Recommended Books

Fiction lovers have a rich seam to mine regarding Argentine writing. Jorge Luis Borges is the country's grandfather of literature, with his elegant short stories combining symbolism, fantasy, and reality to create metaphysical narratives that have been translated all over the world. Labyrinths and A Universal History of Iniquity are just two of his collections from a prolific career. Julio Cortázar is another giant of letters who, like Borges, was very much influenced by European ideas and lived abroad for many years in Paris. His novel Hopscotch has an unconventional narrative that requires reading twice to give two different versions. His story The Droolings of the Devil was adapted into the famous art-house movie Blow Up by Michelangelo Antonioni. Another Borges-influenced writer is Ernesto Sábato, whose On Heroes and Tombs is one of the most thorough artistic expressions of Buenos Aires ever written. The Tunnel, by the same author, is a compelling read about an obsessed painter. Less lauded abroad but more indicative of Argentine rural life is the work of Horacio Quiroga. A tragic figure (he committed suicide in 1937), Quiroga's stories are mostly set in the jungle frontier of Misiones; they combine the supernatural and bizarre to create stories that are enjoyed by young and old alike and can be seen as a predecessor to magical realism. The Decapitated Chicken and The Exiles are both short story collections that are available in English. A seminal book in Argentine literature is the 19th-century gaucho poem Martin Fierro, by José Hernández, a compulsory read for all Argentine students.

Popular modern writers include Manuel Puig, whose Kiss of the Spider Woman was adapted into a movie of the same name. It deals with sex and repression using popular movies and cultural references to keep the narrative flowing. Puig's background as a screenwriter can also be seen in other books such as Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and Heartbreak Tango. Osvaldo Soriano's Shadows and A Funny Dirty Little War are popular critiques of Argentine society, while Federico Andahazi's The Anatomist is an entertaining and somewhat bawdy work of historical fiction.

For an outsider's take on Argentine culture, read In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, one of the most famous travelogues ever written. Chasing Che by Patrick Symmes is an eloquent description of the writer's attempt to retrace the road trip of the famous revolutionary. Miranda France's Bad Times in Buenos Aires is an excellent impression of an expat's frustrating attempt to live in Argentina. For something lighter and more frivolous, read Kiss and Tango, by Marina Palmer, the warts-and-all confessions of a tango-dancing gringa.

Recommended Films

Despite limited funding and very little exposure, the Argentine movie industry has a prodigious output, with movies veering from slick mainstream features to grim independent offerings and an occasional award-winning gem in between. Themes such as the breakdown of society, the dirty war, the Malvinas war, and the sex wars provide rich pickings for young creative directors with little money but lots of talent.

Maria Luisa Bemberg is probably the most famous of late-20th-century Argentine filmmakers and specialized in period dramas. Her Camila (1984) and Miss Mary (1986) both deal with the feminine experience in Argentina, with Julie Christie starring in the latter. The Official Story (1985), by Luis Puenzo, and The Night of the Pencils (1986), by Hector Olivera, are two powerful dramas about the military dictatorship and how the repression even reached the nation's children. Man Facing Southeast (1986) and The Dark Side of the Heart (1992) are two compelling movies by Eliseo Subiela, the former having a sci-fi theme and the latter an intriguing love story. The Italian neorealist style of filmmaking is a strong influence in Argentine cinema, and nowhere is it more evident than in the movies of Pablo Trapero. Crane World (1999) and El Bonarense (2002) are two gritty working-class features, with the former a stark portrait of police corruption. Another master of everyday themes and deadpan comedy is Carlos Sorin. Historias Minimas (2003) and Bombon the Dog (2004) deal with love, life, and dogs. For something more mainstream but just as hilarious, Tiempo de Valientes (2008), by Damian Szifron, concerns two favorite Argentine subject matters -- crime and psychoanalysis. Blessed by Fire (2004), by Tristan Bauer, is possibly one of the best movies made about the Falklands War, while grifter movie Nine Queens (2001), by Fabian Bielinsky, is so good that it was remade in Hollywood.

Unfortunately Hollywood's take on Argentina is not so illustrious and fraught with clichés. One of the first mainstream movies is a lighthearted musical called Down Argentine Way (1940), by Irving Cummings. Robert Duvall's Assassination Tango (2002) and Christopher Hampton's Imagining Argentina (2003) are uninspiring and best forgotten, and the less said about Alan Parker's Evita (1996) the better. The best foreign movies about Argentina are those that make the setting speak for itself -- in most cases, the rich, atmospheric backdrop of Buenos Aires. Two great examples of this are Happy Together (1997), by Wong Kar Wai, and Tango (1998), by Carlos Saura.

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