Violent Visions

Still from Pizza, birra, faso (click for higher resolution)
Pizza, birra, faso: intentional parallels
with Los olvidados?

bullet1 Argentina: Pizza, birra, faso

So, I'd like now to go straight into a discussion of the first film, Pizza, birra, faso ["Pizza, beer, fags"], which was made in Argentina in 1997 by a couple of young, virtually unknown directors — Bruno Stagnaro and Adrián Caetano — on the shoestring budget (for a feature film) of US $400,000 (Ravaschino 2002), and which has been credited by the influential film review El amante cine with having substantially changed the course of Argentine cinema (Noriega 2001).

bullet2 "The taxi ride from hell"

I'm going to show a clip now from the opening of the film, which I think could accurately be described as "the taxi ride from hell" — I've added the subtitles to this myself, because the film was not distributed with subtitling. Points to watch out for are: the hyper-mobility of the camera throughout the extended opening sequence, the overlay of radio transmissions by the police and radio news reports on the audio track, the in-your-face portrayal of time-space compression, speed-up, transportation and communication systems, and of course the dual violence of social exclusion and crime.

Clip 2: Pizza, birra, faso
(subtitled) (4m 55s)

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bullet2 Modes of vision

This frantic, in-your-face filming style, made possible by light-weight highly mobile cameras, came as something of a revolution in Argentine cinema, and I think this new mode of seeing is signalled heavily in the opening sequences. Instead of the immobile establishing shots of traditional filmic discourse (such as those in the documentary prologue to Los olvidados), we are presented with a frenetically speeding camera, a rush of movement in a fragmented cityscape where the durée of place has been replaced by velocity, smeared into a blur along lines of transportation and displacement.

  • Transport
    But let's concentrate on the visualization of speed and transport in that edited clip. Not only is the camera almost always travelling in the opening sequences, but at least five different types of transport are signalled: cars, buses, taxis, trains, and the businessman's missed aeroplane (implying global space), all in rapid movement. That such transport signifies velocity, or time-space compression, is obvious, but that velocity and rate substitute for temporal depth in the global megalopolis is, I think, carefully signalled by the close-up of the taxi-driver's digital clock in the roof of his car at the beginning of the taxi-mugging sequence.
  • Time versus rate
    Fredric Jameson indeed argues that time can no longer be perceived as a depth formation, something that accrues slowly in great geological strata, in what he terms the era of postmodernity.
    • Jameson, The Seeds of Time
      Time is now "a function of speed, and evidently perceptible only in terms of its rate, or velocity as such: as though the old [...] opposition between measurement and life, clock time and lived time, had dropped out" (Jameson 1994: 8).
    • Time is function of speed
      If time has now become velocity, the rate of change of fashion designs on the store front or its web page, or the rate of change of the locales in the shopping-mall, of the built environment itself, time thereby in a sense fizzles out in an instant, since velocity is a measure of a displacement over time.
    • Paradox
      Jameson also claims that this new, absolute temporality, "has everything to do with the urban [...,] its postnaturality to technologies of communication as well as of production and [...] the decentered, well-nigh global, scale on which what used to be the city is deployed" (Jameson 1994: 11).

bullet2 Destiempo

Pizza, birra, faso, is a film about the rebellious, youthful, criminal underworld of Buenos Aires; it follows the violent lives of a group of teenage boys and a pregnant teenage girl, who resort to crime in order to supply their basic necessities, the pizza, beer, and fags of the title. They live the lives of the teenage youths analysed in Mario Margulis' fascinating study of the Buenos Aires nightlife, La cultura de la noche, for whom,

Al refugiarse en la noche, se resignifica la ciudad y parece alejarse el poder. Ilusión de independencia apelando al juego del tiempo; tiempo no colonizado en que parece resignar el control; tiempo no utilizado plenamente para la reproducción económica, para la industria o la banca. Si todos los espacios están colonizados queda el amparo del tiempo, el tiempo como refugio. (Margulis 1994: 12)
In the refuge offered by the night, the city is resignified and power appears to recede. It is an illusion of independence which encourages a playing with time; uncolonized time in which they are released from control; time not used up in economic production, industry or banking. If all the spaces are colonized, there remains the shelter of time, time as a refuge.

The character nicknamed Córdoba — the one with the gun in the clip — finds himself increasingly caught between his carefree criminal existence and the increasing responsibilities demanded of him by his pregnant girlfriend Sandra. Unable, despite trying, to hold down a regular job, he resorts to increasingly audacious robberies in order to be seen to be "providing" for his future family.

Landmark urban films from Argentina

  • Sur (dir. Fernando Solanas, 1987)
  • Buenos Aires viceversa
    (dir. Alejandro Agresti, 1996)

  • Mundo grúa [Crane World]
    (dir. Pablo Trapero, 1999)
  • Comparison with other urban films
    Although not the first urban film of the post-dictatorship period in Argentina, and certainly not the first to portray violence, Pizza, birra, faso is the first such film to use largely non-professional actors, and the first to avoid any kind of moralizing metacommentary, whether in voiceover as in Sur by Fernando Solanas, or in the portentous narrative development and cinematic self-reflexivity, as in Buenos Aires viceversa by Alejandro Agresti.

    In this sense, it is not that far removed from Los olvidados, to which it pays explicit homage by restaging the infamous attack by the boys on a legless man. Two brief clips will illustrate the type of filmic citation at work here:

    Clip 3: Los olvidados and
    Pizza, birra, faso 
    (2m 12s)

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  • Popular culture and violence Navigation buttons
    My main conjecture here, however, is that Pizza, birra, faso is linking the temporal dysphasia of these kids, their sense of no past and no tomorrow, to the culture of violence which pervades their lives, and I think we shall find that this is a theme continued in the Colombian film I shall now turn to.