Saturday, June 20, 2009

Stanleywood: Cinema Capital of the South Atlantic

Last week my wife and I watched director Tristán Bauer’s 2005 film Iluminados por El Fuego (released as "Blessed by Fire" in English), which deals with the plight of Argentina’s 1982 Falkland Islands War veterans - more of whom have committed suicide than actually died in combat with the British. The story concerns a journalist, played by Gastón Pauls, who is called to the hospital 20 years later when a fellow conscript’s overdose leaves him in a coma for most of the film.

Pauls, who played a Buenos Aires con artist in the highly acclaimed Nine Queens, is far more subdued here. The overdose incident sparks his character’s flashbacks on his war experience, when sadistic officers staked their starving troops to the ground, in freezing rain, for minor disciplinary violations. The conscripts were, many remarked, treated better by the British military to whom they surrendered. That makes it a little surprising when, toward the end, there are conspicuously cheap patriotic slogans that seem out of context in such an outspokenly anti-war film - even though most Argentines would agree that the islands should be theirs, for most of them it’s a pretty low priority.

Much of the film was apparently shot in the vicinity of the Patagonian town of Puerto San Julián, where the landscape resembles parts of the Falklands, but the final scenes were shot in the Islands, as Pauls’s character makes a symbolic pilgrimage to the places where he and his comrades suffered so much. Given the islands’ small population, we thought it likely we’d see someone we knew from Stanley, where we lived for a year-plus in 1986-7 (pictured here as it was then). And sure enough, Pauls’s driver/tour guide in the film is Tony Smith, whose Discovery Falklands is one of the islands’ big travel and tourism successes.

Tony, who is not a professional actor, handles his brief scene with Pauls extremely well, offering insights from the Islander viewpoint that rarely make the Argentine press. It was, he recently wrote me, “an interesting thing to do but...not so easy...because of the timing of everyone else involved and the patience you need to do such a thing.” That I can sympathize with, having once been recruited to portray Roman Polanski’s London producer, at 3 a.m. in Buenos Aires one morning, for a film on the life of Argentine movie diva Isabel Sarli.

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