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Argentine Cinema and National Identity (1966-1976)$

Carolina Rocha

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786940544

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781786940544.001.0001

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Argentine Cinema in the Late 1950s and Early 1960s

Argentine Cinema in the Late 1950s and Early 1960s

(p.27) Chapter 2 Argentine Cinema in the Late 1950s and Early 1960s
Argentine Cinema and National Identity (1966-1976)

Carolina Rocha

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Relying on Valentina Vitali and Paul Willemen’s statement that ‘both as an industry and a discursive practice, cinema is an adjunct of capitalism’ (2006, 7), I explain that to offset competition from American films, the Argentine state persistently sought to protect national film production through several laws, the most crucial of which was Law 62/57. Nevertheless, in the transition from the studio system to independent filmmaking, the Argentine film industry had an uneven success in its attempt to gain a considerable share of the domestic market. Through trial and error, the Argentine state, directors, and producers came up with different solutions to strengthen the production and circulation of national films, which in many cases were resisted by exhibitors and distributors.

Keywords:   Hollywood competition, Law 62/57, Studio system, Independent filmmaking

The following examination of Argentine cinema is guided by Valentina Vitali and Paul Willemen’s statement that ‘both as an industry and a discursive practice, cinema is an adjunct of capitalism’ (2006, 7). One important consideration to bear in mind is that during this period Argentine cinema did not enjoy a hegemonic position even domestically, since it competed with Hollywood films. To offset this competition, the Argentine state persistently sought to protect national film production through several laws, the most crucial of which was Law 62/57. Nevertheless, in the transition from the studio system to independent filmmaking, the Argentine film industry enjoyed uneven success in its attempt to gain a considerable share of the domestic market. Through trial and error, the state, directors, and producers came up with different solutions to strengthening the production and circulation of national films, which in many cases were resisted by exhibitors and distributors. Nevertheless, during this period, cinema constituted an important part of Argentine cultural life, as is evident in the opinions and debates that it generated. To understand the challenges and strengths of Argentine cinema, it is necessary to begin in the mid-1950s.

Around the middle of that decade, the regulation of Argentine cinema changed dramatically. The state allowed the entrance of unlimited foreign films even though Law 16,688 of 1950 stipulated the exhibition of national films for 26 weeks per year and left the remaining 26 weeks to the screening of foreign films (Kriger, 2009, 61–67). This legislation had two unexpected outcomes: one was a decrease in cinema attendance among the Argentine public (Falicov 2007, 29); the other, closely related to the diminishing audiences, was the bankruptcy of many Argentine studios that had financed and produced films in the previous decades; only a handful—Argentina Sono Film, Artistas Argentinos Asociados, and General Belgrano—remained in business (Maranghello, 1984, 94). Other factors that negatively affected the Argentine film industry were the considerable increase in production costs, the loss of other markets, and competition with foreign films (‘La producción,’ 1966, 93).1 In addition, the Revolución libertadora adversely impacted film production as it emphasized a climate of disorientation, made even more (p.28) pronounced by tensions between Peronists and anti-Peronists (Martínez, 1961, 13). To counter these problems, in December 1955, Law 12,999 of 1947 was briefly enforced until a new cinema law was crafted.

The new law promulgated in 1957, Law 62/57 or 12,909, constituted a fundamental piece of legislation for an industry that was facing fierce rivalry from foreign cinemas. In the first place, this law—passed under a military government—provided a framework for freedom of expression in accordance to the rights listed in the Constitution. But Law 12,909 defined cinema in a comprehensive way as an industry, a business, an art form, a means of communication, and an educational medium (Maranghello, 2005, 218). It also established the NIC. Another positive effect of the 1957 law was the creation of a system of subsidies and loans for film production, which ‘by providing as much as 50 per cent of the production costs of national productions, […] allowed directors to become their own producers and stimulated a series of independent productions’ (López, 1988, 101). According to Claudio España, Law 62/57 allowed the emergence of the producer-director who could lead his own project and was usually joined by an assistant producer (2005, 21).

The funds to promote national cinema, which came from a 10% tax that was added to the price of a movie ticket, dramatically increased national film production. Table 1 shows the way in which film production rebounded after its lowest point in 1957.

Table 1: Films Produced 1957–1967


Number of Argentine films























Source: Mariano Calistro, 1984: 114.

The new law also encouraged the exhibition of national films, among other measures, but this requirement, which had been implemented since 1948, was staunchly opposed by film exhibitors. Screening Argentine films left them (p.29) less time to show lucrative foreign films, leading to loss of revenue. Countries such as Mexico and France also protested the preference given to Argentine films, as they felt it was detrimental to their own cinemas. Nonetheless, this aspect of the law was supported by representatives of the different political parties, who agreed on the need to protect Argentine film production after the negative impact of the policies of the early 1950s. Finally, awards were also created to promote the industry.

