The last 12 months were a kind of annus horribilis for Argentine cinema, both artistically and commercially. With very few exceptions, local releases didn’t make a dime at the box office and they were not invited to the main competitions of the biggest international festivals. Not surprisingly, the American Cinematheque’s annual program of “New Argentine Cinema” is a reminder of just what a bad year this was. Some of the exceptions are here, including Born and Bred, the fourth film directed by Pablo Trapero and a comeback after the artistic failure of his previous Rolling Family. For Trapero, whose Crane World remains one of the key works of the New Argentine Cinema, this spare and dense movie is both a step forward and a return to his roots. Rich in its visual compositions and touching in a way Trapero’s earlier films haven’t been, Born and Bred is a small, introspective story — about a father who flees to Patagonia after an accident that may have killed his wife and daughter — in which the bleak images convey the main character’s confused feelings and anguished state of mind. Lucia Puenzo’s XXY and renowned actor Ricardo Darín’s directorial debut The Signal are this year’s most-nominated Argentine films by the local Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; both, however, are far from great cinema. Puenzo’s film (which is also Argentina’s official foreign-language Oscar entry) offers an intriguing but very topical story about a hermaphrodite teenager (the great Inés Efron) and his/her family trying to come to terms with the situation. The Signal, meanwhile, is a well-executed but strictly by-the-numbers film noir — set in Buenos Aires during the 1950s — about two detectives and their relationship with a brunette femme fatale. (In addition to starring in his own film, Darín also plays the important supporting role of the father in XXY.) Another film of some interest, especially for fans of German expressionism, is The Aerial, a somewhat failed yet always fascinating experiment by Esteban Sapir (director of 1994’s obscure but very influential Picado Fino). Another exercise in style, The Aerial tells the story of a rebellion in a retro-futuristic city in which people have been robbed of their voices. About the rest of this year’s New Argentine Cinema program, the less said the better. Or, to put it in other words: Don’t even bother. (American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre; thru Sun., Nov. 18. www.americancinematheque.com.)
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