By Mariana Sanchez Bueno
Prolific Argentine filmmaker Albertina Carri (Los Rubios, The Rage) was recently in New York City to present her non-fiction film Cuatreros / Rustlers at New York University and Anthology Film Archives. TropicalFRONT’s collaborator Mariana Sánchez Bueno sat down with her to talk about her puzzling film which masterfully mixes archival footage, home videos, ads, movies, and interviews, to tell a story full of legends, families, politics, and cinema.
Since the film was based on a book published by your father, when and how did the idea to use this written material for a film start?
I originally had the idea to adapt my father’s text but after reading it over a few times I realized that it’s impossible to adapt because it’s a sociological text. Then I started working on the idea of making a fiction [film] about the book’s character; and what happened along the way is that I realized that the character of Isidro Velázquez himself did not interest me outside of my father’s fascination, in the making of all these impossible films, I discovered that what I was actually interested in doing was a film about my own fascination with the my father’s fascination. Then my subject became my father’s fascination and not the character that had fascinated him. And well, that was a long journey, it was a search between documentary and fictional, and several attempts of failed films.
Later, once the subject of the film was determined, I realized that the film is, somehow, the best adaptation that can be made of that book because the film is also a hybrid—a little fiction, a little documentary, it's also a bit of an essay—it's a little what my father did with the story of Isidro Velázquez. He used, not to use it in utilitarian terms, but to us his story to actually talk about other subjects. It is a bit what is said at the beginning of the film, which is the voice of my father, who says 'The chronicle of the events don’t matter, what matters is their current significance’', and I think that is the path that finally makes Cuatreros, that is why it is a mixture of a lot of things and it deals with many things based on different institutional violences.
Where does the footage come from? And how do you connect the different archives—both personal and ‘public’—with the overall theme of the film?
Well, for me these archives were connected naturally because I grew up with my parent’s story and also with the emptiness of that story. But then again, those public files, for me, were also a bit fictional, in addition to being factual. They are public archives but they are also partly privately owned, therefore they already have certain editorial lines, certain decisions were made stating what was kept and that were not preserved––so in the archive search you can also find what is missing, all the images that are not there, those that disappeared, those that were lost, those that were destroyed... The large amount of images in the archives were the way to build the missing image, and to create the category of not only the images that exist, but to put them in dialogue with the missing ones, to also turn the ones that are into those that are not, to put them in dialogue with the absence.
You create presence through absence…
Yes, also the archive in the sense that it is used as a body of images, as the imaginary of an era. It’s not that one image tries to create this imaginary on its own, but that in the summation (that's also why I use polyphony and the game of multiple screens) the imaginary is forming, configuring that imaginary of time and also that body of images, and within that body of images there’s also a game with the missing bodies.
What was the process of looking through the archives and selecting the footage that would become part of the film like?
Well, the first requirement was that the footage was shot in film because it was the material of the time, and also that the footage had circulated in Argentina between the sixties, seventies and eighties, until the end of the dictatorship. And then I looked for keywords, the search for material in the areas where I was trying to build the story. There was a whole investigation on Chaco, a whole investigation on institutional violence, there was also a lot of work with the news and on advertising. So then what interested me in all the images was to reconstruct how civil society supported the dictatorship, and how they were convinced to support the dictatorship—as it happens in all governments that are de-facto brutal, like Nazism, or the coups that are happening now in Latin America, in Brazil—they have been created and generated by the media. I was also interested in that because a false memory was also being created, one in which bad men had come, and they had done this or that and there had been a whole society supporting these murderers, when in reality what was generated through the media was a fear of the other.
That is the logic of evil. The same happens here in the US with the border, and the way media informs. So the material was also focused on that. I think the most paradigmatic case of materials in that sense is the theft of wigs. The man who got robbed says that they treated him well, that they were some twenty-year-old boys who stole some wigs, and the journalist insists that it is a very serious fact, and that we are all going to die because there are some kids who stole some wigs, and well, this is how it’s built, how that fear is built, that horror, that myth. Then, material that started appearing or that found us, let's say. The search for the film archive also has that random nature.
Do you think of your film as a continuation of your father’s investigation or as a new investigation all together?
I honestly had never thought about it that way. I don’t know because my father’s project was so timely that it is hard to think of a continuity over time. And also because something happened to me, which is partly why I think I could do Cuatreros, which is that it became a film about some kind of maturity, because I am already older than my father, and although I think of him as a thinker and as a political figure, I also think of him as a father, with whom I had an affectionate relationship with. So in reality, the film in that sense is more about the intrigue and curiosity, about that affection given me, the affection I feel for that young man, my father, who had the need to change the world.