Laura Podalsky

Over the past decade or so, there has been a proliferation of films from a variety of Latin American countries about disaffected youth, among them Rodrigo D: No futuro (1990, Colombia), Johnny Cien Pesos (1993, Chile), Madagascar (1994, Cuba), Pizza birra faso (1997, Argentina), Amor vertical (1997, Cuba), and Amores perros (2000, Mexico). Although tales of youthful alienation have been a cinematic staple in many countries since the 1960s, many of these recent Latin American films depart from the older models by privileging the perspective of working-class and lower-middle-class subjects and, in so doing, harshly indict societies riddled by mundane acts of violence, exploitation, and emotional brutality. Whether in the form of Rodrigo D's blaring punk sound track or Amores perros's dazzling camera work and editing, these films attest to the affective charge of everyday life for young adults.

These films should also be placed within a much larger discursive network as they resonate with concerns voiced elsewhere by both conservative and leftist critics about the depoliticization of young people, the decreased moral authority of schools, and the deleterious effects of media culture. There are clear analogies here to the critique of the so-called Gen-Xers that has been carried out in the U.S. since the early 1990s. However, as numerous critics have reminded us, "youth" is a sociopolitical category constituted by a variety of intersecting discourses (legal, psychological, sociological, filmic) and solidified by the work of numerous institutions (the state, schools, families). Hence, discussions about youth and the representation of youth must be situated historically and geographically in particular times and particular spaces.

Gael Garcia Bernal on a French lobby card for the popular Mexican film Amores perros (2000), known in French as Amours chiennes, and in English as Love's a Bitch.

In Latin America, particularly in the Southern Cone, discussions of ''today's youth'' are often inflected, in one way or another, with debates about the region's recent political history. In the mid-1980s, commentators like Miguel Bonasso, Mario Marcel, and others noted the key role played by Latin American youth in redemocratization efforts. By the 1990s, others would designate contemporary youth as a ''lost generation''—a product or residue of the long years of dictatorship—and characterize youth culture, whether discussed in terms of the proliferation of video arcades and mall culture or the practice of ''zapping'' (quickly scanning TV programs with the remote control), as the most trenchant signs of the triumph of neoliberalism.1 In Cuba, discussions about contemporary youth have been framed differently—but similarly situate today's youth as a measure of the legacies of the past, in this case, the promise (or failed promise) of the revolution. Such recurrent commentary on ''the problem of today's youth'' tell us less about young adults themselves than about the way in which youth has functioned as a sociocul-tural category. As critical educator Henry Giroux points out, youth has long functioned as ''a metaphor for historical memory and a marker that makes visible the ethical and political responsibility of adults to the next genera tion'' and thus has served as a useful ''symbol of how society thinks of itself and as an indicator of changing cultural values'' (10).

When talking about youth and film, we are clearly discussing a wide range of productions. There are clear differences between Argentine films like Picado fino (1993-1996), a very low budget, stylistically experimental film, and No sabe, no contesta (2002), a more mainstream narrative; and between Mexican films like Por la libre (2000) and Perfume de violetas, nadie te oye (2001). The differences between films such as these are a question not only of mode of production and formal characteristics, but also of their targeted audiences. While it may be less reasonable to talk about ''youth films'' as critics do in the U.S. (where 18- to 24-year-olds are an established niche market), there are signs that some Latin American producers have been trying to nurture a local equivalent.2

With those differences in mind, the central concern of this essay is examining the affective play of particular films—that is, they way in which they articulate, evoke, and deploy emotion. More specifically, I want to unsettle other analyses that would suggest that these contemporary films are merely a postmodern reworking of the alienation characteristic of European and some Latin American films about youth from the 1960s. Rather, this essay will argue that at least some of the recent films register what Raymond Williams called ''structures of feeling'' that question (and at times disrupt) dominant discursive formations. In order to do this, I will briefly analyze recent films from two different countries that in many ways depart from the representation of youth in other contemporary films made in their respective countries: from Argentina, Picado fino and La ciénaga (2000), and from Cuba, Nada (2001) and the short Un pedazo de mí (1990). Despite their many differences, these films share a common discursive tactic: they inscribe contemporary affective disjunction in terms of depth perception. As I will illustrate, Picado fino is a film about surfaces, about the absence of ''in-depth'' affective connections between family members and between lovers. It is a film that seemingly registers a postmodern ''waning of affect''—an interpretation that I will contest in the following pages. Unlike Picado fino, La ciénaga is a film about what lies underneath the surface of perceptible reality. With numerous deep-focus shots resplendent with color, Lucrecia Martel's film registers the pregnant emotions percolating below the surface of everyday life that strain against their representational containment. The Cuban film Nada shares an interest in superficial reality with Picado fino, but it becomes a means to bring into relief the affective textures of everyday life and to bridge the communicative distance between its protagonists. In contrast, the short Un pedazo de mí characterizes the crisis of youth in terms of the hollowing out of emotional spaces, an articulatory practice also evident in the works of Ismael Peralta, a young Cuban painter, and in Pérez' film Madagascar.

The comparative nature of this analysis serves a number of purposes. Among other things, it suggests some of the ways in which "youth" has been articulated differently in different parts of Latin America. Furthermore, it highlights how representations of youth relate to differential socioeconomic conditions, specific historical trajectories, and local institutional genealogies. In the case of Argentina, I will situate the films in relation to the "explosion" of films by younger directors (the ''New New Argentine Cinema" that emerged in the mid-1990s), as well as to a particular discursive legacy in which youth were defined as guerrillas or subversives. In the case of Cuba, I will locate Un pedazo de mí, a film made under the auspices of the Asociación Hermanos Saíz, and Nada in relation to the institutional crisis of ICAIC (the Cuban Film Institute), which has been producing films about youth by ''not-so-young'' directors, and to a dominant trope resulting from the notion of Cuba as the site of the perpetual revolution: youth as eternal (and, at times, martyred) militant epitomized in the figure of Ché Guevara.

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