FINAL DRAFT – COPYRIGHT CATHERINE GRANT 7 March 2000
This paper was finally published as ‘Intimista Transformations: María Luisa Bemberg’s First Feature Films’, An Argentine Passion: The Films of María Luisa Bemberg ed. John King, Sheila Whittaker and Rosa Bosch (London: Verso, 2000).
MARIA LUISA BEMBERG’S FIRST FEATURE FILMS
Few studies of María Luisa Bemberg’s films have discussed in any detail Momentos (Moments, 1980) and Señora de nadie (Mrs Nobody/Nobody’s Wife, 1982), the first two feature-length films she wrote and directed. Even fewer have mentioned the two early films she scripted. To date, nearly all the writers who have referred to these movies have tended to gloss over them, occasionally remarking that they present stories of similar kinds of female transgression as her later films, while being of little note in other respects. I would argue that it is only when the contexts of these films are considered, and when the films themselves are examined more fully as films, rather than as ‘plots’ to be abstracted, that the achievement they represent can begin to come into focus, along with their continuities with, and differences from, Bemberg’s subsequent work. This, then, is the aim of much of what follows.
A profession of her own
In Buenos Aires in 1971, Victoria Ocampo published the first issue of her internationally-renowned cultural periodical Sur after it had ceased to be a regular publication. The volume was devoted to wide-ranging discussion of the state of womanhood in the world, with particular reference to the ‘second-wave’ feminist movements which were gaining some ground, and much publicity, at the time. This special issue, entitled ‘La mujer’ (‘Woman’), is of interest here because it contains one of the earliest published interventions by María Luisa Bemberg on the subject of feminism that I have been able to trace. Bemberg was one of fifty female luminaries from a variety of different professions and backgrounds in Argentina to whom Ocampo sent questionnaires soliciting opinions on matters such as women’s rights, divorce, sex education, birth control and abortion. Bemberg’s answers are notable for the rather different note they strike compared with the fairly straightforward utopianism of many of the other pro-feminist contributions to the poll. Above all they point to her belief that the biggest obstacle to real and lasting feminist change was women’s complicity in their own oppression under patriarchy, a belief based on her own experience but one which was thoroughly informed by the work of feminist writers like Simone de Beauvoir, whose words she quotes. This is shown most strikingly, perhaps, in her response to Ocampo’s question about divorce, the legality of which had been annulled in Argentina by the military leaders who had deposed President Juan Perón in a coup in 1955, the year after Bemberg’s own divorce:
While matrimony continues to be the best ‘career’ for a woman, the best solution to her emotional and economic problems, while she feels insecure, defenceless, dependent on her husband, living only by his proxy, I think that divorce will be harmful to her. Let her first become autonomous, stand on her own feet. Then and only then will divorce – properly legislated for – render her, if she so desires, a free woman and not a victim.
More than half of those polled for Sur worked in the cultural field, including writers Marta Lynch, Alejandra Pizarnik, Silvina Bullrich and Beatriz Guido, actress Norma Aleandro and painter Norah Borges, with a much smaller number of contributors coming from journalism, science and education. Interestingly, Bemberg was one of only three women out of the fifty who declared no profession or activity alongside their names. This is a significant omission since by the time Bemberg (then a forty-seven year old mother and grandmother) gave her responses to Sur she had not only helped to found the Unión Feminista Argentina in the late 1960s, but she had also been involved in professional theatre throughout that decade, working first in design and administration, before going on to set up the Teatro del Globo (Globe Theatre) with Catalina Wolff. She had also seen her first script turned into a successful film, Crónica de una señora (Chronicle of a Lady, 1970). Yet the non-declaration of a profession is understandable if it is considered in the light of her answer to the poll question enquiring if she had been impeded in her career on the grounds of her female gender. Bemberg replied that she was brought up exclusively to be a wife and mother, and when she realised through her own experience that ‘procreation is not the same as creation’, she felt at first frustrated by her lack of professional training, her repressive family climate (‘clima castrante’) and her own insecurity.
Crónica de una señora came about because Bemberg had passed on a copy of a one-act feminist play she had written, entitled ‘La margarita es una flor’ (The daisy is a flower), to a friend who in turn had passed it on to a relatively new film director, Raúl de la Torre, who took it on as a project, commissioning a full-length script from Bemberg. De la Torre set up his own production company and financed his first films with money he had made in the advertising industry in the 1960s. As Nissa Torrents wrote, his successful early movies (including Crónica…) presented a version of the upper class for middle and lower class consumption and were predominantly ‘about women for women, [though] they remained under the firm male control of a director with a good eye for a pretty photograph and a pretty actress.’ The film was a domestic success, and, in addition, Graciela Borges won the best actress prize for her role as the protagonist when Crónica was shown at the San Sebastián film festival. In an interview published in 1994, María Luisa Bemberg recounted an anecdote about one significant reaction to the movie: ‘I remember having tea with Victoria Ocampo not long before she died and she liked very much my first script. She saw it four times.’
Crónica de una señora tells the story of Fina (the ‘lady’ of the title, played by Borges), the idle, bourgeois wife of a wealthy businessman (Lautaro Murúa), who cannot make sense of her best friend Cecilia’s suicide. The film, a well-made melodrama, traces Fina’s attempts to understand why someone just like her, bored, lonely, though engaged in occasional adulterous affairs, might tire of her life to such an extent that she decides to end it. It is Fina’s gradual insight that her own situation is exactly symmetrical to that of her friend which provides the ‘open’ ending to the film. Fina finally seems more ‘liberated’ than at any other point in the film, and, while there are hints that she might be about to discover she is pregnant, she is enjoying a new lifestyle which embraces the counter-cultural ideology of the time. Despite her happiness, and her belief that she ‘will not end up like Cecilia’, Fina is nonetheless dismayed to discover that her current lover, a bohemian artist, was also her friend’s lover just before her death. Her reaction to this news is captured in a freeze-frame, one of the film’s numerous stylistic allusions to the nouvelle vague films of some ten years before, although here Fina’s image is frozen in long shot, rather than in the medium close up preferred by the French new wave filmmakers. The choice of camera position here, then, potentially distances the film’s audience from the protagonist and her plight. The movie ends with a fade, nearly to black, which is also frozen, and a sudden burst of dissonant music immediately after this stilled image of Fina, emphasising her entrapment in a situation, or ‘condition’, which cannot be altered, it seems, simply by having more fulfilling adulterous affairs.
Interestingly, there are some explicit references to the feminist movement made in Crónica de una señora. About thirty minutes into the film, Fina is shown studying de Beauvoir’s Le deuxième sexe, a perfectly ‘acceptable’ example of élite French culture, on the surface at least, to which someone of Fina’s educational background might be exposed. She is repeatedly interrupted from her reading, though, by unimportant telephone calls from friends, one of the film’s most frequent motifs of feminine frivolity and purposelessness. Unable to concentrate, Fina indulges instead in taking some guilty sips from a silver hip flask kept in her bedside drawer. The other named book Fina is shown examining is a translation of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Some forty minutes into the film, Fina wanders into a bookstore in downtown Buenos Aires and notices this book. The bookseller explains that the picture on its cover of a woman trapped in an ornamental birdcage is more or less the synthesis of Friedan’s argument. He also informs her that this bestselling book is based on a poll of housewives in North America, and deals with women’s conflicting responsibilities to their husbands, their children, and the home, as well as to themselves. Fina says that she will carry on looking, and after further scrutiny of the picture on the cover under the intense gaze of the bookseller, she puts the book down and walks away. The film cuts away with a dissolve to the next shot of a slightly drunk Fina dancing to American rock music in the nightclub where she will meet a new, sexually-liberated lover (played by Federico Luppi) who will help her forget her troubles for a short while, until he leaves her on the grounds of her lack of independence.
Friedan’s analysis in The Feminine Mystique, not only of middle-class women’s material reality but also, more importantly, of their state of mind, appears to provide the film with its psychological and philosophical frameworks: unable, or unwilling to read the books that would help her, Fina (along with Cecilia) seems to be suffering from the ‘Problem that Has No Name’ described in the first chapter title of Friedan’s book. While Clara Fontana notes that the discourse of Crónica de una señora is in many ways ‘doctrinaire’, with its lack of conciliatory alternatives, I would argue that the engagement, on various levels in this film, of Bemberg’s female protagonist with matters of ‘symbolic death’ (the meditation on her ‘double’s’ suicide, her own hopeless entrapment, and finally her utter stasis) dramatises at once subtly and starkly the kind of radical change referred to in the screenwriter’s reply to Sur’s 1971 survey question about the most pressing political priority for women: ‘Women must take consciousness of their “feminine condition”, in other words their state of political, social and economic dependency. The first step in achieving change is to desire it.’