A consistent and pronounced increase in national film production allowed certain directors to maintain continuity in their oeuvre. Leopoldo Torre Nilsson (1924–1978) and Fernando Ayala (1920–1997) were two filmmakers who benefitted from state support and were active in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Torre Nilsson, son of Leopoldo Torres Ríos (1899–1960), who had steadily written and produced films since the 1920s, shot several films in the late 1950s and early 1960s: Graciela (1956), El protegido [The Protected] (1956), El secuestrador [The Kidnapper] (1958), La caida [The Fall] (1959), Fin de fiesta [The Party is Over] (1960), Un guapo del 900 [A Bully in 1900s] (1960) which, according to critic José Agustín Mahieu, showed ‘una pauta de la madurez y las posibilidades inéditas de este realizador’ [a sign of the maturity and unusual possibilities of this filmmaker] (1965, 7), La mano en la trampa [The Hand in the Trap] (1961), and Piel de verano [Summer Skin] (1961). Torre Nilsson’s 1962 films, Setenta veces siete [The Female: Seventy Times Seven] and Homenaje a la hora de la siesta [Four Women for One Man], were selected to represent Argentina at the Venice and Cannes film festivals, respectively, but for the reviewer of Tiempo de cine, they were not worthy of selection (Salgado, 1962, 32). In general, Torre Nilsson’s films, which thematized the fall of the bourgeoisie (Martínez, 1961, 35) and were based on scripts written in collaboration with either his wife Beatriz Guido (1922–1988) or other screenwriters, made him an indisputable leader among young Argentine directors and earned him a well-deserved reputation abroad. In the early 1960s, he also financed the second feature-length film of David José Kohon (1919–2004), Prisioneros de una noche [Prisoners of One Night] (1962).2

Another filmmaker who became a key figure was Fernando Ayala. Like Torre Nilsson, Ayala was also very prolific, writing, producing, and directing one film per year between 1955 and 1960. Writing in the early 1960s, film critic Tomás Eloy Martínez said that Ayala’s cinematography was characterized by attention to both industrial and artistic demands as well as a political middle-ground stance (1961, 15). These features were evident in the films he directed in 1955–1964: Ayer fue primavera [Yesterday was Springtime] (1955) and the productions of Aries—a company co-founded with his friend, director Héctor Olivera—El jefe [The Boss] (1958), El candidato [The Candidate] (1959), both written in collaboration with David Viñas (1927–2011), and Paula Cautiva [Captive Paula] (1963), this last based on an adaptation of Beatriz Guido’s short story ‘The Representation.’3 Of those films, El jefe (1958) was the first Argentine film to receive funds after the passing of Law 62/57. It had a good (p.30) critical reception, earning three Silver Condors—Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor (for Alberto de Mendoza)—the most prestigious awards of the Argentine Film Critics Association. Based on a short story by Viñas, El jefe presents the fraudulent activities of a gang leader, Berger (Alberto de Mendoza), who rules his associates with an iron fist and psychological manipulation. Set against the same background of political volatility as El jefe, Paula Cautiva is a love story between Paula Peña (Susana Freire), a member of the traditional landed elite, and Carlos Sutton (Duilio Marzio), an Argentine who migrated to the United States and briefly returns to Argentina on a business trip. The film addresses the issue of what kind of country Argentina is and how Argentines present it to foreigners. Considered by Claudio España as Ayala’s best film, Paula Cautiva won a Silver Condor for Best Film. While Ayala’s and Torre Nilsson’s films received commercial and critical acclaim, another filmmaker was pushing boundaries in his depiction of national issues.

Fernando Birri (1925–) proposed a more radical way of understanding cinema and its social function. In 1962, he outlined his vision for a kind of filmmaking that would portray the underdevelopment of Latin American countries, aspiring to create

un cine que los desarrolle. Un cine que les dé conciencia, toma de conciencia; que los esclarezca; que fortalezca la conciencia revolucionaria de aquellos que ya la tienen, que los fervorice, que inquiete, preocupe, asuste, debilite a los que tienen ‘mala conciencia’ […] que defina perfiles nacionales, latinoamericanos, que sea auténtico, que sea antioligárquico, antiburgués en el orden nacional y anticolonial y antimperialista en el orden internacional.

