Willemien Sanders
Dr. Willemien Sanders, lecturer, department of media and culture studies, Utrecht University.

An intimate portrayal of a dwindling lifestyle in the Argentinian back country.

An elderly couple, Alba Rosa Díaz and Juan Armando Soria according to the credits, live in the middle of nowhere in Argentina; that is, in the Tucumán province in the north of the country. Their days are filled with slowed down routines of lifelong, everyday chores, and memories of days gone by. As viewers, we are introduced to a world that is pretty remote from what most of us know: a humble dwelling, slightly messy, in an arid landscape. Shrubs, cacti, hills in the background. The goats they keep seem to be their only companions as the noises and play of the animals break open the silence and stillness. Their bleating has become an incessant daytime soundtrack, accompanying the quiet lives of the pair, and especially for Alba. A night sky so full of stars you won’t believe it’s real.

Gaucho life. In a truly observational and intimate style, director Nicolás Torchinsky portrays these individuals and their surroundings with an extreme sense of patience, as he roams in and around the house. He establishes their personalities through images rather than dialogue. Relics of the past and other horse-related objects (a gaucho is an Argentinian cowboy) signify Juan’s persona, whereas domestic chores and objects define that of Alba.

In this utterly quiet world, life revolves around animals.

The Centaur’s Nostalgia records and implicitly celebrates a life – and a lifestyle – drawing to an end. Old age made Juan become an onlooker rather than a participant; he watches his younger colleague gauchos at work, earmarking goats, or celebrating some event with horses and a barbeque. Juan’s stories are accompanied by a kind of Argentinian gaucho blues, and by poetry. This utterly quiet world, in which life revolves around animals, is disappearing – here in Argentina as elsewhere on the globe. Up until this point, the film gently makes you contemplate the lives of its subjects as well as your own, and not least the differences between those lives.

The centaur’s nostalgia by Nicolás Torchinsky

But, after about 40 minutes, the language of the film – along with the storyline – changes quite drastically. In one interview Alba, and then Juan, gets to talk about their lives. It becomes clear they may have more in common with the rest of us than we think, as after so many years of marriage the romance has slipped away – or maybe it was never really there. Alba tells us that when they were younger, Juan would often abandon her and the children for long periods. She was left struggling to survive. Despite efforts with cows, sheep and now goats, horses remain the most important creatures of all to Juan. He talks about his work and freedom, which lasted until he decided to take a wife. He gave Alba his last name, but she gave him nothing in return, save for, of course, children and daily care, as he recounts. It’s the banality of a long life together. In this sequence the filmmaker is noticeably more present, as we hear him ask and repeat questions.

The subordinate position of women is presented in the guise of male nostalgia.

Macho culture. What makes the film problematic is that from this point on, the subservient position of women in the gaucho culture becomes painfully visible and tangible. This happens not only through the stories Alba and Juan recount, but also in the subsequent scenes. Although Alba is portrayed and gets to tell her story, she remains constrained to the house and her chores there while Juan goes out and meets his peers. The film celebrates this disappearing lifestyle with its macho character.

Even if the intensions of the filmmaker are to create a solemn portrait of two people and of their lives drawing to an end, what happens instead is that the deeply rooted subordinate position of women is presented in the guise of male nostalgia. How bad is it, really, to bid such days farewell?

 

 


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