In 1972, María Luisa Bemberg produced and directed a film for the first time: the 16mm documentary short El mundo de la mujer (The World of the Woman), filmed on location at the Exposición Femimundo, a trade fair of ‘everything which interests women, fashion, beauty, hairstyles, articles for the home.’ As Clara Fontana points out in her generally admiring discussion of this film: ‘Bemberg confronts the spectator, and above all the female spectator, with a reality which is normally covered up by social practices: the so-called “world of the woman” is not “of the woman”. It is a world of things, objects, merchandise.’ Fontana is much less positive, however, about the 1974 feature film based on Bemberg’s second full-length script, written while she was filming El mundo de la mujer. Comparing this film, Triángulo de cuatro (Four-sided Triangle), with Crónica de una señora she writes:
Once more the protagonist, this time played by Thelma Biral, seeks refuge in infidelity, like Fina in Crónica…. The plot is not very convincing and is over- audacious. It lacks the conceptual dimension which in some cases, and Crónica de una señora is one of them, can turn a minor story into a relevant archetype of individual and social conflict. Triángulo de cuatro is a commonplace drama set among frivolous people and a few critical touches are not able to rescue it from triviality.
The plot, especially when crudely summarised in a few words as it is here in Fontana’s only paragraph on this film, certainly lacks a ‘conceptual dimension,’ and is only as ‘convincing’ as that of many romantic melodramas. But well-scripted films are much more than the sum of their plots, and Triángulo de cuatro is a much less dated film, viewed today, than Crónica, perhaps because of its very ambition – leading to a greater variety of tone and setting – as well as because of the excellent performances of its actors. A bigger budget film than Crónica, Triángulo was taken on as a project by well-established director Fernando Ayala, produced by his partner Héctor Olivera, and financed by their production company, the renowned Aries Cinematográfica S.A.. Bemberg’s film-script for Triángulo was awarded the ARGENTORES first prize.
Laura (played by Thelma Biral) is surely not the film’s only protagonist. While the Triángulo seems to begin and certainly ends with her story and her concerns, it divides its narration reasonably equally between three characters: Laura, her husband Felipe (another very sympathetic performance from Federico Luppi), and Felipe’s mistress, the model Teresa Prado (Graciela Borges, once again), with the stage name, and public alter ego, of ‘Sandra’. The film has a further important character, the fourth side of the amorous ‘triangle’, Laura’s lover Martín, but events are rarely if ever seen from his perspective, as they are with the other three. The beginning of the film subtly contrasts two ‘fishing’ scenes: shots of a luxury villa in Uruguay’s luxury resort Punta del Este and then of Felipe concentratedly fishing in the sea are intercut with shots of Martín fishing for the attention of a bored and lonely Laura, his Buenos Aires neighbour, by dangling in front of her first a red plastic toy from his own fishing rod and then a microphone from a sound boom. After these establishing shots, Felipe will always be associated with more serious leisure activities in the film, while, by contrast, idle game playing will mark the development of Laura’s frivolous and superficial sexual relationship with Martín (connecting her explicitly to Fina in Crónica, who is frequently shown playing games in the early part of that film). Felipe falls much more seriously in love in his affair than his wife does in hers. Initially, though, he falls for ‘Sandra’, a model hired by his advertising company, for all the ‘wrong’ reasons according to the film’s ideological framework (her glamorous appearance, for instance). But when ‘Sandra’ takes off her costume, wig and make-up at the end of their first date, she makes a more desirable appearance as ‘herself’: Teresa, the ‘liberated’ proto-feminist, who will even go on to feel terrible guilt at the prospect of hurting Laura who, despite her own affair, still seems to love her husband.
One of the film’s most interesting aspects is its setting among the trappings of mediatized modernity. Most of these sequences, and all of those associated specifically with the world of advertising, are linked to the character of ‘Sandra’/Teresa. There is one sequence in particular, some thirty-five minutes into the film, which is set up in a manner reminiscent of Federico Fellini’s film work (for example, the ‘miracle sequence’ in La Dolce vita, 1960, and many parts of Otto e mezzo/81/2, 1962). In this sequence, a fake wedding starring ‘Sandra’ as the blushing bride is staged by a ridiculous master of ceremonies for an advertising shoot. The next sequence shows, to humorous effect, a conversation between Teresa and her mother in which the latter realises that her daughter will not in fact marry her new partner Felipe, on account of his existing married status. Yet, perhaps more interestingly, the wedding scene is preceded by a short montage sequence which intercuts shots of ‘Sandra’ having her photograph taken in a number of glamorous advertising poses, with ones of Teresa behind the photographic camera, artistically framing the world and the people around her. All of these sequences reveal that Triángulo handles some similar themes, and places in the frame many of the same spaces and objects which characterise modern women’s lives, as Bemberg’s earlier short film El mundo de la mujer. In both films, the patriarchal ‘world of women’ is shown up to be the normative world of the reified, the commodified and the ‘looked at’ precisely by dint of contrast with the highly unusual presence of a woman behind the camera.
It should not surprise us, then, that Bemberg’s script for Triángulo de cuatro appears to valorise above all the female character in whose hands it places a camera. This character, Teresa, active and defiant in all the right places, but who is also seen to suffer, when necessary (for all the right feminist reasons), is the most unequivocally likeable female ‘identification’ figure, at least according to the film’s overt ideological framework. Yet Triángulo’s affective and epistemic structures are more complicated, or confused, than they might at first seem, and there is a ‘feminist’ price to pay for the particular connotative connections facilitated by the completed movie. The film seems increasingly to set up Laura, Teresa’s rival for Felipe’s affections, as a character with whom specatators may at times be aligned, but for whom, potentially at least, they do not feel much sympathetic allegiance.20 When Laura finds out about her husband’s affair, she sees Teresa at a public function (and we also see her though Laura’s optical point of view, after establishing shots which show Teresa watching Laura arrive). Thus Teresa appears to Laura in her ‘Sandra’ persona. Since Laura never has any other visual access to Teresa, we are never aligned directly against Teresa. Even when we are confronted by Laura’s (semi-) righteous indignation about her husband’s affair, her (and, potentially, the spectators’) ire is directed against the figure of ‘Sandra’. This splitting of Teresa’s persona seems to have yet another, related function in addition to the protective ‘distancing’ of that character: ‘Sandra’ and Laura look alike, with quite similar hairstyles and much the same taste in glamorous makeup and evening gowns. So the more superficial, least likeable aspects of ‘Sandra’ serve to remind the viewer, not of the ‘liberated’, more ‘authentic’ Teresa, but of Laura’s own manifest superficiality throughout the film.
While an awareness of these subtleties of filmic point of view is absent from the brief assessments of this film that have been published, there is a sense in which some of the critical unease about Triángulo might emanate from them, that is to say, from the complex way in which, as I have begun to indicate above, the film organises moment by moment, cognitive and affective access to its particular array of characters. I would argue that the film, perhaps inadvertently, privileges an ironic reading of its narration, thus playing a potentially confusing game with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ femininities, in which Laura is the most prominent loser, if only in moral terms. Teresa’s positively valorised creativity appears to have been at least temporarily stifled when Felipe finally returns to his wife at the end of the film. She destroys a photo of herself and Felipe, taken during their last meeting together, by turning on the lights in her dark room: it isn’t allowed to develop. Nonetheless, she is finally seen gazing at a split portrait of herself, simultaneously represented as both Teresa and ‘Sandra’; she blocks out the ‘Sandra’ half with her hand and contemplates the remaining image. The film concludes, by contrast, that Laura’s morally suspect game-playing triumphs, albeit ironically, in the end. When she suspects, correctly, that her husband is about to leave her definitively for Teresa, she stages a half-hearted suicide attempt. Felipe comes at once to her side, leaving his mistress for good. Even though Laura’s sexist doctor tells him that his wife’s behaviour was simply attention-seeking, ‘like lots of women’, he decides to stay with her, and allows her to engineer a trip for the two of them to the villa in Punta del Este. The final sequence of the film places us back where it began: Felipe is alone, fishing from the rocks, near the villa, this time with a sunset (or sunrise?) in the background. Like Crónica de una señora, Triángulo de cuatro ends on an uncertain note: this time a dissonant phrase from its musical theme repeats itself over and over again, perhaps on this occasion signalling the entrapment of its male protagonist, but also, possibly, the pyrrhic victory of Laura who is, notably, nowhere to be seen.
It is interesting that, in many interviews, María Luisa Bemberg often expressed her own dissatisfaction with the experiences she had scripting these two films for other directors:
Summing up on this period, Bemberg has declared: ‘these two films were enough for me to realise, and what I say does not imply a value judgement of those movies, that no-one was ever going to be able to interpret as I could what I myself had written.’ 
