The film tells the story of two girls, each around twenty years old. One, Lala, is the daughter of a wealthy family that lives in Buenos Aires. The other, Guayi, is a servant in Lala’s house. The two fall in love and, as imdb so curtly summarizes: the girls, “unable to find a place for their love in the world they live in, are pushed to commit a crime”. But it is a mistake to classify this movie as a social drama dealing with the touchy issue of homosexuality in Latin America. It seems that “the world [that the girls] live in” is more forbidding because of the class differences between them. Guayi is Paraguayan and while I am no expert I have the feeling from being here a few months that the two countries are seen as completely different. While my image of Argentina prioritizes Buenos Aires and urban culture Paraguay has no comparable city. Paraguay’s population is also more impoverished. Yet what makes Paraguay an interesting choice is the enormous population (the majority) of Paraguayans who speak the indigenous language, guaraní, if only because it so clearly suggests the legacy antecedent to Spain’s.
Yet the main character is not Guayi but Lala who flees home early in the story to visit Guayi’s home. The film does not take you to the most rural, urban, or impoverished part of Paraguay—it takes you to Guayi’s past. I liked how the images could portray the difference in the landscape while maintaining a focus on the story. Lucía Puenzo has also made a movie called XXY about a hermaphrodite. I want to see that to see if she deals with the social and sexual themes there as deftly as she does here.
In El niño pez Lala is played by Inés Efron, who played Alex, the lead of XXY. Efron does not have the same beauty as Mariela Vitale, who plays Guayi. Maybe I can clarify what I mean if I tell you that Vitale appeared nude in playboy not long ago. Vitale has a commercial beauty, a look that can be marketed because somehow it signifies something verifiable. I might compare her to Megan Fox from the Transformers movies in this way. I wanted to clarify this because, although I think Efron was casted for her superior acting talent and history with the director I also think her appearance was engineered to compliment Vitale’s. Lala dresses in tank-tops and jeans while Guayi wears short skirts and thongs. Lala is skinny and pale. Guayi exudes the exotic, the indigenous—think Disney’s Pocahontas.
Throughout the movie Lala is followed when she leaves Buenos Aires and returns to find her world turned inside out. She sees Guayi with a man and feels extremely jealous. One of my friends pointed out that this jealousy smacked of the machismo culture that I have gotten to know a little better on the streets and in the boliches of Buenos Aires. And, without going too far, I think that Efron’s character is intentionally made more masculine in contrast with Vitale’s. I am not sure what to make of the gender scripting mixed with class and sexuality but I certainly think argentine cultural values heavily affected how this story was put together, for better and for worse.
I picked a random Brazilian movie, and it turned out to be perfect for this particular assignment. I watched “Cinema, Aspirins, and Vultures,” a movie made in 2005 about a German man traveling through the barren desert of Northeast Brazil in 1942. He left Germany because he did not want to participate in the war there, and he landed a job selling aspirin to the poor townsfolk of the nordeste, which is experiencing a drought. The film uses strange camera technique – it almost looks like the movie was shot in 1942. It focuses the camera on the people in the film, and so there are not many (if any) landscape shots, despite the open space to shoot film. Surely a high definition camera would capture all sorts of colors, but this movie was about the characters’ relationship with each other. That said, the main character, Johann represents a true traveler, as our class has defined it. Johann claims that he left Germany with no particular destination. He came to Brazil and liked it, so he stayed. He seems to do everything without reflecting on how this journey is changing him. He found work that allowed him to continue seeing new places, and he does this work efficiently. There is no sign from him that he does not belong in Brazil selling aspirin. One would think that this was his destined place in the world from the beginning. Tara Kolton wrote in her essay, “It is in this light that the Western world (particularly America here) views the less developed world as a place that can teach the traveler something about himself.”(21) Johann, a Western traveler of the 20th century, seems to have known everything about himself before he even started his journey.
For my museum visit, I rode my skateboard to the Bea Art Hall Gallery, which is actually the hallway of the Centro Cultural Brasil in New York. They are showing about 10 pieces, all of which are inspired by the writing of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, a novelist, short story writer, and poet, who lived and worked during the 19th century. The pieces invoked images of Brazil, which is only natural since Machado de Assis never left Rio de Janeiro. One painting jumped out at me, because the whole canvas, about the size of my midsection, displayed two toucans. I could not fully translate the Machado quotation next to the painting, and so I asked for the only employee there to help me translate. The words read something along the lines of “God, you have given man a face or friendship. Devil, you have made men confused between love and friendship.” And the picture was of two toucans. The woman said that the toucans were specific to the Amazon, and represented Brazil. Another instillation piece had leaves strewn about on a shelf. All of the leaves were green, yellow, and black, which I took to represent the Brazilian flag. There were some portraits of Machado de Assis, one of which had lines of his writing spewing out of his mouth. To tell the truth, the art itself did not give me any particular impression of Brazil, or even of Machado de Assis’ works.