Bringing Suppressed Voices to the Cinema in Argentina

Argentinian filmmaker Lita Stantic. Photo: Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación Argentina, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Over the decades, filmmaking in Argentina, as in many other parts of the world, has traditionally shown viewers a predominantly masculine view of their world, leaving hidden the thoughts, ideas, and emotions of women living in a patriarchal society. But women directors in Argentina, through their films, have found ways to bring repressed ideas to the surface and to give voice to those who have been marginalized in visual media.

Ana Forcinito, Ph.D., professor of Spanish and Portuguese Studies in the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts, explores in an upcoming book how women filmmakers in Argentina from the 1980s to the present have used cinema to express thoughts, ideas, and emotions normally hidden from Argentinian film. Óyeme con los ojos: Cine, mujeres, visiones y voces (Listen to Me with Your Eyes: Cinema, Women, Vision and Voice) delves into the work of 10 female filmmakers to demonstrate how a wide range of female voices—those that are strong and articulated, but also those that are very difficult to hear or understand as well as those that are revealed in cries, distortions of the voice, whispers, and gasps—all disrupt the visual images and tell us another story, a story that usually remains unheard.

“Feminist theories of film claim that women are represented mostly as objects, and if they are not objectified, they are many times represented as women who are disobedient, manipulative, or immoral and therefore in a very negative way. In addition, their perspectives are never there,” Forcinito said. “Yet, when a director emphasizes women as subjects of their own vision, these images might show us a very different view. What I found in these films was that the use of the voice plays a central role in the attempt to subvert the dominant visual representations associated with the patriarchal and heterosexist eyes.”

In January, Forcinito received a prestigious literary award for her work from Casa de las Américas, an organization that promotes and awards the work of writers, musicians, sculptors, and other artists and scholars from across Latin America. The organization will publish Forcinito’s book later this year.

According to Forcinito, women filmmakers in Argentina have used their craft to connect audiences with concepts and feelings that were traditionally invisible in male-directed Argentinian cinema. In some cases, these ideas were blocked by marginalization, gender violence, sexism, or homophobia. In others, the ideas could not be articulated, as Forcinito noted, because they don’t translate into the strict grammar of a traditionally masculine language or narrative style.

“These films are not only about trying to give a voice to women, but are also showing the fragility of masculine hegemony, its logic, and its reason,” she said.

Film As a Tool for Expression

The directors in Forcinito’s analysis use different methods for bringing hidden voices into view. For example, María Luisa Bemberg, a renowned filmmaker across Latin America and one of Argentina’s first feminist film directors, grappled with the social and political climate around her as she explored women’s struggles in a patriarchal society, through the exploration of the transcendence of the female voice. While many of her female protagonists are imprisoned or are confined in the house or in the convent, the voice is used to explore vanishing points through which what women have to say will transcend that confinement (including the confinement of the image and of the body).

In contrast, one of the most renowned filmmakers of the present, Lucrecia Martel, has been known by her work on sound and her exploration of the immanence of the voices. In Martel’s films, a feminist or antipatriarchal voice is not linked to women’s access to a transcendent and articulated voice, but instead to marginal voices as the center of the articulation of an unspoken resistance, as when female characters speak certain lines only in whispers, or when the modulations of women’s voices point to the incongruences of social norms about gender. Her films invite us to hear what sometimes seems inaudible, underlying that those more subtle manifestations of the voice are inhabited with a critique of the dominant and articulated discourse.

In her research, Forcinito also taps the historical climate directors experienced to give context to their works. One of the main events influencing Argentine cinematography was the country’s period of military dictatorship from 1976 through the early 1980s, during which the government detained and killed (or “disappeared”) thousands of citizens.

This context plays an especially important role in Forcinito’s discussion of director Albertina Carri, whose documentary Los rubios (The Blonds) chronicles her search for her parents, who were “disappeared” by the government when she was very young. The film is a reconstruction of her own memory  and a recreation of different voices (her own voice, the voice of her parents, the voice of the survivors). All these voices are either lost or displaced and they create a sense of distance and absence between Carri and her parents.

Albertina Carri

For example, while Carri herself is in the film, an actress playing Carri is the one who reads a passage that had been written by Carri’s father. While she appropriates her disappeared father’s words to give them new life through a feminine voice, the channels those words must pass through (in writing and the actress’s voice) to reach the viewer show that they are still distant to Carri herself, but even with that distance, they are able to surface as voices that might be displaced, but are not completely lost.

Understanding the singularity of the voice of those who suffered torture and degrading treatments is also crucial to Lita Stantic, one of the most well-known Argentine producers, when she explores the role that film directors have in the ethical reconstruction of the voices of the victims, staging the extended discussions often held with actresses about their tone when delivering lines and hoping to better capture not just the ideas themselves, but the emotions attached to them.

By helping to bring invisible voices to light, Forcinito said Argentinian women filmmakers have spurred new social discussions that could help transform the way the Argentinians think and talk about concepts like sexism and violence against women.

“The contribution that these women filmmakers are making is not only to show women’s protagonism in a history that becomes more visible because it includes the visions of different women or the creativity of women artists,” she said. “It’s also to expose, in particular when we think in the international reception of these films, that the representation of women in a colonized visual regime is itself a form of violence. And therefore it opens up the question not only about the discussions that these Argentine filmmakers can be promoting in Argentina or in Latin America, but also about the discussions these films might promote in the North, as a cautionary note against interpretations that colonize women of the South, silence them, make them invisible and inaudible. These films and these voices are also disrupting the visions that sometimes the North has about the women in the South, by inviting the spectators to hear not only one voice, but many different voices and modulations.”