City to City
September 7, 2011
By Marc Glassman
TIFF came up with a great concept three years ago with its City-to-City programme. It has the genius of simplicity to it: highlight a city and through its films, present a window onto a different urban environment than we experience in Toronto. This year’s city is Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, known for its European architecture and lifestyle, tango music and a great love of cinema.
TIFF rarely shows older films so the selection of Pablo Trapero’s 1999 feature debut Crane World indicates how important the film is in contemporary Argentine culture. A low-budget film shot in black and white, it recounts the story of Rulo, a construction worker. Like Toronto, cranes often surround Buenos Aires as newer and higher buildings are constructed–and it is the environment that offers Rulo a chance to have steady employment.
Trapero’s film has often been compared to the Italian neo-realist movement of the 1940s. Like those classics by Rossellini, Visconti and de Sica, Trapero is less interested in plot than he is in showing the daily lives of the so-called “ordinary” citizen. Of course, when the camera focuses on anyone–and the film is scripted–dramatic events are bound to occur.
The viewer watches Rulo as he’s fired from one job and lands another one, as a crane operator, a task he’s never performed before. As Rulo learns his new skill, the rest of his life takes shape: his relationships with his mother, son, best friend and the girl he wants to woo are revealed. It’s rarely simple to be humanistic. Trapero and his film offer a unique perspective on life in Buenos Aires.
Moving from life to death, the City-to-City programme offers the beautifully shot documentary Fatherland, about La Recoleta Cemetery. Comparable to Paris’ Père-Lachaise, the Cemetery is the final home for many of Argentina’s greatest statesmen, scientists and writers. Director Nicolás Prividera decided to concentrate on the history of the place–and therefore, Argentina–rather than on its remarkable urban design and architecture.
Among the people buried at La Recoleta are the acclaimed fantasist and Borges collaborator Adolfo Bioy Casares, the heavyweight boxer Luis Firpo, the first lady of Argentina–Maria Eva “Evita” Peron, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Carlos Saavedra Lamas and former Presidents Yrigoyen, Mitre, Illia, Celman and Alfonsin. Through readings of texts written by Argentines of the highest rank, the film offers insights into the painful, poetic history of the city and the country.
The Cat Vanishes is a clever film built on a mystery: who is crazier, Luis, the former denizen of an asylum, or Beatriz, the ostensible long-suffering wife? While the viewer is trying to puzzle that out, the family cat vanishes. Who did it? A witty film by director Carlos Sorin, The Cat Vanishes shows the sophisticated sensibility of Buenos Aires.