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Über dieses Buch

This book addresses a variety of regional humor traditions such as exploitation cinema, Brazilian chanchada , the Cantinflas heritage, the comedy of manners and light sexuality, iconic figures and characters, as well as a variety of humor registers evident in different Latin American films.



Cinema and Humor in Latin America: An Introduction

Even a cursory look at some of the Latin American movies with the highest attendance in the history of their respective national industries reveals that comedies have been extraordinarily successful film efforts in the continent: of the ten most-seen Mexican films ever, four are comedies (and two of them are analyzed here in the chapters by Sánchez Prado and Fernández L’Hoeste). In Argentina too, that number is four out of ten. In Peru (Asu Mare, 2013), Chile (Stefan v/s Kramer, 2012), Argentina (Metegol, 2013), and Mexico (Nosotros los nobles, 2013), the most successful national film ever is a very recent comedy. Even more strikingly, in Brazil and Chile, seven out of ten of the most popular films are comedies (one of them examined here by Poblete).
Juan Poblete

Chapter 1. Luis Sandrini’s Stutter, Early Argentine Film Comedy, and the Representability of Time

Comedy as a popular genre has received little serious attention in general Latin American film histories. If social anthropologist Ernest Gellner and Angel Rama both understand national culture as politically willed by a privileged cadre of citizens who identify a well-defined, educationally sanctioned, unified culture, then popular culture, in general, and comedy, in particular, are often excluded from national cultures (Gellner, 55; Rama, 19). Film studies literature that examines the “commercial prehistory” of New Latin American Cinema recovers popular texts that have been excluded from earlier national canons; however, this literature often privileges the melodrama and its cast of international female stars (King, 2). The limited discussion of comedy is often articulated to what Mexican cultural critic Carlos Monsiváis calls the socializing function of cinema (Monsiváis, 149). In order to consider comedy as comedy and not as an inadequate realism or a derivation of melodrama, I engage with a general study of comedy as a broader cultural form with a long-standing history—in tension with, and transformed by, realism. Much like Linda Williams’s revision of melodrama, this project requires less a semantic decoding than an exploration of the bodily effects of the genre (“Revised,” 42). In other words, I discuss the comedic films not in terms of representation, but rather, in terms of embodiment.
Nilo Fernando Couret

Chapter 2. “Comrades, There Are Moments in Life That Are Truly Momentary”: Cantinflas and the Administration of Public Matters

My approach to humor in these pages is guided by the following question: What is the relation of humor, or, more specifically, a particular form of Mexican humor, to the administration of public matters? What is reason’s place in the relation between having a laugh and the question of equality that lies at the heart of the res pública? Without doubt, the case of the Mexican comedian Mario Moreno—“Cantinflas”—can shed some light on such questions. Approaching the question of the comedian, the clown Cantinflas, is pertinent to these questions because, through him, and thanks to his figure, we gain a picture of an assemblage of forces (some explicit, others anonymous) that illustrate an opening: a historical change of tone in Mexican society’s relation to, and representation of, the demos and the field of the political in the late 1930s and early 1940s. This change of tone signals the opening of a new public space, and of a new publicity of public space, that is the direct result of post-revolutionary print capitalism, the emergent mass entertainment industries, and the imperfect transition from the military force of the Revolutionary Generals to the police order of the licenciados in 1930s Mexico. The change of tone, the shift in the register, and imagery of the cracy (the force) of the demos opens up the very question of democratic distributions and partitions (of inclusion, exclusion, and hospitality to the excluded) in the wake of Mexico’s revolutionary upheaval.
Gareth Williams

Chapter 3. The Laugh of Niní Marshall: Comic Performance and Gender Performativity in Argentinean Classical Cinema

Niní Marshall (1903–1996) was one of the most important comic actresses of Argentina. She worked in print media, radio, film, theater, and television—both in her native country and in Spain, Mexico, Cuba, and other nations of Latin America. Born for the radio in the mid-1930s, Marshall’s creatures burst into the cinema at the end of that decade, providing recognition patterns to basically two new social subjects that had emerged in Argentinean society: immigrants and urban popular sectors, and specially the women within those groups. However, like Helene Cixous’ version of the myth of Medusa,1 the female characters created by Niní Marshall laugh about stereotyped roles assigned to women by classical film narrative.
Paula Inés Laguarda

Chapter 4. The Early Comedies of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea

When Tomás Gutiérrez Alea1 began his filmmaking career, he alternated between serious, usually short, documentaries and hilarious, full-length fiction for the screen. Later, as he became more successful, acquired more resources, and articulated more clearly to himself and others his goals as a committed artist, Titón (as his friends called him) preferred to place within each of his films a dialectic of reality and entertainment. In his lifetime, he directed many important comedies, all of which display this back and forth between Brechtian distance and Chaplinesque empathy. His full-length comedies also fall into two groups. First came three black-and-white comic masterworks that combine hilarity and satire (Las doce sillas [1962; The Twelve Chairs], La muerte de un burócrata [1966; Death of a Bureaucrat], and Los sobrevivientes [1978; The Survivors]). The second group, filmed in color, exhibits irony attenuated by romance, and encompasses Hasta cierto punto (1983; Up to a Certain Point), Cartas del parque (1989; Letters from the Park), the short Contigo en la distancia (1991; Far Away), Fresa y chocolate (1994; Strawberry and Chocolate), and Guantanamera (1995; in English under the same title). His most important comedy would have to be Fresa y chocolate, an international success, only second in fame and importance to his serious, classic masterpiece, Memorias del subdesarrollo (1968; Memories of Underdevelopment).
Diane E. Marting

Chapter 5. Backwardness and Modernity in the Rural Tradition of Mazzaropi Comedies

Amácio Mazzaropi, an important actor and producer of Brazilian comedies, was an invariable presence in movie theater screens for a long period of time, from 1952 to 1980. In over 30 films, Mazzaropi presented the caipira1—a character typical of a specific rural culture, who shaped a relevant imagery of good-hearted, naïve country people. Mazzaropi comes from a lineage of popular artists who began their careers in the circus. Highly influenced by theatrical texts based on a deeply moralist melodramatic tone, his films mix his comic verve with his ability to touch the audience with a humanist discourse. As an actor, he was already a big hit on the radio, and debuted in 1946 on a caipira show called Rancho Alegre (Merry Ranch), and crossed over to television in 1950. Two years later, in 1952, he would make his film debut in a movie entitled Sai da frente (Get out of the way), which told, in a humorous way, of the everyday adventures of a country man in a big city, São Paulo. This circularity was very important to develop a language marked by the crossing intersection of media, as evidenced by Luiz Otavio de Santi:
The language of this character, the Mazzaropian Jeca, is an amalgam composed of several dramatic signs. Crossing multiple languages: gestures and improvisation are born in the circus, the actor matures in street theater, the voice comes to life on the radio, the form and the image mature in TV, and the image is defined in the cinema. All aspects of a carnivalesque allegory.
(Santi 36)
Maurício de Bragança

Chapter 6. Enrique Cahen Salaberry and Hugo Sofovich: Humor Strategies in the Films Featuring the Duo Alberto Olmedo and Jorge Porcel

Alberto Olmedo (1933–1998) and Jorge “elgordo” Porcel (1936–2006) were two of the most popular and recognized Argentinian comedians in the history of the country’s television and cinema industries. Their work in different media and theater continues to be remembered, celebrated, and imitated by younger comedians and audiences alike. Although their importance to Argentinian popular culture can be conceived separately and individually, Olmedo and Porcel together constitute a formidable and unforgettable pair. Their collective work left such a profound and endearing impression that a movie featuring the duo is concisely referred to as “an Olmedo and Porcel film.”
Fernando Gabriel Pagnoni Berns

Chapter 7. Colombian Popular Comedy for Dummies: The Nieto Roa and Dago García Producciones Formula

No names epitomize popular comedy in Colombian cinema like those of directors Gustavo Nieto Roa and Dago García. Nieto Roa has been active in the filmmaking industry in Colombia since the 1970s, first as a director, screenwriter, and producer; and, later, during the temporary decline of Colombian film production from 1993 to 2003, his Centauro Producciones company stayed in business offering rental equipment and dubbing services. With the reactivation of Colombia’s filmmaking industry under Law 814 or the Law on Filmmaking in 2003,1 he returned to directing—this time with a soft porn drama entitled Entre sábanas/Between the Sheets (2008). Dago García—commonly known as Dago—is a director, screenwriter, and producer who combines filmmaking with his work as a script writer and creative director of soap operas and TV series for Caracol Television, one of the leading media companies in Colombia. He holds a seat as its vice president of production while also directing Dago Producciones, his own production company. Dago’s career dates back to the early 1990s.
Juana Suárez

Chapter 8. Invasion of the Nacos! Mocking Social Prejudice in Contemporary Mexican Cinema