[a cinema that would develop them. A cinema that would give them awareness, that would enlighten them, that would strengthen the revolutionary conscience of those who have it, that would mobilize them, that would disturb, concern, frighten them, that would weaken those who have a ‘guilty conscience’ (…) that would define national and Latin American profiles, that would be authentic, that would be anti-oligarchy, anti-bourgeoisie in the national order, and anticolonial and anti-imperialist in the international order]

(‘Cine,’ 1962, 1)

Birri believed that cinema was an ideal instrument with which to mobilize the poor masses and create a national and regional movement that would bring an end to the privilege of the upper and middle classes. According to John King, for Birri ‘the enemies were North-American imperialism, multinational capital, the seamless diegesis of Hollywood cinema, the fragmentation caused by neo-colonialism’ (1990, 68). Later in the decade his vision would serve as a powerful inspiration for other filmmakers, such as Octavio Getino (1935–2012), Fernando Solanas (1936–), and Gerardo Vallejo (1942–2007).

(p.31) State support for film production stimulated the emergence of two types of filmmakers. The first type were independent producers, such as José Martínez Suárez (1925–), known for El Crack (1960) and Dar la cara [Responsibility] (1962); Manuel Antín (1926–), La cifra impar [Odd Number] (1962) and Los venerables todos [The Venerable Ones] (1963); and actor turned director Lautaro Murúa (1926–1995), Shunko (1960) and Alias Gardelito [Alias Big Shot] (1961).4 Both Murúa and Antín adapted literary texts and worked closely with writers: Murúa with Jorge Abalos, Antín with Augusto Roa Bastos and Julio Cortázar. The second type of filmmakers, known as ‘the Generation of 1960’, encompassed directors born in the late 1910s and early 1920s who modernized narrative styles, among them Simón Feldman (1922–2015), who made El negoción [The Big Business] (1959) and Los de la mesa 10 [Those of Table 10] (1960); David José Kohon (1919–2004), director of Tres veces Ana [Three Times Ana] (1961) and Prisioneros de una noche; and Rodolfo Kuhn (1934–1987), Los jóvenes viejos [The Old Young People] (1962) and Los inconstantes [The Inconstant] (1962).5 On one hand, ‘the Generation of 1960’ shared similar professional trajectories: many began their career doing shorts and then moved to feature-length films (Falicov, 2007, 31). They were seen as proponents of auteriste cinema, that is to say, films following the French nouvelle vague of the 1950s, in which the director’s perspective prevailed. One of the most common critiques against this group was their imitation of foreign trends.6 On the other hand, ‘the Generation of 1960’ was not formally organized. One of its members, Simón Feldman, who had studied in France in the early 1950s, highlighted the group’s common traits despite the lack of a manifesto (1990, 50). Even though film critics referred to them as the ‘Generation of 1960,’ for Calistro, these directors resisted being grouped together as part of the same movement, only sharing the strategy of making low-cost films, and thus taking advantage of the credit lines available after the passing of Law 62/57. They also aimed to win awards at international film festivals as a way to attract domestic audiences (1984, 122). Nonetheless, Jorge Sala judiciously notes that some of the films of this generation presented formal innovations that ushered in cinematic modernity in Argentina, that is to say, they constituted a break with film narratives of the classic period (1930–1950).7 This stylistic renovation brought about a new optimism that was reflected, for instance, in a workshop organized by the Cultural Activities Department of the University of Buenos Aires and in an article, ‘Jornadas de nuevo cine argentino,’ that appeared in Tiempo de cine, a publication of the Cine Club (1961, 8). Yet, the films of the nuevo cine argentino failed to attract local Argentine cinemagoers. Many reasons contributed to this weak reception of films in the early 1960s.

The early 1960s saw a shift in the consumption of audiovisual products. First, an economic recession in 1960 and 1961 emptied Argentine movie theaters of viewers. Second, the first TV channels started to broadcast, enticing the public who used to frequent movie theaters—that is to say, those with disposable incomes—to buy a TV set. In a piece published in Tiempo (p.32) de cine in 1961, writer-director Adolfo Lavarello foretold the consequences of broader audiovisual options:

A mediados de 1962 entrarán en funcionamiento más de 30 canales de televisión en el interior del país […], pero, el verdadero impacto para el cine será para esa fecha. ¿Cómo lo afrontarán los exhibidores? No es muy difícil la respuesta, conociendo un poco al país: Con un mínimo de salas con refrigeración o calefacción, muchas con equipos viejos, butacas incómodas y locales inhóspitos. Tampoco es muy aventurado predecir quien será la cabeza de turco frente a las salas vacías; el tan vejado, incomprendido y desconocido cine nacional.

