Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Location: Buenos Aires in the Movies

It’s not unusual, in walking around Buenos Aires, to find film crews on the streets and even the balconies of the city. Argentina has long had a vigorous film industry and, ever since the economic meltdown of 2001-2 reduced the costs of filming, editing and related activities, foreign filmmakers have found the city a good place to work. Sometimes, but not always, that’s meant filming here, but even before 2001 Buenos Aires made frequent appearances on overseas screens, thanks also to some high profile Argentine directors.

Visitors can easily inspect some of those locations, starting with the Plaza de Mayo, featured in Luis Puenzo’s 1985 Oscar winner The Official Story, with footage of protests by the famous Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (pictured above). In the historic Club del Progreso, visitors can now eat in the restaurant whose dining room hosted a notoriously creepy scene in Christopher Hampton’s “Dirty War” film Imagining Argentina (2003), which starred Antonio Banderas and Emma Thompson. In search of his missing wife, Banderas’s character Carlos also visits the Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada, a notorious torture center.

In Juan José Campanella’s 2010 Oscar winner The Secret in Their Eyes, Ricardo Darín’s retired investigator contemplates an unsolved case from one of the interior galleries that overlook the atrium at the imposing Palacio de Justicia, the law courts popularly known as the “Tribunales.”

In an entirely different category, Christopher Lambert’s immortal Connor MacLeod battles an equally immortal opponent in a swordfight in the Avenida de Mayo’s Palacio Barolo (pictured here) in Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander II: the Quickening, the weak sequel to an earlier hit. Mulcahy also shot scenes at Estación Medalla Milagrosa, an outer stop on Línea E of the Subte in the barrio of Parque Chacabuco.

In director Fabián Bielinsky’s Nine Queens (2000), the city itself is a neo-noir star, but with few clearly identifiable destinations except for the recycled promenade of Puerto Madero (pictured here), where con-men played by Darín and Gastón Pauls themselves get ripped off in a unique chase scene. Leticia Brédice plays Darín’s younger sister, in a scene at the barrio’s Hilton Buenos Aires hotel.

In his family drama Tetro (2009), Francis Ford Coppola probably made the most extensive use of Buenos Aires by any foreign director - and definitely made it a more high profile location. The bulk of the story takes place in La Boca, using standard locations such as the curving Caminito pedestrian mall, but also side streets that are harder to identify. At the same time, Coppola used the interiors of iconic sights such as the Café Tortoni (pictured here, used to stage a birthday party for one of the characters) and the Teatro Nacional Cervantes (site of an elaborate memorial service for another character). For a cemetery scene, Coppola chose the sprawling open spaces of the Cementerio de la Chacarita rather than the city’s more famous, but confined, Recoleta.

Coppola also shot several scenes in the cobbled streets of San Telmo, as did Puenzo when he cast William Hurt, Raúl Juliá, and Robert Duvall, among others, in an adaptation of The Plague (1992), where a thinly disguised Buenos Aires represents Albert Camus’ Algerian city of Oran. Duvall roamed the same streets as a hit man in his vanity project Assassination Tango (2002).

Duvall is a dedicated dancer, but he can’t match the vanity of British director Sally Potter in The Tango Lesson (1997), as she travels to Buenos Aires to tackle her mid-life crisis by dancing. Potter, at least, had the good sense to use the classic Confitería Ideal to offset her egocentric exercise. La Ideal, of course, was even more notorious for scenes in Alan Parker’s dreadful Madonna-centric Evita (1996), whose balcony scenes at the Casa Rosada presidential palace (pictured here) return us to our starting point on the Plaza de Mayo.

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