Since the release of her debut feature, La ciénaga, in 2001, Argentine director Lucrecia Martel has gained worldwide recognition for her richly allusive, elliptical and sensorial film-making. The first monograph on her work, The Cinema of Lucrecia Martel analyses her three feature films, which also include La niña santa (2004) and La mujer sin cabeza (2008), alongside the unstudied short films Nueva Argirópolis (2010), Pescados (2010) and Muta (2011). It examines the place of Martel’s work within the experimental turn taken by Argentine cinema in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a trend of which Martel is often described as a major player, yet also explores correspondences between her work and other national and global filmmaking trends, including the horror genre, and classic Hollywood. It brings together the rich and diverse critical approaches which have been taken in the analysis of Martel’s work – including feminist and queer approaches, political readings and phenomenology – and proposes new ways of understanding her films, in particular through their figuring of desire as revolutionary, their use of the child’s perspective, and their address to the senses and perception, which it argues serve to renew cinematic language and thought.
Chapter 1 argues that in La ciénaga, her first feature film, Lucrecia Martel effects an important challenge to the aesthetic codes which have defined intellectual and resistive cinema. It shows La ciénaga to be a highly reflexive film which uses many of the distancing and defamiliarising techniques associated with political and counter cinemas. Yet the film’s aesthetics also function to challenge a disembodied intellect, or Cartesian viewing subjectivity by forming a transgressive material relationship between the viewer’s body and the sticky, swampy body of the film. Attending to the film both as a text with meaning, but also as a ‘body that performs’ (Kennedy), the chapter shows how the digetic experiments of child characters, and the filmic experiments which accompany them, work to counter the stagnation of the body and the domestication of perception associated with dominant cinematic forms. The chapter also shows how the processes of defamiliarisation in which the film engages are countered by its tactile and sensorial aesthetics, which it undertands as a form of refamiliarisation, a bringing into bodily proximity, of that which is abjected and excluded by the social order.
Chapter 2 focuses on Martel’s second feature, La niña santa, a film which depicts the anxious construction of hard-and-fast boundaries between right and wrong, good and evil, beauty and horror, whilst revelling in the strangeness of a world in which everything – including its saintly-demonic heroine, and the moral and affective situations she negotiates, confounds these distinctions. In La niña santa, it is in particular the ideological conditions established by Catholicism – and their close relationship with constructions of femininity – which are subject to the scrutiny of Martel’s investigative gaze. The girls in this film suggest the possibility of resisting dominant narratives, a possibility with which the film is thematically and aesthetically engaged in multiple ways. The chapter explores the film’s aesthetic experiments alongside its foregrounding of the productive capacity of desire, arguing that both function to suggest ideological fissure and the glimpsing of alternative realities. Through its figuring of desire, and the female adolescent as agent of her desire, the film suggests the possibility of resistance to the subjective and identitarian roles and models into which she is socially summoned.
Chapter 3 deals with La mujer sin cabeza,which appears to allude to the Argentine dictatorship of 1976-82 and to the disappeared. The chapter proposes that this film can be understood as a form of counter-memory, that both avoids neat expositions of the past, whilst looking at its repetitions in the present. Drawing on Derrida, the chapter shows how the presence of spectres in La mujer sin cabeza recalls the victims of both the dictatorship and of contemporary neo-liberalism. It argues that spectres consistently puncture the comfortable bourgeois world of the film through silent gazes of resistance and knowledge, gazes which constitute a demand for justice. As the chapter goes on to argue, these gazes – repressed, emanating from the film’s visual periphery – are aligned in its meaning system with challenges to the bourgeois family associated with the adolescent girl and her transgressive, cross-class, same-sex desire. Through these images, the film gestures to a different kind of community to come, to the possibility of a world beyond the stifling and exclusionary world of the family, and hints at queer and non-normative forms of kinship and collectivity which transgress previously established social hierarchies of class and ethnicity.
This chapter explores the three shorts Martel has made since completing La mujer sin cabeza: Nueva Argirópolis (2010), Pescados (2010) and Muta (2011). Despite the diverse contexts within which these films arose, and their differing subject matter, their preoccupation with watery and liquid worlds can be read as part of a shared concern with fluid ontologies and becomings. Such damp and liquid worlds create different perceptual conditions, or allow for the creation of a different kind of perception. This chapter contends that these shorts are concerned with the creation of fluidity, of a liquidity of perception in which the certainties of social worlds and human ontologies dissolve. Their watery locales and aesthetics provide a setting for the undoing of fixities – of the human, of identity, of the image – and allow instead for becomings: becomings-animal, becomings-other, producing thought through the reconfiguration of would–be fixed images or ideas.
Gender (and) politics in Colombian women’s documentary
This chapter examines women's documentary in Colombia, where pioneers such as Gabriela Samper began production in the 1960s, and where key female figures have continued to the present day. According to Paulo Antonio Paranaguá, in Latin America, the tendency to focus on militant revolutionary politics has meant the downplaying of other types of commitment, such as feminism's prolonged impact on cinema. The chapter addresses this question with regard to Colombia, taking a deconstructivist approach to the discursive frameworks of three important films: Chircales by Martha Rodríguez (with partner Jorge Silva), La mirada de Myriam by Clara Riascos with Colectivo Cine Mujer, and La Sierra (Margarita Martínez and Scott Dalton). Gender is in various ways imbricated in the national: in Chircales and La Sierra either desire for a woman (in the former) or woman's desire (in the latter) becomes bound up with desired versions of the nation, constituting a discursive shift.