[In mid-1962 more than 30 channels will begin broadcasting within the country (…), but the true impact for cinema will [become clear] around that date. How will the exhibitors face it? Knowing the country a bit, the answer is not very difficult: since a minimum of theaters have air conditioning or heating, and many have old equipment, uncomfortable seating, and inhospitable theaters, it is not too adventurous to predict who will be the sacrificial victim facing the empty theaters—the highly criticized, misunderstood, and unknown national cinema] (14)

Lavarello was correct in pointing out the impact of greater audiovisual choice, particularly if we consider that several films produced in the early 1960s—Misión 52 [Mission 52] (Mario Sábato, 1962), Mi novia es otra [My Girlfriend is Someone Else] (Jean Jeabelli, 1962), Disloque en Mar del Plata [Chaos in Mar del Plata] (Conrado Diana, 1964), and Sombras en el cielo [Shadows in the Sky] (Juan Berend, 1964), among others—were not immediately released and some even remained unshown. Others were classified as B-films, thus not qualifying for release in respectable movie theaters. Yet others were co-productions that were never finished. Nevertheless, the state once again intervened in favour of national cinema.

Several actions were taken to encourage the consumption of national cinema, but received uneven support from the different stakeholders. First, a new piece of legislation was passed in 1960. Law 14,226 required the inclusion of ‘live performance,’ that is to say, short plays in which local actors performed. This stipulation was not new—Law 14,226 had also this requirement. It was strongly resisted by exhibitors as they were not allowed to pass the costs of the live performances onto the price of the movie tickets. Cine Callao defied Law 14,226, stating that it violated the right of freedom of business and property and that its facilities were not suitable for the type of performance ordered by the law. This movie theater was fined for refusing to provide the required live performances and threatened with closure. Acting on behalf of Cine Callao, the Sociedad Argentina Cinematográfica challenged in court the law’s legitimacy, which was upheld in a 5-to-1 decision which cited the state’s right to protect the unemployed, in this case actors (De Maio, 2010, non. pag.). This lawsuit exposed the tensions that protectionist (p.33) legislation generated among film exhibitors.8 Two other measures designed to protect the film industry met with the resistance of exhibitors’ and the public alike. The first was Decree 2979/63, which established that one national film had to be released for every six foreign ones. This requirement was far from being either new or radical: the obligation to show a national film for every three foreign ones was established in 1951. Moreover, Decree 2979/63 did not differ substantially from similar laws. In Spain, for instance, the exhibition of a national film was needed for every four foreign ones (Calistro, 1984, 128). Nonetheless, thanks to the pressure of US distributors, the decree was not enforced in Argentina (Falicov, 2007, 34). Years later, in 1966, a different tactic was deployed to encourage the exhibition of domestic films: the NIC awarded cash prizes to the three movie theaters that showed Argentine films the longest—from 1,500,000 pesos for first place to 500,000 for third place. Thus, the policy of mandating the exhibition of domestic films was replaced by a less interventionist approach. The second measure that proved controversial was the classification of national films into A category (films whose exhibition in Argentina was mandatory and could be sent abroad) or B category (elective exhibition). This classification, which derived from Law 12,909 (aka 62/57) aimed both to select films according to quality and increase the market share of national films, which in 1961 amounted to only 5% (López, 1988b, 58).9 While there was consensus that the state’s protection of the national film industry was certainly necessary, what caused divisions and tensions were the policies that favored Argentine directors and actors but were detrimental to local exhibitors. Other reasons for the decline of film releases from 32 in 1962 to 27 in 1963 included, according to journalist Antonio Salgado, high production costs, the implementation of censorship, the filmmakers’ divorce from the national audience, and ignorance of the demands of this art (1964, 49). Therefore, around the mid-1960s, opinion articles and surveys showed a concern about the direction and place of Argentine cinema within the national culture.

Even though by 1964 national film production had reached its highest point of the period 1957–1967, there was a sense that Argentine film still needed to attain certain important goals. In 1964, the audience in the cinemas of Buenos Aires numbered 24,046,800, while in 1960 there had been 45,101,100 spectators. This drop of nearly 45% in just four years, which affected both foreign and Argentine films, spoke to an industry facing important challenges. Second, and correponding to decreasing audiences, there were fewer movie theaters (195 in 1960 versus 154 in 1964) as many were forced to close (‘Agoniza’ 1969, 17). Consequently, Ideal Dománico, manager of the Hindu movie theater located in downtown Buenos Aires, alluded to the pending goal for Argentine cinema: attracting local audiences to ensure film showings at movie theaters (‘Cine argentino versus,’ 1965, 49). Besides capturing local spectators, the training of filmmakers was a pressing issue that would be partially solved by the creation of the Film School in 1966. In an interview, seasoned director Torre Nilsson highlighted the (p.34) fact that the authorities of the NIC prioritized the ‘fondo de recuperación industrial’ [industrial recuperation fund] and prizes for films without paying attention to the formation of young filmmakers. Explaining that weakness of the law, he held that ‘cuando llegó el momento de darles elementos a las nuevas generaciones, éstas llegaron con inspiración, con grandes posibilidades, pero tuvieron que depender de la gente de la industria que tenía el oficio’ [when the moment came to give the elements to the new generations, they arrived with inspiration, with great possibilities, but had to depend on the people in the industry who had experience] (Salgado, 1965, 4). Torre Nilsson was referring to the Generation of 1960, whose creative energy could not be sustained.

