the economic crisis in the Latin American country. Thanks to a grant from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the efforts of Consul General Rubén Eduardo Caro, the small fest came back this year, held at the Egyptian Theatre under the auspices of the American Cinematheque for two days, November 23-24, 2019.
Argentina may have been going through trials and tribulations in the last several decades, yet its cinema is alive and kicking. Let’s not forget notable films such as The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), a crime thriller about an unsolved mystery from 1974 with roots in political corruption, or the more recent The Distinguished Citizen (2016) about a writer who returns to his homeland after many years of self-exile. In fact, it is Argentina’s turbulent recent history of bloody dictatorships transitioning into the wickedness of state corruption and the people’s struggle to overcome that has consistently fueled its cinematic production.
Heroic Losers, a new heist comedy by Sebastian Borensztein that was screened on the evening of Saturday, November 23rd, refers back to the first years of the millennium when, as a result of neo-liberal corrupt politics in the 90s, the people of Argentina suffered an economic collapse. The modern Robin Hood story recounts the adventures of a group of ordinary folks, whose plan to invest their life’s savings in establishing an agricultural cooperative is thwarted by the banking crisis and the abuses of the wealthy. But instead of submitting to his bad luck, Fermín (Ricardo Darín) convinces his down and out friends to take their money back. The film culminates in a long sequence of comedic intensity, where the band of benevolent robbers eventually succeeds at outsmarting the scheming banker who deceived them in the first place. The 600 Argentine audience members burst into enthusiastic applause at the end of the screening. Almost 20 years later, the story of Heroic Losers is as relevant as ever, and the film represents Argentina in both the Golden Globe and Academy Award races.
The showcase closed with another Golden Globe contender, The Weasel’s Tale, by The Secret in their Eyes director Juan José Campanella, about two young salespeople who pretend to be an aging film star’s fans with the intention to exploit her mansion in the real estate market. A black comedy about the conflict of generations and values ensues that is both enjoyable and provoking. More new features such as 4x4, a thriller about a petty thief who gets trapped in a high-security truck, White Blood about a young woman who works as a drug mule, and the funny mockumentary From Here to China about an Argentine young man who decides to see what happens if he opens a market in China – all deal with contemporary issues of ordinary people striving to survive in an aggressive climate of inequality, polarized by greed and desperation.
By bookending the fest with strong comedies, AFF took on a light-hearted stance in the face of real-life hardship, while it proved that, when it comes to ethnic cultural events such as this one, it’s best to adopt a quality over quantity policy.