This kind of ‘dramatisation’ of her decision to stop writing scripts for other film directors is echoed by numerous other retellings of the ‘story of her career’ in published interviews 
I started by writing a screenplay which I was fortunate enough to have produced and it did very well. I was able to work on the film and I was absolutely caught by the magic of that world. That was in 1970, and then I immediately started writing my second script which was also taken, and again I worked on the set. But it was then that I realised that if I wanted the stories really to reflect what I was trying to say, I would have to go behind the camera myself.
Ten years ago, people in my country were so incredibly conservative concerning the women’s movement that if I was too outspoken or outrageous with the characters [in the scripted films of the 1970s], I would have scared the audience away. So strategically speaking, it had to be very mild feminism. These were successful films but not what I had intended, which is why I decided to direct myself.
I think that one’s first film is created on the typewriter. When ones writes, for example, ‘daybreak, the silhouette of a figure appears in the background, and advances towards the camera’, I’m really already filming it, already framing it. I concluded then that if I wanted my film really to reflect what I had visualized then I had to begin to direct myself.
In the last interview from which I have quoted, the very next question Luis Trelles Plazaola asks Bemberg is whether or not she had prepared her first two feature scripts with technical directions (‘indicaciones técnicas’). She replies that she had, but that the neither of the two directors had taken any notice of these: ‘The film belongs to the director not to the scriptwriter’.
What is clear from all of the above replies to interviewers’ questions about this transitional period in her filmmaking career is that Bemberg consistently justified her decision to turn to direction as one emanating from a desire to tell her stories as only she could, in order to realise her own original visualization of them. Some commentators on her work have also suggested, often very indirectly, that the implied inability of De la Torre and Ayala to interpret her ideas is intrinsically a question of their gender. While Fontana skirts around such assertions, she does talk of films ‘which could only be conceived by women, and dare I say by women who sublimated their unhappiness in creativity.’ In the following quotation about Bemberg’s first scripted film, hints about the very gendered origins (and object) of a certain antipathy are also quite prominent:
A scene was being filmed in which Fina agonises over the reality of her empty existence. According to Bemberg, who always attended shooting, as the author of the scene she thought that in order to lend it some conviction a very special close up was required. She couldn’t convince De la Torre, who felt some antipathy towards Fina, that character whom Bemberg considered a victim of circumstances. In order to console herself she made some comments to the lighting technician who happened to be Juan Carlos Desanzo [who, in the 1970s, went on to work as a technician with at least one other Argentine woman film director, Eva Landeck]. Desanzo replied” “Why don’t you direct?” “My reaction,” commented Bemberg, “was…. me, direct? I know nothing about technique”. “Desanzo encouraged me”.’
It is interesting that in this last quotation, some of these insinuations about gender, blame and victimhood are linked, all too briefly, to specific questions of filmic point of view and spatio-temporal access to film characters. I hope that I have managed to establish so far that such fleeting insights are potentially too useful in assessments of Bemberg’s turn to film direction to be left at the level of anecdote: a more rigorous approach to film aesthetics is required, but also to film context. It is to explorations of context that I will increasingly turn in my discussion of Momentos, the first feature-length film that Bemberg directed in 1980, and also in my briefer treatment of her 1982 movie Señora de nadie.
‘El adulterio “despenalizado”’
All four of the first feature films with which Bemberg was associated, first as writer, and then as writer, director and co-producer with Lita Stantic, tell stories of female and male adultery. Cultural historians have typically associated this kind of story with periods when texts have chosen to confront, as Tony Tanner writes in his study of the adultery genre in literature, ‘not only the provisionality of social laws and rules and structures, but the provisionality of [their] own procedures and assumptions.’
The adultery genre was born of the social and cultural changes associated, in the nineteenth century, ‘[w]ith the decline in the importance of land in the production processes of industrial capitalism, [when] the problem of the control and ownership [of women as reproducers of men] shifted to the capitalist family where industrial wealth was inherited through the male line.’ As Bryan Turner continues, although Western men in this period ‘enjoyed the benefits of a double standard, the importance of traditional sexual mores in the household was emphasized because of their crucial relationship to the inheritance of wealth. These familial and economic systems explain the importance of virginity, fidelity and sexual purity in this period,’ and hence also explain the dramatic cultural potential of these same elements. Turner adds that following the erosion of these systems in the twentieth-century shift towards a post-industrial society, characterized by advanced capitalist consumption and the manipulation of communications through public relations industries, the traditional relationships ‘between property, sexuality and the body’ have largely disappeared. This remarkable ‘transformation of intimacy’, to use Anthony Giddens’s phrase, can clearly be seen in many of the forms and themes of cinema after the Second World War. In the late 1950s and 1960s, against a backdrop of demographic changes, and new laws concerning marriage, property, contraception and divorce,34 prominent European art film directors (Visconti, Antonioni, Fellini, Bergman, Truffaut, Godard, et al), appropriated the traditional adultery plot to explore the changing religious and secular conceptions of personal and sexual conduct in new modernist cinematic forms which privileged open endings, and gave space to other stylistic experiments.
Despite the fact that, in the same period, Argentina was not enjoying a similar liberalization of marital, divorce or contraceptive laws, or of social policy in general (after 1955, if anything, the reverse was true), dramas of adultery also became associated there with a nascent cine de autor. Both De la Torre and Ayala, for example, the two directors who had turned Bemberg’s scripts into films, allied themselves from time to time with an art-cinema inflected, intimista tendency most ably represented in the late 1950s and 1960s, perhaps, by some of the Kammerspiele influenced films of Leopoldo Torre Nilsson (son of Leopoldo Torre Ríos, who had made much more traditional adultery dramas in his directing career in the 1940s).
María Luisa Bemberg was not the only woman filmmaker interested in adapting for feminist purposes the ‘modernist’ concerns of sexual anxiety, identity and alienation which are typical of the post-war adultery drama. This was a common focus of much Western ‘new women’s cinema’, to use Annette Kuhn’s term for a cluster of US and European films which appeared in the 1970s and 1980s. Nor, significantly, was Bemberg interested in disavowing the stylistic influence on her filmmaking of certain foreign, male, art-cinema precursors. Yet, in various ways, her films (and promotional interviews) do assert difference and dissent from the masculinist values of many modernist explorations of adultery in their association with the forms and concerns of the ‘women’s picture’. Certain critics, too, have supported these assertions. As Fontana writes, in a reference to Momentos, Bemberg ‘reinvents [earlier adultery films by male directors] by removing all moralizing connotations. No one transgresses anything. The conflict is about feelings, and not about morality’; Bemberg’s ‘feminine perspective’ in this film results in a rendering of female adultery which, for the first time, rids the adulteress of all blame. Momentos is the first Argentine film with a ‘clear consciousness of … feminine gender;’ for Fontana, it thus contrasts sharply with the supposed lack of achievement of Triángulo de cuatro. Much of the marketing of Momentos (for example, the film’s original poster, and more recently the video cassette sleeve) also focused on this angle: the publicity tagline read ‘One woman’s adultery as seen by another woman.’
In Momentos, a skilfully scripted, and very well-made film, Lucía (played by Graciela Dufau), a landscape gardener widowed in her first marriage, is married for the second time, comfortably but passionlessly, to an older man, Mauricio (Héctor Bidonde), a psychoanalyst (she was his patient after her bereavement). Through her work, Lucía meets Nicolás (Miguel Angel Solá) a wealthy young car salesman, who is married to Mónica (Cunny Vera), the daughter of his boss. Nicolás falls for the more sophisticated Lucía and, though she resists the advances of the younger man initially, they begin an affair and Lucía leaves her husband. The two lovers go to a hotel in the resort of Mar del Plata. Tedium sets in, however, and after Lucía tells emotionally of how her first husband was killed in a car accident and how she lost their child, the relationship between these very different people begins seriously to unravel. On the spur of the moment, Lucía leaves and returns to her husband.
Unlike the two scripted films, which only allude to art-cinema topics and devices, all the while opting for a fairly classical narrational style typical of much ‘quality’ commercial cinema in Argentina at the time, Momentos’ narration subtly signals its greater art-cinema modality from the outset: its opening sequence, which follows the protagonists on their river-boat trip up the Tigre Delta to their weekend house, strikingly places them, and us, in Bergmanesque territory, here inflected by a somewhat warmer, ‘women’s film’ sensibility. Like some of Bergman’s work, Bemberg’s film is slow paced, on the whole, preferring longer shots and long takes while occasionally breaking up its segments with stylish montage sequences, and scenes in which diegetic sound is replaced (either with non-diegetic music, or with point of audition, ‘trompe l’oreille’ effects) to allow for the distanced contemplation of action or conversations. It also deploys devices which disrupt the linear presentation of chronological time such as ellipses and fleeting flashbacks. In these ways and in others, the film self-consciously points up its weightiness and its languorous feel. From the beginning, too, Momentos is carefully constructed around a series of highly suggestive motifs, which perform much of its work of characterization and thematic expression: for example, motifs of autumn, and then of the beginning of winter (leafless trees, white skies), emptiness (empty chairs, deserted beaches), confined spaces (small rooms, closed-off thresholds) and especially figurations of coldness and hunger, to express the emotional and physical state, and needs, of its protagonists, especially Lucía.