Although the Generation of 1960 had limitations, Alfredo Grassi, controller of the NIC between 1964 and 1966, argued for a hopeful outlook for Argentine cinema. In a 1965 editorial in Revista de cine, the NIC’s publication, Grassi held that ‘afirmar que el cine argentino enfrenta hoy un panorama alentador no significa pecar de optimismo’ [to state that Argentine cinema faces today an encouraging outlook is not to err on the side of optimism] (‘Sin pecar,’ 1965, 2). While he admitted that problems still existed, he remarked that ‘ha habido, a partir de 1964, una reactivación de la industria. Se ha salido de un estado de crisis y se ha vencido el espíritu de inercia y frustración’ [since 1964, there has been a reactivation of the industry. We have come out of a state of crisis and we have defeated the spirit of inertia and frustration] (‘Sin pecar,’ 1965, 2). Indeed, on one hand, Argentine cinema saw technical advances. For example, Eastmancolor was first introduced in the country at this time, and in 1965, many of the films released (45.69%), were in color, reaching an all-time high. In addition, reports about the NIC’s initiatives revealed the positive reception of free cinema classes (with a total of 736 students, 65% of whom were men aged 25–30), mentoring for scriptwriting, and the presentation of 180 scripts for four prizes (Grassi, 1965, 60). Furthermore, in 1965, Argentine film production was able to rebound with two types of film.10 The first type was comedies; three became smashing box office successes: Fiebre de primavera [Spring Fever] (Enrique Carreras, 1965), Bicho raro [Strange Bug] (Carlos Rinaldi, 1965), and La mujer del zapatero [The Shoemaker’s Wife] (Armando Bó, 1965). The second group encompassed artistic and experimental films, such as Pajarito Gómez (Rodolfo Kuhn, 1965), which was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Fifteenth Berlin Film festival, and won the Youth Film Award; Nadie oyó gritar a Cecilio Fuentes [Nobody Heard Cecilio Fuentes Scream] (Fernando Siro, 1965), which received a Silver Seashell at the San Sebastian Film Festival; and Crónica de un niño solo [Chronicle of a Boy Alone] (Leonardo Favio, 1965), which won a Silver Condor for Best Film and the FIPRESCI at the Mar del Plata Film Festival.11 Of particular importance among these award-winning films is Crónica, Favio’s debut, which was shot in black and white and dedicated to Torre Nilsson. The film narrates the story of Polín (Diego Puente), a boy who runs away from an orphanage where children are verbally and physically (p.35) abused.12 According to Miguel Ángel Rosado, Favio’s film ‘logra mantenerse en un plano de humanidad y calidez, manejándose con sobriedad más que elogiable’ [manages to stay on a plane of humanity and warmth, displaying a more than praiseworthy sobriety] (‘Crónica,’ 1965, 3). Favio, a Peronist, had spent part of his childhood in an orphanage similar to the one seen in the film.13 In an interview, he mentioned that during Peronism, childhood was protected and child abuse punished, and thus the harsh society in which Polín moves is non-Peronist.14

Despite the success of this handful of films, debate about the present and future of Argentine cinema involved different stakeholders. The opinions that appeared in the first issue of Revista de cine mentioned Argentina’s cinematic mission of depicting national topics. Lawyer Bernardo Biederman, young scenographer Federico Padilla, writer Fermín Estrella Gutiérrez, member of the Cine Club Argentino Emilio Werner, and director Lucas Demare, among others, argued that Argentine cinema should concern itself with national events and topics as a way to find a unique market niche with its own features and style. Directors Mario Soffici and José Martínez Suárez agreed that Argentine cinema should strive to improve Argentine society and all aspects of its citizens’ lives, while professor Oscar Nicolás Schiaritti declared that the current range of themes had little variation. For their part, writers Ulises Petit de Murat and Augusto Roa Bastos referred to the specific problems faced by screenwriters. Finally, Armando Bó noted that films had to interest the public (‘¿A dónde va?’, 1965, 4–5). The debate continued in the second issue of Revista de cine, which carried a lengthy editorial by writer Ernesto Sábato (1911–2011), who expressed dissatisfaction at the current situation:

Creo en el futuro de nuestro cine. Hay mucha gente joven con talento, mucha gente joven a punto de madurar para un cine adulto para un cine que sepa indagar la condición del hombre argentino de hoy. Para mí, el dilema del actual cine argentino es éste: por un lado, su origen vinculado al sainete (género muy respetable, por cierto), al teatro de revistas y a otros quehaceres similares. Se trata de un cine hecho por hombres inquietos, a veces grandes intuitivos, pero carentes del bagaje estético que posibilita la auténtica creación artística. Por otro lado, tenemos un cine excesivamente culto refinado hasta el artificio, que peca a veces de cerebralismo y de otras de esteticismo, bloqueando, si así puede decirse, la expresión más genuina del artista. Llegaremos a la mayoría de edad cuando estas dos corrientes se fundan.

[I believe in the future of our cinema. There are many young people with talent, many young people ready for an adult cinema, for a cinema that knows how to interrogate the conditions of today’s Argentine man. For me, the current dilemma of Argentine cinema is this: on one hand, its origin related to the vaudeville (certainly, a very respectable genre), to a theater with sexual innuendo and sociopolitic critique, and other similar matters. It is a question of a cinema made by restless men, sometimes very (p.36) intuitive, but lacking the aesthetic baggage that makes possible authentic artistic creation. On the other hand, we have a cinema that is excessively refined in its artifices, that sometimes has too much rationalism and sometimes too much aestheticism, blocking, if we may say so, the most genuine expression of the artist. We will be of age when these two trends coalesce]

(‘Hace falta,’ 1966, 6)

Sábato’s views showed a lack of conformity with the two variants of Argentine cinema: the popular and aestheticized, those films that appealed to the domestic audience and those that were well-crafted but lacked spectators. Two interrelated points are noteworthy here. First, Sábato’s opinion piece reveals the epochal impression that Argentine cinema was about to come of age—a notion akin to the idea of developmentalism and modernization en vogue in Argentina since the mid-1950s. Second, Sábato’s words express his faith in the potential of domestic filmmakers to cater to the ‘hombre argentino de hoy’ [Argentine man of the time], which I interpret, following Podalsky, as the urban, middle-class population that consumed films. It is worth briefly pausing to unpack the factors to which Sábato was reacting in his piece.

Sábato, who sometimes moonlighted as a film critic, provided a comprehensive and candid assessment of Argentine cinema in the 1960s. First, he criticized a type of cinema that was oriented toward entertainment, particularly the fictional, unproblematic world of comedies, a genre that directors such as Enrique Carreras (1925–1995) and Fernando Siro (1931–2006) cultivated. These directors, who were both producers and scriptwriters, relied on simple scripts and popular local actors, such as Luis Sandrini (1905–1980), Juan Carlos Altavista (1929–1989), and singer Ramón ‘Palito’ Ortega (1942–), and equated enjoyable entertainment to a good business formula (Kuhn, 1986). Carreras may well have been one of the ‘restless men’ described by Sábato, as he usually directed three or four films per year and had a prolific production throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Although light and musical comedies were popular and appeased exhibitors because they generated profits, this type of filmmaking was not deemed a good role model for other Argentine films because of their limited circulation outside the national borders. Second, the term ‘excessively refined cinema’ may have referred to the adaptation of national and international literary works due to the lack of professional scriptwriters in Argentina. Like Sábato, Calistro considered that this trend amounted to an intellectualization of cinema whose reception among Argentine cinemagoers was uneven (1984, 118). Third, the complaint of ‘too much aestheticism’ could well have been a critique of the New Argentine Cinema that received awards at foreign festivals but was denied a warm acceptance in Argentina.

Besides the division between artistic and experimental, other areas of the film industry also needed improvement. First on the list was the number of Argentine films produced. An editorial in Siete Días presented a bleak outlook compared with past achievements: ‘56 películas en 1942, 22 en 1966 en un (p.37) ¼ de siglo, la industria cinematográfica contrajo su producción a niveles inferiores al 50%’ [56 films in 1942, 22 in 1966; in a quarter of a century, the film industry’s production shrank by more than 50%] (‘¿Arte o industria?’, 1967, 53). Second, not all films could be screened. In its first issue of 1966, El heraldo del cinematografista reported that 348 films were released in 1965 (108 fewer than in 1964), of which only 30 were Argentine, amounting to 8.62% of the domestic market (‘En 1965,’ 1966, 12). The wait for some films to be premiered continued in 1966, with 14 (a little over 30% of the Argentine films released that year) produced before 1964 (‘Películas producidas,’ 1966, 70).15 Moreover, as Table 2 shows, the three highest-grossing foreign films earned a total of over 124 million pesos while the three highest-grossing Argentine films earned a total of 6 million pesos, less than 5% of the total domestic market share.