Released in December 2008, Rudo y Cursi (Tough and Tacky) chronicles the travails of a pair of banana plantation workers, brothers Beto (Diego Luna) and Tato (Gael García Bernai) Verduzco, in a society unaccustomed to social mobility. From its very start, taking on an Argentine soccer talent scout—a caricature of a cliché-ridden social climber—as narrator, the film parodies the rigidity of Mexican society, reticent to accept the cultural production and habits of less privileged sectors as part of the mainstream. Together with other motion pictures—for example, Capulina’s El naco más naco (1982) and Julio Aldama’s El charro más naco del ejido (1998)—this film is representative of what I argue in this chapter: namely, that the term naco stands at the very heart of this shift in cultural preferences, signaling hope for Mexican society and suggesting an evolution in the configuration of national sensitivities. The added cultural visibility of naco protagonists in contemporary Mexican cinema addresses how humor can be used as a measure of resistance, as a tool of defiance against an entrenched social order, unwilling to change even in global times, and when social mobility—in the upward sense of the term—appears to be the best alternative for comprehensive incorporation into the world’s economic order.
Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste

Chapter 9. Humorous Affects: Romantic Comedies in Contemporary Mexico

The recent release of A la mala / “In a Bad Way” (Pedro Pablo Ibarra “Pitipol Ybarra” 2015), which opened on February 2015 in both Mexico and the United States, is the most recent reminder of the role of the romantic comedy as a dominant genre in Mexican cinema. A la mala is the latest iteration of a remarkable process of change and consolidation of the Mexican film industry in the neoliberal era. Since the release of Sólo con tu pareja / “Love in the Time of AIDS” (Alfonso Cuarón 1991), the genre has been at the very top of box-office charts in Mexico, spearheading major aesthetic changes in the language of cinema, as well as structures of affective engagement of the commercial audience in the country. I have discussed elsewhere the reasons behind the romantic comedy’s rise to prominence: its ability to adapt to the economic and moral values of the Mexican middle and upper classes; its success in engaging the changes in spectatorship resulting from the privatization of exhibition structures; its ability to articulate synergic relationships with other forms of commercial media; and the economic viability of its production in an industry that faces unfair dominant competition from Hollywood (Sánchez Prado, Screening Neoliberalism 62–105).1 The genre consolidated in a period spanning the release of Sexo, pudor y lágrimas / “Sex, Shame and Tears” (Antonio Serrano 1998), the first box-office hit in Mexican cinema after the economic crisis of 1994, and Cansada de besar sapos / “Tired of Kissing Frogs” (Jorge Colón 2006), which constitutes, in my view, the pinnacle of the ideological and aesthetic nature of the romantic comedy as the genre best represents the neoliberalization of Mexican commercial cinema.
Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado

Chapter 10. Who’s Laughing Now? Indigenous Media and the Politics of Humor

In Canada and the United States, satire and comedy have long been staple elements in Native cultural performances, literature, and film, and humor has found some incipient discussion in critical literature.1 In the southern part of the hemisphere, by contrast, there has been much less work on the role of humor in indigenous media.2 Theories of humor have, of course, a long genealogy in the West, usually including contributions by Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant, Freud, Bergson, Bakhtin, and so forth. I will draw on some of these authors in my readings of indigenous videos, but am not interested in a formalistic analysis of the comic mode in film. Although formalist analyses of joke-work and humor seek to understand how mirth is constituted through a given text or action, I agree with scholars such as James English, Kristina Fagan, and Jonna Mackin that humor is more productively understood, not as an utterance, but as an event—what English calls a “comic transaction”3 that is constituted by the contextual aspects of shared or contested social norms and popular cultural texts. That is not to affirm the commonplace notion that all humor is culturally or nationally specific4 and that an essay on indigenous media shall focus on what creates this specificity. Rather, I am interested in the sociopolitical dimension of what humor effects in a cultural politics of decolonization in which indigenous video partakes.
Freya Schiwy

Chapter 11. A Sense of Humor and Society in Three Chilean Comedies: Taxi para tres, Sexo con Amor, and Super, Todo Chile adentro

I analyze three contemporary Chilean films: Taxi para tres (2001) by Orlando Lübbert, Sexo con amor (2003) by Boris Quercia, and Super, Todo Chile adentro (2009) by Fernanda Aljaro and Felipe del Río. My contention is that, through humor, these three films evidence the dual nature of neoliberal globalization in Chile and, more specifically, a certain dominant and widely spread Chilean self-understanding within this transformation. The three comedies outline an arc that goes from the external satirical denunciation of the new (im)moral codes of conduct resulting from that transformation (Taxi para tres) to their thorough and complete internalization at the diegetical and extradiegetical levels in Super, Todo Chile adentro. Sexo con amor, the second most successful national film ever in Chile, is at the midpoint of this arc. Beyond its very direct treatment of sexual relations in three couples belonging to three traditional social classes in Chilean society, its most effective mechanism is its insistence on the ways in which sex, love, and marital complications are issues and experiences shared across social strata. From this viewpoint, the film would be a relative and populist counterpart to Taxi and Super and their, respectively, critical and cynical insistence on the stratified nature of the new Chilean society produced by neoliberalism.
Juan Poblete


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