Momentos’ moral framework emerges subtly from this imbrication of the physical and the psychical. The respective infidelity of Lucía and Nicolás is ‘justified’ by the film’s emphasis of the context of their involuntary attraction. Theirs is not shown to be a transgression in which they are carried off by ‘authentic’ passion (as in several of Bemberg’s period dramas: for example, the 1983 Camila). Instead, through the way the film organises epistemic access in general (its protagonists discuss their romantic history on a number of occasions), and, more specifically, through Mauricio’s hint about Lucía’s first husband Sebastián, during an uncharacteristic outburst against his wife, Momentos suggests that Lucía and Nicolás are both ‘acting out’, in psychoanalytic parlance, compelled to repeat stifled first loves (for him, his cousin Tita; for her, Sebastián). Additional justification for their affair is provided by Mauricio’s implied inability to cater for all of his younger wife’s needs (reading in bed, while she looks on; his infertility rendering her childless), despite the fact that the film frequently shows him, and his point of view, in a sympathetic light, patiently, and non-judgementally, trying to understand Lucía. The film is rather less kind to Nicolás’s wife. In the sequence in which Lucía is finally shown succumbing to the young man’s seduction, just inside the front door of his house, the two lovers wordlessly and tentatively begin to touch one another, while Mónica’s voice is heard being recorded on the answering machine. It is not possible to follow exactly what she is saying, but the reedy vocal tone and the rambling nature of her message with its unimportant, domestic concerns leave us in no doubt that Nicolás is ‘justified’ in his desire for the older, more sophisticated Lucía.
I would argue, on the whole, that Fontana is correct when she argues that Momentos portrays adultery in a ‘decriminalised’ way, from the female protagonist’s point of view. The film completely lacks an explicitly expressed ideological framework for the adultery in a traditional sense: there is no Catholic or other religious guilt on show; there are no moralizing or overly judgmental characters and no obvious punishment of the lover’s transgression. Instead, I believe that the film’s crucial focus on the ‘needs’ of the body and the psyche points to its implicit concerns with much newer patterns of personal expressivity which presume a significant degree of sexual equality. In Momentos, sexual relations are clearly shown to be based on expectations about personal satisfaction through intimacy, such as those argued for by Anthony Giddens when he writes that, in the late part of the twentieth-century, ‘[p]ersonal life has become an open project, creating new demands and anxieties. Our interpersonal existence is being thoroughly transfigured, involving us all in […] everyday social experiments, with which wider social changes [to do with marriage, the family and sexuality] more or less oblige us to engage.’
It is worth discussing Momentos’ ending in detail since the dénouement lasts more than twenty minutes in a film of ninety-seven minutes duration. Lucía’s decision to leave Nicolás, which she tries to explain by reminding him of the lyrics to the bolero ‘Nosotros’ (The Two of Us), is not based simply on a desire to return home to Mauricio. The song lyrics give no other explanation than the wish to leave things as they are, for the good of her lover, and in the name of their love. In a scene near the end, as their relationship is shown to be on the wane, riven by their differences and by her growing fear (provoked by an episode of Nicolás’s violent temper, which will be repeated in a slightly later sequence) that it will all finish badly, Lucía fantasises Nicolás’s suicide by drowning. It seems clear that she consciously decides the best way of avoiding harm to them both is to terminate their relationship. Her final, spur-of-the-moment decision to return to her husband, after she runs to catch a train, is one which seems devoid of the usual rationale of the ‘returning adulteress’: that of wifely self-sacrifice and guilt, or the privileging of marital responsibilities (as in Brief Encounters, a film to which Momentos otherwise alludes many times). The film presents the choice as much more basic than this: Lucía appears to return because once she has left Nicolás at the railway station in Mar del Plata, she can literally do nothing else. She has no proper coat, no luggage, not enough money to buy food on the train. She arrives home, cold and starving, to find a wordless Mauricio in the middle of his supper. She simply states her need for food, explaining nothing else; he eventually clears a plate for her and gives her a spoon. As he silently watches her stuff food into her mouth, the camera pans away, tracks back down their hallway, and, in the final frame of the film, fixes on a window, obscured by a curtain.
Momentos’ final sequences do stage Mauricio’s somewhat grudging acceptance of Lucía back in his life, and also his continued desire to help provide for at least one of her basic needs. But it certainly does not feel like a ‘positive ending’. I indicated above that the film’s lack of an overtly moralizing framework cedes space for new structures of belief based on expectations about personal satisfaction through intimacy. But the mere existence of such expectations does not mean that they can be fulfilled. As he concludes his study of the bourgeois novel of adultery, Tony Tanner writes that ‘adultery is […] a leap into limitlessness, with the result that the whole ambiguous problematics of limits are brought out into the open.’ While Momentos may not be about blame, or judgmental attitudes towards women’s sexuality, it is nonetheless a film which constantly points to limits, as its final frame, its many other shots of thresholds and barriers, and its figuration of the physical and psychical ‘confinement’ of its characters through the ever-present leitmotif of claustrophobia, should remind us.
‘The best jail’
In the same way that Momentos appears to have no pre-existing judgmental framework (other than the conceptual one provided by psychoanalysis, interestingly), it does not seem one of Bemberg’s most overtly feminist-concerned films. Although an act of female transgression is staged, none of the characters are interested in feminism, and no obvious feminist discourses are articulated in dialogue, unlike in the two scripted movies. There is one possible and very fleeting exception to this which has gone unremarked by critics: near the beginning of the film, Mauricio is shown listening to the tape of one of his sessions with a patient, Margarita Acosta, who alludes to her history of frustrated suicide attempts, and who describes her anguished frustration with her life in the following terms ‘It was as if I was shouting from inside a bell jar’ (‘Como si gritara dentro de una campana de vidrio’). This possible reference to the title, story and central motif of Sylvia Plath’s well-known 1963 feminist novel aside, the seeming lack of explicit radical feminist discourses has led some critics, such as José Agustín Mahieu, to assert that in Bemberg’s first directed films ‘a tenuous feminism is introduced, appropriate only for conversations at high tea.’ I would argue, on the other hand, that the apparent absence of these discourses from the first directed film is much more usefully considered as an interpretative ‘blindspot’ encouraged by Momentos’ narration, and increased when the movie is viewed outside of its particular production context. After all, at the end of the film, Lucía returns to her marital home just as she might return to a prison cell. Momentos might seem to suggest at its conclusion, therefore, that there is no realistic possibility of her living ‘outside’ of her marriage, without the ‘protection’ afforded by a legal and proprietorial relationship with a male spouse. While many critics have been keen to read Bemberg’s later films as allegories which clearly link the personal and the political (and have seen in them various representations of female entrapment), there seems to have been no desire to perform an equivalent reading of her first two directed films. It is possible to argue that period dramas are more likely to be interpreted historically and allegorically than films set in their contemporary moment, as both of the first two films directed by Bemberg were. In addition to this, there may well be conventions which have grown up around the intimate film drama which equally might discourage such readings. Nonetheless, at this point it is worth remembering, briefly, the immediate production context of this film.
Momentos was made at the end of 1980, in the middle of the brutal period of military dictatorship in Argentina between 1976 and 1983, known by the first Junta’s own euphemism as the ‘Process (Proceso) of National Reorganization’. It was not the first feature film project María Luisa Bemberg had wanted to direct. In the late 1970s, she had written another screenplay entitled Señora de nadie, for the film she would go on to make after Momentos. The military censors of the time did not give their approval for this project initially, with its overtly feminist story and greater range of characters, including several sexually ‘promiscuous’ women, and an openly gay man. As Bemberg has declared,
it was a huge disappointment because I had got all ready to go off and make [Señora de nadie] and then they told me I couldn’t. They gave me three reasons: first, that it was a terrible example for Argentine mothers; second, that there was a queer in it – ‘I, Madam, would prefer to have a son with cancer than one who is queer’; and third, that a woman was to direct.
