On October 16, Fernando Solanas, best known for codirecting the landmark essay film The Hour of the Furnaces (1968) with Octavio Getino, announced on Twitter that he and his wife, Angela Correa, had both tested positive for COVID-19. “Let’s take care of each other,” he tweeted from his hospital bed in Paris, where he was serving as Argentina’s ambassador to UNESCO. Five days later, he tweeted word that he’d been moved into intensive care: “I keep resisting.” Then, over the weekend, his family announced that he had passed away. Fernando “Pino” Solanas was eighty-four.
In 2012, as Sight & Sound was collecting ballots for the poll of critics and filmmakers the magazine conducts every ten years to create two ranked lists of the greatest films of all time, scholar and curator Nicole Brenez argued the case for The Hour of the Furnaces as “the film that established the paradigm of revolutionary activist cinema.” Almost immediately following the 1966 military coup d’état in Argentina, Solanas and Getino secretly began shooting and editing The Hour of the Furnaces, whose running time of over four hours would be divided into two main parts with three subsections and several distinct chapters. Kevin B. Lee’s adaptation of Brenez’s article as an audiovisual essay is definitely worth seven minutes of your time.
The gist of Solanas and Getino’s argument, though, is best summed up in the essay meant to accompany the film, “Towards a Third Cinema.” If the Hollywood production model can be seen as the First Cinema, and European auteurist cinema the Second, the Third Cinema casts the director as part of a collective creating noncommercial work aimed at inspiring revolutionary activism. “The anti-imperialist struggle of the peoples of the Third World and of their equivalents inside the imperialist countries constitutes today the axis of the world revolution,” wrote Solanas and Getino. “Third cinema is, in our opinion, the cinema that recognizes in that struggle the most gigantic cultural, scientific, and artistic manifestation of our time, the great possibility of constructing a liberated personality with each people as the starting point—in a word, the decolonization of culture.”
Writing for Vertigo in 2008, Argentine scholar Mariano Mestman noted that The Hour of the Furnaces “incorporates and works with a wide range of cinematic resources and techniques (newsreel sequences, interviews, documentary material and reconstruction of scenes, extracts from other films, still photographs, intertitles, graphs, freeze frames, advertising images, editing effects, collage and the contributions of direct cinema), while it absorbs and re-works various influences, including Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Glauber Rocha, Santiago Álvarez, Joris Ivens, and Jean-Luc Godard, as well as perspectives on art and politics as exemplified by artists such as Bertolt Brecht.” The film was well-received in Europe and in the States, but screenings back home in Argentina were clandestine events. “Each screening was a risk and created a ‘liberated space, a decolonized territory’ (in Getino’s words), within which the film could be stopped for as long as necessary to allow discussions and debates (hence the compartmentalized structure),” wrote Brenez.
Following another right-wing coup in 1976, Solanas fled to France and only returned when democracy was restored in 1983. He remained active both as a filmmaker, winning awards in Cannes and Venice and an Honorary Golden Bear in Berlin in 2004, and as a politician, running for the presidency in 2007 and serving as National Senator representing the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires from 2013 to 2019. In the early 2000s, following another bout of political upheaval, Solanas “rediscovered the cinema of the street,” as Jorge Ruffinelli put it in a 2009 essay for ReVista. “Cinematographic techniques had changed in these years, and heavy 16mm cameras were traded in for camcorders and high-definition digital. With these innovations, the cinema of Solanas regained its youth. The filmmaker hit the pavement to record the events that shook the country, directing four notable documentaries in just five years: Memoria del saqueo (2004), La dignidad de los nadies (2005), Argentina latente (2007) and La próxima estación (2008).”
Film critic Giona A. Nazzaro, who was selected just last week to be the new artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival, finds it “undeniable that the Solanas of the 1960s and ’70s is different from the filmmaker who achieved great success in the mid-80s with Tangos, the Exile of Gardel, igniting a newfound interest in the music of Astor Piazzolla. And yet it is still the same man who opposed corruption and violence, who was shot in the legs by the goons of power and who kept pursuing his own, unmistakable vision. To get an idea of said vision, we can simply evoke the conversation with Jean-Luc Godard that appeared in Cine del tercer mundo in October 1969.”
Last year, Let It Be Law, a documentary on women’s reproductive rights in Argentina directed by Solanas’s son, Juan, premiered in Cannes, and Bilge Ebiri spoke with Juan Solanas and two of his producers, his sister, Victoria, and his father. Fernando Solanas noted that his political activism began when he was sixteen and “the movies I wanted to make were ones wherein I could use the multiplicity of languages within cinema: There is always music, and other different forms that reflect my background. My desire to use all these languages was in a way linked to the opera, which was the most important art form of the nineteenth century, because it combined music, poetry, theater, graphic arts all together. Cinema allowed me to do a version of that.”
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