Table 2: Total Box Office Takings by September 10, 1966


Box office takings (pesos)

The Sound of Music


Do Not Disturb


Dr. Zhivago


Del brazo y por la calle


Castigo al traidor


El ojo que espía


Source: El heraldo, 21 September 1966: 381.

Political instability also impacted the Argentine film industry. At the end of July 1966, the civilian authorities were once again forcefully removed. Shortly after the military coup, Julio Godoy, production head and participant in the cinemateca of the official TV Channel 7, along with a group of armed civilians and several policemen, occupied the site of the NIC claiming that some employees had removed papers from the institution. This event showed the dissatisfaction of some sectors with the leadership of the institute and challenged Grassi’s direction of the NIC. Consequently, he was first replaced by Colonel Oscar Vedoya from July 1–13, 1966 and later by Lt. Colonel Ridruejo, who took over the NIC as a general administrator.16 Despite the change in authorities, an editorial detailed the persistent problems of the institute:

En 10 años de existencia, el INC tuvo 9 presidentes o interventores: ninguno alcanzó a completar el mandato de 3 años. Ninguno de ellos logró atacar dos problemas básicos: 1) la creación de una empresa de estilo Pel-Mex que obtenga mercados de compradores para nuestras (p.38) películas 2) enfrentar con decisión la política crudamente mercantilista de los exhibidores que favorecen el drenaje constante de divisas mediante la importación indiscriminada de filmes extranjeros.

[In its ten years of existence, the NIC had nine presidents or auditors: none was able to complete his three-year term. None managed to tackle two basic problems: 1) the creation of a company similar to Pel-Mex that obtains markets for our films; 2) decisively challenge the exhibitors’ extreme mercantilist policy, which favors the constant drainage of currency through the indiscriminate import of foreign films]

(‘Proceso al cine,’ 1966, 53)

These comments illustrate the main challenges facing the Argentine film industry: how to reach wider domestic and foreign audiences.

Although the editorial was not particularly optimistic, certain steps were taken to advance Argentine film abroad given that the total population of Argentina, at a little over 22 million people in 1965, did not constitute a large enough market to recuperate film costs. Alfredo Grassi was a staunch proponent of the idea that Argentine cinema not only was a product for domestic consumption, but he also thought filmmakers needed to think of viewers beyond the national borders: ‘podemos tener un cine […] recibido con benéplacito entre nosotros, pero que al no intentar lo captación de otros espectadores fuere de los límites del país terminará desnutriéndose hasta tornarse híbrido’ [we could have a (…) well-received cinema at home but, given that it does not seek to attract other spectators beyond our country’s borders, it will end up lacking nourishment until becoming a hybrid] (‘Conformarnos,’ 1966, 1). Several initiatives were implemented to expand film collaborations. First, the NIC commissioned Miguel Ángel Rieta to tour Latin American countries; in his report, Rieta strongly advised the NIC to become the distributor of Argentine films abroad (‘El cine argentino en Latinoamérica,’ 1966, 90). Second, in August 1965, Grassi signed a friendly agreement with Spain as a first step in the process of paving the way for a new cinema treaty that would unite both countries and encourage the making and circulation of co-produced films. In addition, in order to encourage cinematic exchanges, Pío Cabanillas, the Spanish representative, and Grassi approved the establishment of a provisional quota for the circulation of Spanish films in Argentina and Argentine films in Spain. The formal agreement was signed later when Grassi and José María García Escudero, Director General of Spanish Cinematography and Theater, came up with a table that specified the percentages of each country’s contributions, and was approved by the Unión del Cine Hispano-Americano [Union of Hispanic American Cinema] (UCHA) to regulate Spanish-Argentine co-productions (‘Grassi se confiesa,’ 1966, 309). The treaty was hailed as a crucial way not only to establish links with other film-producing countries, but also to develop a cohesive policy of agreements that would benefit Argentine cinema. Third, Argentine cinema was promoted abroad through treaties with other countries. At the end of (p.39) 1965, Argentine filmmaker Rodolfo Kuhn, the Chilean Helvio Soto, and the Brazilian Leon Hirszman met at the film festival in Viña del Mar, Chile to discuss the shooting of a three-episode film with the participation of all three countries. This project strived to pioneer multinational films that would eventually include filmmakers from Perú, Venezuela, and Mexico (‘El cine argentino en Latinoamérica,’ 1966, 89). Fourth, in January 1966, an Advisory Commission for the International Promotion of Argentine Cinema made up of members of the NIC and representatives of producers (Luis Mentasti), directors (Román Viñoly Barreto and Rodolfo Kuhn), and actors (Susana Freyre and Nathán Pinzón) was created (‘Comisión,’ 1966, 22). Fifth, in March 1966, another agreement, allowing the exhibition of Argentine films as if they were national films (without paying taxes as other foreign films did), was signed with representatives of Chile. Furthermore, an informal pact with France was reached to intensify filmic exchanges between the two countries. These treaties contributed to raising awareness that the development of Argentine cinema entailed a diversification of the national production which, without sacrificing quality, would also aim to perform well among foreign audiences. Sixth, in June 1966, the NIC selected 11 films from 1965 and 1966—mostly comedies and dramas—for the semanas de cine argentino [Weeks of Argentine Cinema] to be held in Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, and Venezuela (‘Semanas,’ 1966, 17). While the promotion of Argentine cinema abroad was important, the main focus was its performance in the domestic market. In the following ten years, three cinema laws were passed by military governments. In addition, in 1968 a law regulating film censorhip was also approved, and would remain in effect until 1994. Next, I analyze Argentine cinema during the military governments of Onganía, Levingston, and Lanusse.