While this anecdote about Señora de nadie is well-rehearsed, it is important to remember that Momentos is a film produced under the very same repressive censorship regulations, the same ‘regimes of truth,’ that disallowed the earlier script. As Sarah Radcliffe writes of this period
The gender politics of the military regime installed in 1976 emphasized a mythical return to the family as the ‘basic cell of society’ where all other associative links would be broken […]. Within this model of society, women were to retain order by overseeing children’s behaviour while their domestic roles as wives and mothers were romanticized. […] Their official identity was that of a negated political subject, the purest safe apolitical community, embedded within the dangerous(ly) political public world.
While Radcliffe goes on to write of the many women who bravely and publicly resisted these particular military-regime dictates (for example, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo), other writers and historians have described a differently inflected, even more ‘intimate’ form of gendered repression and censorship during the Proceso. For instance, Mary-Beth Tierney-Tello writes:
The authoritarian practices of the state attempted to police specific desires and imaginings. Sexuality and sexual politics, for example, were at the forefront of the struggle to cleanse the Argentine national spirit of extraneous and ‘dangerous’ influences […]. Such ‘dangers’ included, of course, cultural productions that depict sexuality outside of the marital/familial relationship. Furthermore, the ‘dangers’ in terms of gender and sexuality also included anything that might question the traditional roles for men and women. So, policing the realms of sexuality and desire, attempting to construct and impose a single, homogenized idea of ‘Argentine’ sexuality, was one of the explicit goals of authoritarian practices
What were the effects of this ‘regime of truth’ on Momentos, given that, despite the censorship of the time, the film does manage to represent explicitly a number of these ‘dangers’? Bemberg has said that she filmed both her first two movies with the censors looking over her shoulder, but that ‘there is nothing worse than self-censorship. I was constantly thinking that I couldn’t do this, I couldn’t do that; possibly, if there had been no censorship, I would have made the erotic scenes more audacious.’ There is certainly very little female nudity in this film; but, instead, Bemberg’s camera inverts some of the conventional gendered ‘looking-relations’ of the intimist drama of its period by preferring to contemplate at length the naked arms, shoulders, torso and legs of its attractive young male protagonist, played by Miguel Angel Solá. These ‘productive’ effects of the film’s specific context could have been interpreted politically, but, according to published criticism at the time, or since, it appears that they weren’t. Nor has anyone remarked as such on the film’s other ‘signs’ of its political context; for example, its use of a conceptual framework –that of psychoanalysis – which was, to say the least, regarded by the military regime as being suspiciously linked to other ‘undesirable’ elements (Jewishness, communism). And, as María Sáenz Quesada writes of these years,
The tendency to spend, to travel, to escape, was perhaps a collective necessity following on from the great fear which characterized the period ’70/78. This anguished, privatized solitude turned in on itself, and in the absence of a public life found an escape route, a sort of compensation offered by [the Junta’s early] economic policy [in the late 1970s: the so-called ‘easy money’ policies under the stewardship of the economy minister, Martínez de Hoz].
Momentos’ glamorous mise-en-scène is filled with the evidence of many kinds of historically contemporaneous escapist fantasies, all of which, as in the two earlier films, are found severely wanting: sexual liaisons to escape the tedium of bourgeois life, and especially that of marriage; lavish parties where the film’s nouvelle bourgeoisie can wear their expensive clothes, drink fancy cocktails and dance to local versions of North American disco music (‘Oh Crazy Man, Come On Love Me!’); the protagonists’ holidays and conference trips (Tigre, Mar del Plata, Río de Janeiro); Nicolás’s father-in-law’s luxury cars; and everyone’s gorgeous homes and gardens. One has to learn not to overlook these signs, or to ignore the film’s obviously negative attitude to them, though this is not easy with forms which, above all at particular times, may not encourage straightforward, allegorical readings. As Michael Taussig has written, ‘[a]bove all the Dirty War is a war of silencing…. This is more than the production of silence. It is silencing, which is quite different. […] the not said acquires a significance and a specific confusion befogs the spaces of the public sphere which is where the action is.’
Does the film itself teach us to look differently? Momentos certainly requests a different kind of reading from us than earlier adultery films, in order for its ‘blameless’ ending to make verisimilitudinous sense. Clearly, under all the given circumstances, Lucía has to return home at the film’s conclusion; she must provide the military censors with their required ‘positive ending’; her adultery finishes, and marriage is ultimately upheld – in any case, divorce is illegal and separation almost unthinkable, under Argentina’s patria potestad laws, where women’s legal status and right to hold wealth and property were diminished upon marriage until well after the Proceso. Mauricio noticeably doesn’t greet his wife with the effusive forgiveness, blithe ignorance, or outright rage and fury normally confronting other returning film adulteresses. And this very lack of emotional expressivity at the end strips down what is at stake in the film’s conclusion, laying bare Lucía’s lack of freedom as a woman.
La donna è mobile
During the early part of the Proceso, as Nissa Torrents reported, ‘censorship and fear practically paralysed the [Argentine] film industry […] by 1981, box office sales had decreased by 50% in the provinces – 90% in prosperous Mendoza – and by over 30% in Buenos Aires,’ and yet Momentos, premiered in Buenos Aires on 7 May 1981, still broke even. What changed in the period between the production of Bemberg’s first two directed films was that there was a growing apertura, or liberalization, as the military regime’s control over cultural production began, very slowly at first, to crumble. This process had tentatively begun as early as 1979, when, for example, writer María Elena Walsh published an article in the cultural supplement of an Argentine daily newspaper entitled ‘The Nation, a garden of children’, in which she indicated, subtly, that the collective fear of the time was giving way to an anxiety to reclaim freedom. Two years or so later, Walsh wrote the feminist lyrics for the song ‘Señora mía’ (My Own Woman) which accompanied the closing credit sequence of one of the two versions in circulation of Bemberg’s Señora de nadie, and which announced in unequivocal terms the film’s association with the consolidation of cultural freedom which Walsh’s article had courageously begun to announce[.6]3 The filming of Señora de nadie took place between December 1981 and January 1982, and it received its premiere in Buenos Aires on April 1 1982.64 The very next day every newspaper in the country, and many outside of it, was reporting that the Argentine armed forces had begun the reconquest of the Malvinas/Falkland Islands, which, as well as ultimately hastening the military’s decline and the country’s return to democratic rule, rather eclipsed the media impact of the film.
As I have shown earlier in my discussion, all three of María Luisa Bemberg’s first feature films contain striking images of female stasis. The fourth film Señora de nadie, the second one she directed, is no exception to this rule. This film echoes in a number of ways some of the themes of Crónica de una señora and part of the storyline and ironic, though melodramatic tone of Triángulo de cuatro. The protagonist Leonor (brilliantly played by Luisina Brando) discovers that her wealthy architect husband Fernando (Rodolfo Ranni) is having one of a series of affairs with a ‘liberated’ girlfriend (Susu Pecoraro, who went on to play the title role in Camila). As Leonor’s world falls apart, she seeks time for herself, initially leaving her two sons to be cared for by their father. She has sexual liaisons of her own, including briefly with her husband;66 but most importantly she becomes much more self-reliant, making friends in her own right (most notably her gay friend Pablo, played by Julio Chávez, whom she meets at group therapy sessions), and gradually discovering that, though life as a single working mother is not easy, it is better than life as an ignorant, deceived and ‘kept’ woman. Unlike the earlier films which tend to close with their most graphic displays of female entrapment, this film begins its pre-credit sequence with its own audio-visual figuring of the protagonist’s ‘symbolic death’. The camera focuses on a noisy electric ceiling fan, and as it pans down and to the left, past family photographs on the wall and a bedside table, and finally alights on a bed, we realise that over the sound of the fan we have also been hearing the breathy cries of a naked (male-female) couple who are making love there. As they separate, all his passion spent, the man rolls out of shot and the camera focuses on the woman. Her electronic alarm clock goes off. She reaches across to switch it off, and is caught, with her back turned, in a freeze frame. The sound of the beeping alarm also ‘freezes’, becoming one continuous noise, and thus resembling the tone of a hospital heart monitor when the ‘flat-line’ signalling cardiac arrest is shown on the screen. The image then fades to black, the noise of her ‘wake up call’ goes silent, and red ‘chalk writing’ appears, literally spelling out (with a suitably dissonant chalk-sound effect) the title of the film, along with its metaphoric didactic intentions.
While Señora de nadie appears much less interested in the art-cinema modality of Momentos, despite a few touches (the deliberate confusion of the film’s central flashback sequence, in particular), it maintains nonetheless a similar phenomenological interest in scrutinising again and again, with different shot lengths and in extremely slow-paced sequences which seem to contribute little to the film’s ‘plot’, its protagonist’s facial and bodily reactions to the twists and turns of her new situation. Luisina Brando’s astonishing performance needed to be much more subtle for the multiple physical registers of the second directed film, compared with the narrower expressive range (emotional ‘frozenness’ to slight ‘thawing’) required of Graciela Dufau in the first film. Brando went on to repeat her success with Bemberg, as an extremely ‘physical’ actress, in two further performances: in Miss Mary (1986) as the mistress of the family patriarch; and more notably as Doña Leonor in the final directed film, De eso no se habla (We Don’t Want to Talk About It, 1993).
