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La dignidad de los nadies (2005)

The degraded socio-economic condition of Argentina leading to the December 2001 rebellions, and its consequent social chaos analyzed by focusing on real people from Buenos Aires poorest ... See full summary »

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The degraded socio-economic condition of Argentina leading to the December 2001 rebellions, and its consequent social chaos analyzed by focusing on real people from Buenos Aires poorest shantytowns, crumbling hospitals, and women middle class farmers fighting multi national banks that are shamelessly appropriating their farmlands. Written by Gonz30

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15 September 2005 (Argentina)  »

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The Dignity of the Nobodies  »

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Chaotic and grainy, but for some of us, essential viewing
16 April 2006 | by (Berkeley, California) – See all my reviews

This tumultuous and boldly-titled documentary, La Dignidad de los nadies, focuses on the poor and dispossessed of Argentina and their recent increasingly successful battles against neo-liberalism and globalization, as well as the continuing severe problems with repossessed farms, enormous poverty, widespread joblessness, and a socialized health care system in chaos. Fernando Solanas, a man of the revolutionary Sixties, sprang to fame in his early thirties with his 1968 documentary trilogy La Hora de los Hornos/The Hour of the Furnaces, and other bright spots in his career include Los Hijos de Fierro/The sons of Fierro (1975), Tangos: El Exilio de Gardel/Tangos: Gardel's Exile (1985), Sur/South (1988), El Viaje/The Voyage (1992), and Memoria del Saqueo/A Social Genocide (2004), recipient of the Golden Bear at Berlin.

The Dignity of the Nobodies is part of a larger picture, beginning with the forced resignation of President de la Rúa followed by a succession of several other failed presidents, the default on the international debut, the detaching of the Argentine peso from the dollar, and the subsequent "sacking" or robbery of the nation that took place in 2002 when banks shut down, local debts were absorbed into the national dept in what might be called an outright explosion of corruption in democracy after the country got rid of its military dictatorship. This is the sequence of events described in Solanas' Memoria del Saqueo (Social Genocide is the English title but obviously the title more accurately rendered is "Memoir of a Sacking"). The Dignity of the Nobodies is hence described as "the second chapter in a series of four documentaries exposing the corporate sacking of Argentina" and said to be focused "on the victims and their struggle to fight back." The projected two sequels are to be called Argentina Latente/Latent Argentina and La Tierra Sublevada/The Roused Land.

The Dignity of the Nobodies, which ranges all over Argentina as far as Patagonia to tell its story, is presented as a series of specific portraits, or sketches of situations as seen through the experiences of individuals. Toba, for example is a teacher who runs a free food kitchen, and saved the life of Martin, a delivery man who was shot by police at a 2001 police riot against the mothers of Plaza de Mayo. Antonia and Chipi are two others who feed two hundred people at a soup kitchen. Margarita and Colinche are a homeless and jobless couple with nine children who do odd jobs from a horse drawn cart; Colinche's dream is for her children to go to school; and in the sequels presented at the film's end, they are going to school. The "picket camp" is a huge gathering of jobless who live in solidarity and block roads to make their plight known: these scenes resemble the US in the Depression era. Lucy is a farm widow who has led a fight of other farm wives to prevent auctioning off of farms in an ongoing series of group disruption actions during which they sing the national anthem at auctions and shut them down.

Darío is a charismatic young martyr of the poor people's struggle -- he looked rather like Che Guevara in his prime -- who died in another police riot when trying to save a friend. Darío's death and the protests of his girlfriend, Claudia, and a host of supporters led to the unmasking of the killers and their imprisonment. The penultimate story is of Gustavo, a young priest of Greater Buenos Aires who's so outspoken against police "maffias" (their spelling) and their collusion with local mayors with ties to the previous dictatorship that he is driven out of his church and subsequently gives up the priesthood to be a full-time activist. Again the people were able to find justice in a case of police murders. The last segment is about the Patagonian Zanon ceramics factory. Several thousand factories were shut down as a result of the economic collapse of the country. Workers have seized and reopened about 160 and the Zanon factory is one that has been restored to productivity and sells to the local market. Keeping such factories open is an ongoing struggle against authorities, as is the struggle to prevent farms from being repossessed, despite the success of Lucy's group. The film ends with a freeze-frame on the young pretty face of a girl student, because students now donate time to help out at the hospitals.

Solanas is a profound chronicler and polemicist, but the chaotic nature of his material perhaps robs him of the possibility of being an artist. One longs at times for some Olympian voice, some kind of explanation by a provocative muckraker like Michael Moore or lucid diagrams like those in The Corporation, or the detailed personal intimacy of a story like Benjamin Kahn's in his documentary of searching out the identity of his father, the great architect Louis Kahn, in My Architect, or the almost clinical and yet sweet and human poetry too of a microscopic study like the one of schoolchildren in the French To Be and To Have, or the searching analysis and commitment of a biographical study like Herzog's Grizzly Man. Solanas can't provide any of these qualities. What he can provide in abundance is essential raw information and a rich human document. His movie may lead some of us to go and find out more about what has been happening in Argentina over the past decade. Despite the chaotic and unwieldy material, the editor Juan Carlos Macias bravely molds things into a coherent flow -- even if one inevitably knows this is only part of a larger picture requiring the kind of analysis provided in the preceding Solanas film, Social Genocide. Highly recommended for anyone interested in political documentary and essential viewing for students of contemporary Latin America. For all its graininess, great stuff; and about as humanistic and social-consciousness-raising as documentary film-making can get.


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