(1) According to Maranghello, in 1956, 576 foreign films were released in Argentina (‘Cine,’ 2005, 221).

(2) Kohon also directed Tres veces Ana [Three Times Ana] (1961), Los jóvenes viejos [Young Old People] (1961), Los inconstantes [The Inconstant] (1962).

(3) For Armando Rapallo, Captive Paula and The Boss were Ayala’s best films (1993, 19).

(4) Alias Gardelito garnered two awards from the Argentine Association of Film Critics: Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Shunko received two Silver Condors for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film awarded by the Argentine Association of Film Critics, and the Best Film Prize at the Mar del Plata Film Festival.

(5) Ana López calls the Generation of 1960 ‘nueva ola’ [new wave] (1987, 56–57) and John King ‘new wave’ (1990, 82).

(6) In his review of Homenaje a la hora de la siesta, Antonio Salgado compared it with La dolce vita and Heroica by Andrzej Munk (1962, 32).

(p.40) (7) Jorge Sala states of Los jóvenes viejos that ‘la presentación del filme pone ya sobre la palestra la reflexión sobre el tipo de relato que se dará a ver al espectador’ [the film’s presentation brings to the fore the reflection about the type of story that the spectator will see] (2012, 8).

(8) Cinema in this period was plagued by lawsuits. For instance, in 1964 Pierre Bruno Hugo Fontana, aka Hugo del Carril, an actor who had been associated with Peronism, sued the NIC for his removal from the group representing Argentina at the Acapulco Film Festival in 1964 (‘Niégase,’ 1966, non. pag.).

(9) This classification had been used in the early 1950s. For more on this, please see Kriger (2009, 75).

(10) Ana Laura Lusnich refers to the industrial and independent modes of production and circulation (2011, 25).

(11) Favio began his cinematographic career in 1957 as an actor in Enrique Carreras’s El ángel de España [Spain’s Angel] and worked on many of Leopoldo Torre Nilsson’s films.

(12) Favio, who also wrote the script of Crónica, states that ‘mis personajes brotan de mi realidad’ [my characters stem from my reality] (Schettini, 1995, 90).

(13) In an interview, Favio stated that ‘yo soy un peronista instintivo porque yo fui uno de los que recibió una pelota cuando era chico’ [I am an instinctive Peronist because I was one of those who got a ball when I was a child] (Nahmias, 2005, 160).

(14) There is a diegetic reference to the action taking place on July 26, 1963.

(15) One of those films, an Argentine-American co-production entitled Extraña invasión [Stay Tuned for Terror] directed by Emilio Vieyra, would only be released in 1974.

(16) Grassi personified the modernizing zeitgeist of the 1960s. In a March 1966 article in Revista de cine published by the NIC, Grassi explained his concept of Argentine cinema: ‘cine planificado, cine pensado, cine hecho después de estudiar mercados […] cine para el país. Cine para una América Latina de habla hispana que espera deseosa y algo decepcionada la consagración definitiva de un arte que en algún tiempo tuvo resonancia y predicamento […]. Queremos un cine representativo de nuestro acervo, un cine que interese, un cine con estilo.’ [a planned cinema, a well-thought-out cinema, made after studying the markets […] a cinema for the country. A cinema for a Spanish-speaking Latin America that eagerly and somewhat disappointedly awaits the definitive consecration of an art that once had relevance and prestige. We want a cinema that is representative of our heritage, a cinema that interests people and has style] (1966, 1).