Unlike Bemberg’s earlier adultery movies, it quickly becomes apparent that Señora de nadie is interested in investigating the (post-marriage) ‘after’ phase of the woman character’s life. It studies in particular detail the slow and difficult ‘awakening’ of its neophyte feminist heroine. The character of Leonor is frequently shown in bed, either sleeping or on the edge of sleep, or, alternatively, complaining of tiredness. In one beautifully shot and acted, early sequence, after Leonor has had the extremely painful experience of leaving the family home following the discovery of her husband’s infidelity, she goes to stay in her parents’ house. The next day, in a huge, bright and airy room, watched over by her concerned mother and step-father, Leonor wakes up before our eyes on the family couch, finds herself in her new life, and slowly ‘discovers’ her body, which from then on in the film will frequently be less covered up as she adopts lighter clothing for everyday wear, as well as for socialising (this film is shot in spring and summer in contrast to Momentos). Leonor gradually acquires more energy and zest as the film progresses, but her three ‘independent’ sexual experiences (once with a man she is showing round a house in her new capacity as an estate agent; once with her husband who falls for the ‘rejuvenated’ version of his wife; and once with a man at a party towards the very end of the film) seem to weary her once more.
Señora de nadie is not, then, an unequivocally utopian feminist film. It will still scan and frame almost as many images of limits and thresholds as Momentos did before it, one of its two versions ending on a similar shot of a window as in the first film, though this time the window (of Pablo’s house not of the marital home) is seen from the outside. As I have just begun to suggest, though, the threshold which most appears to interest Bemberg’s film, is the one which separates women and men’s bodies. Not only does the film repeatedly show Leonor engaged in sexual activity with men, from the opening sequence onwards, it also shows her on a number of occasions in very close, physical proximity to Pablo. In an early sequence, at one of their group therapy meetings, we see them standing separately, some distance away from one another, with their eyes closed, touching their own faces, and gently being manoeuvred by the group leader into forming a pair. This is the moment where they ‘meet’ for the first time, unable to see one another, feeling one another’s faces in a relationship of non-sexual reciprocity and trust. Interestingly, immediately after this scene, Leonor meets the man with whom she will initiate her first sexual affair since she left her husband. In a later sequence, very near the end, before Pablo is beaten up, Leonor and Pablo are shown lying on the bed together, and Leonor gently caresses the gay man’s back, as she comforts him over the trials and tribulations of his relationship with his violent partner (with which, we may assume, Leonor is able to empathise to a certain extent: she has already revealed at the group therapy sessions that her father used to beat her mother, before he left them – ‘despareció’). Again, this is a sequence which precedes another of Leonor’s disappointing heterosexual encounters Approximately one hour into Señora de nadie, however, comes one of the most utopian and uplifting scenes of any Bemberg film. Leonor and Pablo have been sitting in a café, and Pablo has just invited her to move in with him, solving at a stroke the accommodation difficulties she has experienced since moving out of the marital home, with no legal right to any of her husband’s property or money. In their mutual joy they seize hold of one another’s hand and rush out of the café into a summer rainstorm. A tracking camera follows their hasty progress down the street, shrieking and laughing, beginning to dance, their soaked clothes sticking to their bodies. This rain dance precedes by five years another film sequence with a very similar sensibility, shot by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar and involving two of the protagonists of his 1987 film La ley del deseo (The Law of Desire: the gay lead, also named Pablo, played by Eusebio Poncela, and his transsexual ‘sister’ Tina, played by Carmen Maura). Bemberg’s sequence, along with others in her film, provides a moving picture of a post-second wave feminist ideal of an intimate, solidary relationship based on pure emotion and trust, for women and men struggling to break free from pre-existing gender roles, although much of the rest of the film appears less convinced, outside of these utopian moments, that such relationships really are possible, particularly when they involve sexual contact.67 Almost immediately after the sequence in the rain, Leonor meets up at a party with her husband, who sets out to seduce her, and succeeds until she discovers that he is continuing to deceive another woman with whom he has some kind of commitment.
In an essay which treats questions of film authorship, Victor Perkins writes that ‘in order to recognise particular sets of choices, one has to have some sense of available choices.’ The intimista style proves a very useful ‘choice’ for María Luisa Bemberg’s early scripts and directed films; once mixed with some art-cinema styling and concerns, it provides her with a reasonably low-budget, relatively high-prestige form of filmmaking which has international possibilities and pretensions. It also enables her and her collaborators, against a difficult political backdrop, to experiment with feminist representation (in particular with filmic point of view in its broad sense) in order to examine cinematically questions of feminism, and of male and female sexual relationships; time and time again, she ‘chooses’ to return to dissect her idea, adapted from De Beauvoir, that ‘Women must stop feeling like children who pass straight from the tutelage of their fathers to the tutelage of marriage.’ After Señora de nadie, though, the film in which a female character finally does manage to put a full stop to this seemingly endless tutelage and begins the difficult process of transforming her feelings, Bemberg turns away from the form, declaring that
A woman director ought to try to grow with each film. I felt that in Momentos and Señora de nadie, the ‘intimist’ world of the woman had turned out to be too comfortable for me. I could have carried on making that kind of film.
Despite her successful change of tack, Bemberg’s later film protagonists continued to populate stories of female transgression, although there was a ‘flight’ from the contemporary world in the turn to period drama begun with Camila. It is indeed arguable, though, as to whether or not the relatively pessimistic, or at best uncertain, endings of the first feature films were ever positively ‘re-dressed’. For Bemberg’s film heroines, intimate transgressions provide no real way out of patriarchy in and of themselves, a consistent ‘message’ ably intimated not just by their ‘stories’ but also by the very form and style of those films with which their maker began and then continued her successful career.
Many thanks to Sebastián Guerrini for his invaluable help in obtaining video copies of the scripted films, and thanks also to Pilar Sabugo and John King.
1. ‘8 Preguntas a escritoras, actrices, mujeres de ciencia, de las artes, del trabajo social y del periodismo,’ Sur, ‘La mujer’, nos. 326-328, Sept. 1970-June 1971, pp. 193-253, pp. 198-199.
2. My translation, as are all translations into English in this chapter, except where otherwise stated. ‘Mientras el matrimonio siga siendo la mejor ‘carrera’ para una mujer, la mejor solución a sus problemas afectivos y económicos, mientras se sienta insegura, indefensa, dependiente de su marido, viviendo por procuración, pienso que el divorcio le sería perjudicial. Primero que sea autónoma, vertical. Recién entonces el divorcio – debidamente legislado – hará de ella, si lo desea, una mujer libre y no una víctima.’ Ibid., p. 199. Interestingly, these views are almost exactly echoed by Bemberg in her interview with Nissa Torrents as divorce was being legalised once again in the late 1980s: Torrents, ‘One Woman’s Cinema: Interview with María Luisa Bemberg,’ in Susan Bassnett (ed), Knives and Angels: Women Writers in Latin America, Zed Press, London 1990, pp. 170-175, p. 172.
3. According to Clara Fontana in her invaluable book on Bemberg which was based on a number of interviews with her, María Luisa Bemberg, Centro Editor de América Latina, Buenos Aires 1993, p. 12.
4. Ibid., p. 14.
5. ‘8 preguntas…’, p. 198.
6. According to Fontana: Fontana, p. 17.
7. Nissa Torrents, ‘Contemporary Argentine Cinema,’ in John King and Nissa Torrents, The Garden of the Forking Paths: Argentine Cinema, British Film Institute, London 1987, pp. 93-113, p. 100.
8. Reported by Caleb Bach in ‘María Luisa Bemberg tells the untold’, Americas 46 (Mar/Apr 1994): pp. 20-7, p. 2.
9. Clara Fontana has also noted these in passing: Fontana, p. 12.
10. Indeed, in the next sequence, we hear Fina’s children being taught French conjugation by their French governess.
11. Interestingly, Friedan recounts in her introduction an anecdote about how, when asked by a census taker what her profession was, she replied ‘Housewife’ despite the fact that she was working as a writer on this book at the time: Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, W.W. Norton and Company, New York 1963, 1974, p. 6.
12. Fontana, p. 11.
13. ‘La mujer debe tomar conciencia de la “condición femenina”, o sea del estado de dependencia política, social y económica en que se encuentra. El primer paso para lograr un cambio es desear ese cambio’, Sur, ‘La mujer’, p. 199.
