A Social Genocide

Fernando E. Solanas

Argentina, Switzerland, France, 2003.

Michael Moore

The effect of the commercial success of Michael Moore’s films is evident and good for the documentary community, and hurrah for the recognition he got in Cannes. But let’s not forget that another political filmmaker, Fernando Solanas, who from a cinematic point of view is perhaps a much more interesting artist, also got his award at the Berlin Film Festival for his lifetime achievement.

In 1967, Solanas made La Hora de las Hornas which was groundbreaking both in terms of content and style. Now, almost forty years later, he is back with a big personal epos on his beloved country, Argentina, from which he was exiled from the mid ’70s to the mid ’80s. It doesn’t have the same young man’s wildness that La Hora de las Hornas did. Instead it is a mature man’s analytical look at his own country. A man who also takes the personal consequences of his commitment and was a member of parliament for some years after his return from exile.

What happens in Argentina? Why does such a rich country have so many starving people? A country, as he puts it, with “a silent and daily violence”. These are the basic questions Solanas asks.

And he gives the answers to these questions by using archive material, interviews and big, well-composed tableaux through the corridors of buildings that represent power and money. He brings us a visually strong, chaptered analysis with a focus on, first of all, the political events during the period of Carlos Menem’s leadership. Most of the time, the tone is activist and aggressive, sometimes also sad with a bit of melancholic poetry.

Argentina – what happened to ‘the miracle’? According to Solanas, Menem, a neo-peronist, who at the beginning of his presidency declared that he would be the advocate of the people, ended up selling out the country to the (US) imperialists and privatising, de facto liquidating, enterprises such as the YPF, the oil industry that had given so many people a job, a home and a decent life. The portrait of Menem is without complaisance. No mercy at all – here is a traitor and his Mafiosi, all of them from multinational and national capitalist firms or corporations.

Using strong interlude texts, the social genocide, as Solanas calls it, is demonstrated through powerful reportage pictures and a personal commentary from the mouth of Solanas himself – he does not preclude any hope at all – so the last images convey the demonstrations of homeless and poor Argentines banging on saucepans for a better life. But there are also pictures of fighting in the streets, a visualisation of the ‘apocalyptic comedy’ that has been performed in Argentina.

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