Film and Literature in Latin America

Latin America has a particular cultural cohesiveness and while the content of its films and literature may be distinct, the issues that went into their creation are largely held in common.[i] Latin American film and literature refer collectively to the cinema and literatures of predominantly Spanish-speaking countries of the Western Hemisphere. Film and literature both consist of a plentiful and complex assortment of subjects, structures, creative language, and style.[ii] Within Latin American literature, there are multiple categories such as early literature, modern poetry, drama and narratives—each of which is divided into sub categories specific to the Latin culture.[iii] Film is similarly divided into categories such as historical and fictional films. A majority of the works in Latin American film and literature deal with the discovery and revival of a more genuine national identity.[iv] In this search for a national identity, the theme of politics is commonly expressed whether it is through films and literature involving totalitarianism and revolution or in analyzing socioeconomic or cultural topics such as ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Film and literature in Latin America not only assist in the discovery of a national identity but they further act as a significant means of documenting the culture and traditions of Latin American countries.[v] The works of the filmmaker Luis Buñuel and the writers Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges further help to contextualize these themes within Latin American film and literature.

For many decades, Latin American cinema revealed neither the local environment nor the national culture as it essentially echoed the styles established in Europe and the United States.[vi] The first visible trend towards focusing on the realities of Latin America took place in 1951 when Mexican filmmaker Luis Buñuel exhibited Los Olivados (The Young and the Damned). Through Buñuel’s extreme realism and Surrealist influenced dreamscapes, he expressed urban poverty in Mexico. The film that emerged on the screen, exhibiting a group of young law breakers living a violent and crime-filled life in the ghastly slums of Mexico City, startled the Mexican population and captivated international audiences. Buñuel was the forerunner of change in Latin American cinema as his works were less imitative of other styles and were therefore more original.[vii] His films, like many others, acted as a historical record for Latin America. For instance, the close representation and description of a society, on the part of the filmmaker, such as Buñuel’s portrayal of Mexico, was effective in supplying historians with useful documents to analyze other viewpoints in the history of Latin America.[viii]

individual who contributed significantly to the Latin American culture for his creativity in novelizing events in history and tying the literature to his own cultural traditions. García Márquez’s novel Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold) is an ideal example of his incorporation of history and culture into literature. For example, the factual components expressed in his novel appear to show a direct association to the events of a particular criminal case that occurred years earlier in Sucre, Colombia. This cultural-ethnic identification can further be identified when the Hispanic custom of fatalism arises in Márquez’s book, making a distinct reference to Hispanic culture’s anticipatory and fateful sense of impeding death.[ix] In addition, García Márquez’s works commonly exhibit an assortment of geopolitical contexts and with them the ability of his literary works to “reaffirm the transnational possibilities of our identity” can be recognized.[x] This statement further identifies the importance of identity and culture in Latin America. Argentine writer and poet, Jorge Luis Borges, is another individual whose contributions to Latin American literature are widely recognized. In his initial collection of short stories, El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths), which appeared in 1941, he explored magic realism—a type of literature in which realistic narrative is joined with surreal elements of fantasy or dreams. In Borges detective-like stories, he additionally achieves the imagery and knowledge of a national history and geography that can be associated with the Latin American culture.[xi]

Film and literature often correlates strongly to its social and political context in Latin America. Writers and filmmakers took on the role as a voice for those who had no voice, especially in political settings distinguished by repression, instability, and habitual dishonesty.[xii] Present-day cinema in Latin America mediates the boundaries thought to divide geopolitical territories just as it did a century ago. Nevertheless, the technology of filmmaking has undeniably changed considerably over the last hundred years. It has made a distinct movement from silent film to verbal dialogue, from immobile cameras to moveable ones, and from black and white imagery to colour.[xiii] In a Latin American context, film has furthermore acted as a means of not only protecting the Latin American culture by showing the values of the culture in the imagery but it has also acted as a means to generate employment.[xiv] Literature in Latin America, on the other hand, has developed as part of an immense debate extending from Buenos Aires to Mexico. The key components of this debate have given rise to a literature that is incomparable in both its range of literary and social matters and its innovation.[xv] The development of literature in Latin America as an academic discipline and as an accepted category in the global book market has progressed significantly from the emergence of Latin American literature in the 1830s. These achievements, that were attained through various writers and their diverse works, have not only had an influence in the West but have stretched across the globe—a statement that would have been inconceivable just decades ago.[xvi]