14. Exhibition programme cited by Fontana, p. 19.
15. ‘Bemberg enfrenta al espectador y sobre todo a la espectadora, con un hecho encubierto por las prácticas sociales: el pretendido “mundo de la mujer”, no es “de la mujer”. Es un mundo de cosas, objetos, mercancías. La mujer es apenas un instrumento mediador.’ Loc.cit. Bemberg wrote and directed a second documentary short, on a similar theme, in 1978: Juguetes (Toys).
16. ‘Otra vez la protagonista, ahora en la piel de Thelma Biral, busca como Fina en Crónica… el refugio de la infidelidad. El trazado es poco convincente y difícilmente audaz. Le falta la dimensión conceptual que en algunos casos, el de Crónica de una señora es uno, hacen [sic] de una historia menor un arquetipo relevante de un conflicto humano y social. Triángulo de cuatro es un drama común entre gente frívola y algún toque crítico no la rescata de la trivialidad.’ Fontana, p. 20.
17. Reported by Luis Trelles Plazaola, ‘María Luisa Bemberg’, Cine y mujer: En América Latina directoras de largometrajes de ficción, Universidad de Puerto Rico, San Juan, 1991, pp. 105-125, p. 105.
18. There are further allusions to Fellini’s La Dolce vita in Triángulo. We discover that Martín likes to record sound effects from nature, like Marcello’s friend Steiner who commits suicide in the 1960 film. This is treated much more lightly in Ayala’s movie.
19. There are other sequences where Teresa ‘directs’ humorous scenes with Felipe in the photographic studio space of her flat, including one in which she pretends to be his geisha.
20. I base this observation, and others in this chapter, on Murray Smith’s extremely useful theories of ‘alignment’ and ‘allegiance’ in film narration in his book Engaging Characters: Fiction, Emotion and the Cinema (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995): ‘[Alignment] describes the process by which spectators are placed in relation to characters in terms of access to their actions, and to what they know and feel. The concept is akin to the literary notion of “focalization”, Gérard Genette’s term for the way in which narratives may feed story information to the reader through the “lens” of a particular character’, in film largely through spatio-temporal attachment and subjective access (Smith, p. 83). Meanwhile, allegiance ‘pertains to the moral evaluation of characters by the spectator’ and ‘depends on the spectator having what she takes to be reliable access to the character’s state of mind, on understanding the context of the character’s actions, and having morally evaluated the character on the basis of this knowledge.’ The word ‘moral’ is used by Smith rather than ‘ideological’ because, with respect to characters, ‘ideological judgements are typically expressed as moral evaluations; and secondly, assessing the overall ideology of a text may involve factors other than those pertaining to its characterological structure,’ (Smith, p. 84).
21. Fontana, p. 20.
22. Here I allude to Timothy Corrigan’s understanding of the modern ‘commerce in auteurism’, which takes place as much in press and academic interviews, and in other seemingly peripheral items of film culture, as it does in the physical distribution and consumption of actual film texts, especially since 1970. In the chapter ‘The Commerce of Auteurism’ in his book A Cinema Without Walls: Movies and Culture After Vietnam (Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1991, pp. 105-127), Corrigan advocates the analysis of directorial interviews in order to investigate the kinds of ‘commercial dramatizations of self’ (pp. 108-9) which are routinely articulated in this ubiquitous format. I have discussed Corrigan’s work and its implications for the future study of film authorship in some detail in an article for Screen 41:1, 2000: ‘www.auteur.com?’, pp. 121-130.
23. Bemberg in ‘Pride and Prejudice: María Luisa Bemberg, Interview with Sheila Whitaker’, in John King and Nissa Torrents (eds), The Garden of the Forking Paths: Argentine Cinema, BFI, London, 1987, pp. 115-121, p. 115.
24. Ibid., p. 116
25. ‘Yo creo que la primera película se hace en la máquina de escribir. Cuando uno escribe, por ejemplo, “amanece, aparece en el fondo la silueta de una figura que avanza hacia la cámara” yo ya la estoy filmando, estoy encuadrando. Concluí entonces que si yo quería que la película reflejase fielmente lo que yo había visualizado no tenía más remedio que ponerme a dirigir.’ Bemberg in Trelles Plazaola, p. 111.
26. Ibid., p. 113.
27. ‘[Películas que] sólo pudieron ser concebidas por mujeres y hasta me atrevo a decir por mujeres que sublimaron su descontento en fuerza creativa’: Fontana, p. 8.
28. ‘Se filmaba la escena de Crónica… en que Fina se agustia al percibir la realidad de su existencia vacía. Según cuenta Bemberg, que siempre asistía a las filmaciones, como autora pensó que para dar convicción a la escena se imponía hacer un primer plano muy especial. No pudo convencer a De la Torre, que sentía una antipatía por Fina, ese personaje al que Bemberg consideraba víctima de las circunstancias. Como para consolarse comentó el hecho al iluminador, que era Juan Carlos Desanzo. Desanzo le contestó: “-¿Por qué no dirigís vos?” “Mi reacción” – comenta Bemberg – “fue….”. “¿Yo, mujer, … dirigir? No sé nada de técnica.” Fontana, pp. 18-19. Caleb Bach is less circumspect: ‘Believing that “no man could understand what was happening with the new awareness of women,” she decided to go behind the camera herself’.’ Bach, p. 2 .
29. ‘Adultery “decriminalised”’, Fontana, p. 22.
30. Tony Tanner, Adultery in the Novel: Contract and Transgression, Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press, 1979, p. 15.
31. Bryan S. Turner, The Body and Society, London, Sage, 1996, pp. 2-3.
32. Ibid., p. 3.
33. Loc cit.
34. ‘These socio-economic changes are furthermore closely associated with what Anthony Giddens has called The Transformation of Intimacy ([Oxford, Polity/ Blackwell,]1992), in which self-understanding, individualism and self-realization are expressed through interpersonal relations based on pure emotion, non-utilitarian trust and interpersonal intimacy,’(Turner, p. 3) and no longer on a property contract. In his 1992 book, Giddens connects these changes to the emergence of second wave feminism, and writes: ‘Fundamental features of a society of high reflexivity are the “open” character of self-identity and the reflexive nature of the body. For women struggling to break free from pre-existing gender roles, the question “Who am I?” – which Betty Frieden [sic] labelled “the problem that has no name” – comes to the surface with particular intensity.’ Giddens, p. 30.
35. See Fontana for her anecdote about how Bemberg’s film Momentos could be a ‘reinvention’ of Torre Ríos’s adultery film La vuelta al nido, freed from its negative moral connotations: p. 24. Meanwhile, see Ana López’s discussion of the Argentine ‘cinéma d’auteur’ in which she traces the connections between the different generations and, in particular, points out that Torre Nilsson’s creation of his own production company created a commercially viable ‘art cinema’ production model to be copied by Ayala and Olivera with their Aries Cinematográfica company (which produced Bemberg’s Triángulo), and I would argue, in due course, by Lita Stantic and Bemberg with their GEA Cinematográfica: ‘Argentina, 1955-1976: The Film Industry and its Margins’ in King and Torrents, The Garden of the Forking Paths, op. cit., pp. 49-80., pp. 54-59 (and on De la Torre, p. 77).
36. Annette Kuhn, Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema, London, Verso, 1994, p. 135.
37. In the interview with Caleb Bach, Bemberg is quoted as follows: ‘my first film has the influence of Michelangelo Antonioni in which very little things suddenly become relevant, objects for instance. The one who influenced me most, his words – Notes on Cinematography – that’s Robert Bresson. He’s my master.’ Bach, p. 4.
38. ‘Bemberg lo reinventa al quitarle toda connotación moral. El adulterio se esfuma. Nadie transgrede nada. El conflicto pasa por los sentimientos, no por la moralidad.’ Fontana, p. 24.
39. ‘[T]iene clara conciencia de […] “género femenino”,’ ibid., p. 22.
40. ‘El adulterio de una mujer visto por otra mujer.’ There are no ‘intradiegetic’ female characters who witness the affair, so the marketing tag clearly refers to Bemberg’s role as director.
41. One might convincingly argue that this is a Bergmanesque style heavily inflected, not only by the ‘women’s film’, but also by the style of Woody Allen whose films Bemberg claimed to like in numerous interviews (see Trelles Plazaola, p. 115), although Momentos itself owes little to that filmmaker’s humorous treatment of adulterous relationships (unlike Bemberg’s second directed film, the heavily ironic Señora de nadie). A Bergman movie receives a mention in one of Momentos’ sequences. Roughly an hour into the film, the two lovers are deciding which film to go to see to fill one of their increasingly empty evenings in Mar del Plata. Lucía first suggests Kramer vs, Kramer (US, 1979, Robert Benson) which Nicolás has already seen and liked. She then enthusiastically suggests Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (Viskningar och rop, Sweden, 1972), but he expresses his derision at her taste until he sees he is wounding her.
