Latin Noir

Double fisted death.Cine

(2021) Documentary (AnemonPaco Ignacio Taibo II, Roberto Bardini, Luis Sepulveda, Claudia Pineiro, Leonardo Paduro, Philip Swanson, Juan Sasturain, Santiago Roncagliolo.  Directed by Andreas Apostolides

We all have our image of noir fiction; hard-bitten, world-weary detectives (most of whom resemble Humphrey Bogart uncannily) dealing with beautiful women who shouldn’t be trusted and forces well beyond his pay grade. They prowl the back alleys of the big city, wearing heavy trenchcoats and fedoras, peering into the fog and rain-soaked streets looking for clues, knowing deep down that justice is something that only happens in fairy tales.

In Latin America, they have a different outlook on noir. As Mexican crime fiction novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II asks, “how can you write a crime novel in a country where the state is the main criminal?” In the 70s, Latin America was riddled with military dictatorships and authoritarian governments. People disappeared without a trace; the police were not interested in protecting the people so much as protecting the government that paid them, and it wasn’t uncommon for people to be murdered in cold blood on the order of the state.

For a group of writers that began to emerge during that period, crime fiction began to blend by necessity with social fiction; the real crime was being committed by the State. A handful of writers, including Taibo but also Luis Sepulveda (Chile), Claudia Pineiro (Argentina), Leonardo Paduro (Cuba), and Santiago Roncagliolo (Peru), created a subgenre of crime fiction that came to be identified as novellas negras or, black novels. They began to be referred to as Latin Noir, for their similarities to the great noir fiction of the 1930s and 1940s.

Apostolides, himself a crime novelist whose work is infused with his own experiences during the repressive Greek dictatorship of the 1980s, interviews the five writers as well as scholars Philip Swanson and Juan Sasturain for context. The writers talk about how their experiences within their countries inspired them to create their best-known novels and characters. The interviews offer a fascinating look at the creative processes of these writers, as well as give us insight into recent Latin American politics and history.

The jazz-inspired score fits perfectly into the noir oeuvre and clips from noir films help bring some of the words to life. However, the best parts are when passages from the novels themselves are read (in Spanish, with the English translation in subtitles). One gets a sense of the underlying hope for better things and the grim realities of the past and present that flavor these novels.

This isn’t for everybody. There is definitely an academic tinge to the film which tends to be fairly analytical in tone. There is a lot of good information here, however, and those interested in Latin culture are going to find this fascinating. It made its world premiere at the Miami Film Festival and is available online through the Festival for American audiences through the end of the Festival run on March 14. Afterwards, keep an eye out for it at your own local film festival, particularly if it tends to play films from that region. I wouldn’t be surprised if this made its way onto PBS somehow; it would fit like a glove there.

REASONS TO SEE: Very informative about political events in Latin America.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very reliant on talking heads; some may fid it dry and academic.
FAMILY VALUES: Little overt violence or sex, but discusses adult thematic concepts of state-sponsored repression.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sepulveda passed away due to complications from COVID-19 last year.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema (available through 3/14/21)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/9/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Los Angeles: City of Film Noir
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Sin La Habana

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