Latin American film and literature both include an abundant and complex variety of subjects, structures, creative language, and style.[xvii] In briefly looking at the works of the filmmaker Luis Buñuel and the writer Gabriel García Márquez, the films and literature of Latin America can be recognized as thoroughly acknowledging the search for a national identity and culture.[xviii] Nevertheless, while Latin America can be distinguished as having a particular cultural cohesiveness—especially in the factors that were involved in their creation—the content is distinct.[xix]

Erin Benham

Spring 2010

Notes


[i] Greg Price, Latin America: The Writer’s Journey (London: Penguin Group, 1990), 1.

[ii] Encyclopædia Britannica. “Latin American literature.” 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/331811/Latin-American-literature.

[iii] Elizabeth Rogers and Timothy Rogers, In Retrospect: Essays on Latin American Literature (South Carolina: Spanish Literature Publication Company, 1987), 2.

[iv] Julianne Burton, Cinema and Social Change in Latin America (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), xvi.

[v] Yvon Grenier, “The politics of art and literature in Latin America,” Canadian Journal of Latin  American and Caribbean Studies 62 (2006): 245.

[vi] Bradford Burns, “The Latin American Film, Realism, and the Historian.” The History Teacher 6 (1973): 569.

[vii] Bradford Burns, “The Latin American Film, Realism, and the Historian.” The History Teacher 6 (1973): 570.

[viii] Bradford Burns, “The Latin American Film, Realism, and the Historian.” The History Teacher 6 (1973): 574.

 [ix] Elizabeth Rogers and Timothy Rogers, In Retrospect: Essays on Latin American Literature (South Carolina: Spanish Literature Publication Company, 1987), 172.

[x] Ann Marie Stock, Framing Latin American Cinema: Contemporary Critical Perspectives (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), xxv.

 [xi] Seymour Menton, “Jorge Luis Borges, Magic realist.” Hispanic Review 50 (1982): 417.

 [xii] Yvon Grenier, “The politics of art and literature in Latin America,” Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 62 (2006): 245.

 [xiii] Ann Marie Stock, Framing Latin American Cinema: Contemporary Critical Perspectives (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), xxviii.

[xiv] Luisela Alvaray, “National, Regional, and Global: New Waves of Latin American Cinema.” Cinema Journal 47 (2008): 48.

 [xv] Greg Price, Latin America: The Writer’s Journey (London: Penguin Group, 1990), 1.

 [xvi] Roberto González Echevarria and Enrique Pupo- Walker, The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature: Discovery to modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), xi.

 [xvii] Encyclopædia Britannica. “Latin American literature.” 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/331811/Latin-American-literature.

 [xviii] Yvon Grenier, “The politics of art and literature in Latin America,” Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 62 (2006): 245.

[xix] Greg Price, Latin America: The Writer’s Journey (London: Penguin Group, 1990), 1.

Works Cited

Alvaray, Luisela. “National, Regional, and Global: New Waves of Latin American Cinema.” Cinema Journal. 47 (2008). 48-65.

Burns, Bradford. “The Latin American Film, Realism, and the Historian.” The History Teacher. 6 (1973) 569-574.

Burton, Julianne. Cinema and Social Change in Latin America. Austin: University of Texas  Press, 1986.

Encyclopædia Britannica.Latin American literature.” 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online 23 Nov. 2009 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/331811/Latin-American-literature.

 González Echevarria, Roberto and Enrique Pupo- Walker. The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature: Discovery to modernism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1996

Grenier, Yvon. “The politics of art and literature in Latin America.” Canadian Journal of Latin  American and Caribbean Studies. 62 (2006): 245-259.

Menton, Seymour. “Jorge Luis Borges, Magic realist.” Hispanic Review. 50 (1982): 411-426.

 Price, Greg. Latin America: The Writer’s Journey. London: Penguin Group, 1990.

Rogers, Elizabeth, and Timothy Rogers. In Retrospect: Essays on Latin American Literature.

South Carolina: Spanish Literature Publication Company, 1987.

Stock, Ann Marie. Framing Latin American Cinema: Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1997.

This entry was posted in Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Luis Buñuel, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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