42. This connects Lucía, in particular, to another of Bemberg’s characters, Miss Mary, whose younger lover was killed, leading her to seek out that kind of passion once more. Sigmund Freud, ‘Remembering, Repeating, and Working-Through (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-analysis)’ in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. XII, The Hogarth Press, London, 1958, pp. 145-156.
43. Giddens, p. 8.
44. ‘Nosotros’ (composed by Pedro Junco; most well known in the version sung by Los Panchos): ‘We love each other so much, but we ought to separate. Don’t ask me why, it’s not for the lack of love – I love you with all my soul […], and in the name of this love, and for your own good, I say goodbye.’ Nicolás reacts violently to her attempt to let him down gently, though he is full of remorse for hitting her, and she seems to forgive him.
45. Almirante Emilio Massera decreed in May 1976, at the beginning of the military dictatorship, that in Argentine cultural texts ‘in all cases, the resolution of the issues must lead to a positive ending,’ documented in Andrés Avellaneda, Censura, autoritarismo y cultura: Argentina 1960-1983, Vol. 2, Biblioteca Política Argentina, Buenos Aires, 1986, p. 155.
46. Tanner, p. 376. Here Tanner alludes to Michel Foucault’s well-known essay ‘Préface à la transgression’.
47. Bemberg herself once said that ‘Momentos begins with a euphoria which gradually becomes a noia, a kind of asphyxia and anguish’ (‘Es una película que comienza con una euforia y poco a poco se va transformando en una noia, una asfixia y angustia,’) in Trelles Plazaola, p. 114.
48. Part of a quotation from Bemberg’s film Camila, where the character of the Mother states: “marriage is like the nation… The best jail is the one you cannot see” (‘el matrimonio es como el país … La mejor cárcel es la que no se ve’).
49. Bemberg wrote the script for Momentos with the credited collaboration of therapist Marcelo Pichon-Riviere, the son of a famous Argentine psychoanalyst, probably to lend the psychoanalytic references greater credibility.
50. ‘[H]abía realizado antes films como Momentos y Señora de nadie. donde introduce con cierta superficialidad ambientes de la alta burguesía argentina (que conoce bien porque son los suyos), y un feminismo tenue, apto para la hora del té.’ José Agustín Mahieu, Panorama del cine iberoamericano, Ediciones de Cultura Hispánica, Madrid, p. 50. This does echo Bemberg’s own remarks about the film in Sheila Whitaker’s interview. See footnote 24 above.
51. In the interview with Trelles Plazaola, Bemberg gives her own interpretation of Momentos’ ending: ‘I believe that for [Lucía] that window is closed and she returns to her marriage because she has no way out’ (‘Yo creo que para esa mujer esa ventana está cerrada y vuelve a su matrimonio porque no tiene salida’), in Trelles Plazaola, p. 117.
52. ‘Fue un gran bajón porque me había dado cuerda para largarme a hacer esta película y me dijeron que no se podía hacer. Me dieron tres razones: la primera, porque era un pésimo ejemplo para las madres argentinas; la segunda, es que hay un maricón – “Yo, señora, prefiero tener un hijo con cáncer a que sea maricón”; y la tercera, es que la dirige una mujer.’ Ibid., p. 113.
53. Foucauldian ‘regimes of truth’ are ‘encased in institutional structures that exclude specific voices’ (Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media, Routledge, London, 19994, p. 18), yet do not simply function to repress, but also to produce the forms that specific cultural products take.
54. Sarah A. Radcliffe, ‘Women’s Place/El lugar de mujeres: Latin America and the politics of gender identity’, in Michael Keith and Steve Pile (eds), Place and the Politics of Identity, Routledge, London, pp. 102-116, p. 106.
55. Mary-Beth Tierney-Tello, Allegories of Transgression and Transformation: Experimental Fiction by Women Writing Under Dictatorship, State University of |New York Press, Albany, 1996, p. 142.
56. Trelles Plazaola, pp. 117-118.
57. There was some press interest, though, in the ‘nude scenes’, and at least one newspaper chose to stage a discussion about Miguel Angel Solá’s brief total nudity in the ‘breakfast in bed’ sequence in Momentos: ‘Actores critican el desnudo de Solá’, ASI en CRONICA, Buenos Aires, 17 May 1981, p. 8 (this newspaper is mentioned by the character of Julio in Señora de nadie). The only negative comments that the journalists managed to gather, however, were ones from a few actors, including Graciela Borges, who on balance criticised the film, generally in a rather mean-spirited fashion, for playing somewhat too safe in these sequences. My thanks to John King for providing me with a copy of this article.
58. ‘La tendencia a gastar, a viajar, a evadirse, era tal vez una necesidad colectiva luego de los grandes miedos del período ‘70/78. Esta soledad vuelta sobre sí misma, sin vida pública, privatizada, encontraba un escape a su angustia, una suerte de compensación que le ofrecía la política económica [con el fenómeno denominado ‘plata dulce’].’: María Sáenz Quesada, El camino de la democracia, Tiempo de Ideas, Buenos Aires, 1993, p. 126.
59. Michael Taussig, The Nervous System, Routledge, New York, 1992, p. 26. Cited by Diana Taylor, Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’, Duke University Press, Durham and London, p. 287, footnote 16.
60. See footnote 45 above.
61. Nissa Torrents, ‘Contemporary Argentine Cinema’ in King and Torrents, The Garden of the Forking Paths, op. cit., pp. 93-113, p. 103. Bemberg herself states that Momentos and Señora de nadie both broke even: Trelles Plazaola, pp. 119-120.
62. María Elena Walsh, ‘El país, jardín de infantes’, Clarín, circa mid 1979, as reported by Sáenz Quesada, p. 126.
63. The music for the song was composed by Luis María Serra, one of Bemberg’s regular collaborators. Alberto Ciria has briefly discussed the matter of the film’s two endings as follows: ‘Señora de nadie ends with two codas. In the first, Laura [sic: Leonor, the protagonist] consoles Pablo [her gay friend] (who has been brutally beaten up by his violent lover), and the two sleep in the same bed, like good friends. In the second, Laura and her sons have moved into a new apartment and the film plays out with the soundtrack of the song “Señora mía” […] which underlines the theme of women’s independence outside of the confines of marriage.’/‘Señora de nadie termina con dos codas. En la primera, Laura [sic] consuela a Pablo (quien ha sido golpeado duramente por un amante violento), y los dos duermen en la misma cama, como buenos amigos. En la segunda, Laura y sus hijos ocupan un nuevo departamento con el fondo sonoro de la canción “Señora mía” […] que subraya el tema de la independencia de la mujer fuera de los límites asfixiantes de la institución matrimonia,’ Alberto Ciria con Jorge M. López, ‘Historia, sexo, clase y poder en los filmes de María Luisa Bemberg’ in Ciria, Más allá de la pantalla: Cine argentino, historia y política, Ediciones de la Flor, Buenos Aires, 1995, pp. 153-177, p. 156. The commercially-distributed VHS version (AVH, Buenos Aires) does not incorporate the song, and, like Momentos, ends with a shot of a window (this time shown from the outside), following on from the sequence of Laura and Pablo in bed. In a letter from María Luisa Bemberg to John King, dated August 11 1992, the director expresses her clear dislike of the second ending, with Walsh’s song an ‘ideological concession’ to the idea of the ‘woman triumphant’. I am very grateful to John King for giving me a copy of this and other Bemberg correspondence. Unfortunately, I have not managed to discover yet which of the two endings was used for the film’s cinema release, or why the film has two versions in circulation. I do, however, concur with Bemberg’s own assessment of her endings: the platonic bed sequence more neatly rhymes, inversely, with the film’s pre-credit sequence.
64. Fontana, p. 59.
65. Sáenz Quesada, p. 159.
66. This and other details and, in general, the film’s tone, are strikingly reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s Scener ur ett äktenskap/Scenes from a Marriage (Sweden, 1972).
67. See footnote 34.
68. My emphasis: V. F. Perkins et al, ‘The Return of Movie ‘, Movie 20, Spring 1975, p. 12.
69. Both of the first directed films were shown at international festivals, including Huelva, Spain, Chicago, Cartagena, Colombia, Taormina, Italy and Panamá, winning prizes for acting and direction: Fontana, p. 62.
70. Bemberg, ‘La mujer tiene que dejar de sentirse una “menor de edad que pasa de la tutela paterna a la tutela marital,’ ‘8 preguntas…’, p. 198.
71. ‘Una directora tiene que intentar crecer con cada película. Sentí que en Momentos y Señora de nadie el mundo intimista de la mujer me quedaba super cómodo. Podía seguir haciendo este tipo de película.’ Trelles Plazaola, p. 115.