Buenos Aires Vice Versa

English Title: Buenos Aires Vice Versa

Original Title: Buenos Aires viceversa

Country of Origin: Argentina

Studio: Agresti Harding Films, Staccato Films

Director: Alejandro Agresti

Producer(s): Alejandro Agresti, Axel Harding

Screenplay: Alejandro Agresti

Cinematographer: Ramiro Civita

Art Director: Guillermo Kohen, Constanza Novick

Editor: Alejandro Agresti, Alejandro Brodersohn

Runtime: 122 minutes

Genre: Urban Cinema

Starring/Cast: Mirta Busnelli, Vera Fogwill, Fernán Mirás, Nicolás Pauls

Year: 1996

Other Information:

Composers:

Alejandro Agresti

Paul Michael van Brugge

 

 

Format:

Colour, 35mm


Synopsis:

Buenos Aires Vice Versa follows the separate but parallel stories of a series of characters that have had traumatic experiences related to the military dictatorship. Daniela, a young woman whose parents disappeared, is in an unfulfilling relationship with Mario, who seems to be the adopted child of a rich family. A couple of elderly, aristocratic art lovers hire Daniela to bring them beautiful videotaped images of Buenos Aires. They cannot see the city themselves because they have refused to leave their apartment since their daughter disappeared ten years earlier. In her search for these beautiful images, Daniela befriends an impoverished orphan named Bocha, who helps her see a different kind of beauty. Other characters, Damián and a young blind woman, also discover or suspect that they may also be the offspring of disappeared parents. Meanwhile, comic relief is provided by Cristina, a woman obsessed with her ex-husband, a TV anchor. Towards the end of the film some of these characters will witness a tragic event that will open their eyes and help them (re)connect with one another.


Critique:

Buenos Aires Vice Versa was – arguably – a founding film of the New Argentine Cinema and, at the same time, an atypical one. In the years immediately following the last military dictatorship, filmmakers focused on denouncing its horrors. By the 1990s, however, very few films focused on this topic. Yet Agresti is an exception. El amor es una mujer gorda/Love is a Fat Woman (1987), Boda secreta/Secret Wedding (1988), El acto en cuestión/The Act in Question (1993) and even El viento se llevó lo que/Wind with the Gone (1998) demonstrate his preoccupation with the dictatorship and its consequences. Buenos Aires Vice Versa occupies a unique place in Agresti’s career and in the development of Argentine cinema during the 1990s, as it marks his return to Buenos Aires after many years in Holland. Moreover, this film is significant not only for depicting social disintegration, but also for offering an interpretation of its causes as it suggests possibilities of community reintegration.

 

Formally and thematically structured around the opposition between seeing and not seeing, Buenos Aires Vice Versa uses this motif as a metaphor for knowing and not knowing. All the characters are either literally or metaphorically blind; they cannot or do not want to see what is going on around them. This blindness is, in some cases, the consequence of an obsession with the past. They seem unable to sustain relationships, to communicate with others. Daniela and Damián break up with their respective lovers, while Cristina cannot start a relationship with the TV repairman who falls in love with her because she continues to believe she is married to the TV anchor. Isolated as they are, they form a fragmented community. Agresti’s discontinuous style constantly cuts back and forth between characters, scenes or sequences to emphasise this. The parallel editing alternates with few transitions, allowing little or no time for the viewer to adjust to new situations.

 

The film’s title promises to show an alternate image of Buenos Aires. Daniela’s two videos made for the elderly couple clearly illustrate this. The first, which the couple dislike, consists of images of poor and racially diverse people in the city streets. The second, which they consider an example of beautiful Buenos Aires, consists of images of rooftops, devoid of people. The images of people that Daniela captures in her first video are the obverse side of a city caught up in the willful illusion of a Europeanised, white and cosmopolitan identity. Poverty and racial diversity come into direct conflict with the couple’s desire to cling to a nostalgic, neoliberal image of Argentina. The film invites us to see what is behind the mirror in which Argentina contemplates not just its distorted reflection, but the mirage in which the country lived for most of the 1990s.

 

The ‘vice versa’ that the film represents consists of what has been excluded from contemporary cultural and political representation – what the couple do not want to see – but also what has been excluded by the dictatorial state in the past: the disappeared, who continue to be ignored in a society that has negated their existence by granting impunity to those responsible for state terrorism. The film alludes to this through a security guard who was a former torturer, and the participation of the blind woman in a demonstration against impunity.

 

It is fitting that the film ends in a television repair shop as the place to begin to repair social bonds. The final image is split in two: on one side the possibility of community – Cristina and the repairman’s embrace – and on the other a caption, the title of the film. This closing shot acts as a final footnote to the film’s visual strategy: that it is possible to capture the flip side, the ‘vice versa’ of Argentina.

 

  An expanded version of this critique was published in Copertari, Gabriela (2009) Desintegración y justicia en el cine argentino contemporáneo, Woodbridge: Tamesis.

 

 

Author of this review: Gabriela Copertari