Plot: Alsino (Alan Esquivel), a Central American peasant boy, lives with his grandmother (Carmen Bunster) and plays with the girl next door, Lucia (Marta Lorena Perez). He dreams about being able to fly, and climbs trees. One day an American helicopter pilot, an "advisor" to the army, spots him in the tree, and they are seized by soldiers. The pilot, Frank (Dean Stockwell), warms to the boy, although the local major (Alejandro Parodi) warns him that children are often guerrillas. Frank gives Alsino a ride in the helicopter, but Alsino wants to fly on his own. He jumps from a tree and is wounded. During his convalescence, the family gets ever poorer until they must sell the family horse. For a while he sells forest birds, crippled to keep them from escaping, with an old man, who soldiers also intimidate.
Frank is Helping the army fight a losing war, and when his buddy is killed in combat, he becomes even more ferocious. As Alsino returns home to his dying grandmother, he happens on soldirs in mid-massacre on the spot that was once Alsino's favorite play area. The guerrillas win the battle; Frank's helicopter crashes into the tree Alsino once climbed, and Frank dies. Alsino is welcomed into the winning side, and takes the generic name of the guerrillas: Manuel.
Style: Alsino is lyric Latin populism, at times gaudy and expressionistic, at times documentary-style. The narrative is unashamedly allegorical. Alsino, emblem of the people, wants freedom (flying), not the foreign and artificial substitute (helicopter). When he tries on his own (individualistic solutions), he can't make it, but his dreams come true when he joins the struggle.
The power of film to overwhelm viewers with sensations is used consistently to deliver a sense of a child's awe of the world, curiosity and discovery. The film might be considered as participating in a filmic equivalent of the magical realism celebrated by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in print. (See Erendira.)
The narrative is carefully developed so that both villains and heroes are given motivations, multifaceted characters and choices, a resort that then makes the villains responsible for their decisions.
Background on director/film: Miguel Littin, a Chilean filmmaker, came to international prominence in the early years of the Latin American film boom cine nuevo, with his 1969 fiction feature The Jackal of Nahueltoro. Based on a true story that became the stuff of tabloids in Chile, it probed the social reasons behind a drunken man's murder of a poor woman and her children. Under the Allende government, Littin headed for ten months the national film agency Chile Film, also working on an epic about Chilean history. Upon Allende's murder and the Pinochet coup, Littin and many others went into exile. Littin in ensuing years depended heavily on Help from the Cuban government and film industry.
Alsino and the Condor was made as a co-production between Cuba, where many of the technicians and post-production facilities came from; Mexico, where financial support came from; and Costa Rica, where it was filmed. At the time, the Mexican government not only strongly supported "independent" (non-studio, non-lowest common denominator entertainment) cinema, but also espoused a Third Worldist rhetoric. Alsino was widely seen as a filmic expression of Third World solidarity.
Production context: The national film expressions that evolved throughout Latin America from the late '50s through the '70s were known collectively as New Latin American Cinema, or nuevo cine. Diverse in style, form, subject matter, and responding to the particular social and political realities of each country, they shared some commonalities. They were typically authorial works, produced outside commercial cinema; they were marked by a strong passion to probe social reality and reveal popular culture; they were often oppositional to regimes that, in this period, were often military or military-controlled. Producing works that were internationally heralded, while often bitterly contested and even censored at home, this movement became one of the hallmarks of the vibrancy of modern Latin American culture.
The roots of nuevo cine are in a distinctively Latin American neorealism. This Latin American neorealism drew inspiration from the Italian cinematic neorealists, gradually incorporating into itself as well a fascination with the iconoclasm and personal voice of the French New Wave and expressions of the fiercely argued political culture of the day. It became a major voice in a continent-wide movement for cultural nationalism.
The Italian neorealist movement, arising from the ashes of the commercial Italian film industry after World War II, featured such technical elements as location shooting, low budgets and use of non-actors. Philosophically, it was grounded in passionate sociopolitical concern, the authorial voice, the search for the drama of ordinary life, and the capturing of the reality we usually take for granted. As scriptwriter Cesare Zavattini (Shoeshine, Bicycle Thief) wrote, "Now it has been perceived that reality is hugely rich, that to be able to look directly at it is enough; and that the artist's task is not to make people moved or indignant at metaphorical situations, but to make them reflect (and, if you like, to be moved and indignant too) on what they and others are doing, on the real things, exactly as they are" (in Richard Dyer MacCann, ed., Film: A Montage of Theories, NY: Dutton, 1966).
Neorealism had a profound impact throughout the developing world, where its low-cost production techniques and social mandate caught the imagination of many filmmakers. In Latin America, the influence of the example was pronounced. Several Latin American filmmakers studied at the neorealist Experimental Cinema Center in Rome, and Zavattini among other Italian filmmakers visited several Latin American capitals, to a typically triumphal reception. Neorealism was the beginning of a movement that searched for the Latin American reality in slums, villages, and in the poetry of ordinary life, in distinctive national and artistic voices.
This movement did not simply attempt to imitate European example, although it is true that Latin American elite culture has always been drawn to Europe. Rather, the message of the Italian neorealists (like, mutatis mutandis, that of the French New Wave) was seen as a liberating one for filmmakers--even if impoverished, even if confronting the challenge of capturing a reality never before dignified in cinema--to be able to make movies about the authentic realities of their own cultures. Nuevo cine brought Latin Americans from diverse regions of the continent in contact with each other and shaped a pan-Latin American rhetoric of social concern wedded inextricably to the search for authentic and revivifying aesthetic language.
Importance: Alsino and the Condor, well received throughout Latin America, was an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign-Language Film of 1982. It is interesting as an example of stretching psychological realism, the narrative drama, and the coming of age story.Further reading:
Last updated on September 17, 1996
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