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Dusan Cotoras
Santiago, December 2020
Bucles.info

No is (not) Enough: against the Cynicism of the Real

The times are cynical everywhere you turn, and it is time to develop the connection between cynicism and realism from first principles.
—Peter Sloterdijk (1987)

On January 10, 2013, the films nominated for the Academy Awards were announced. In Chile, the media covered this announcement with special attention. The film "No" by Pablo Larraín (2012) was on the list of candidates for Best Foreign Language Film; a real achievement for the history of cinema in this country. "No" portrays the story of the 1988 Chilean referendum victory – which ended the 16-year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet – through the lens of the political TV ad campaign that paved the road for such an outcome, and which was led by a young advertising art director. A nomination that triggered fervent rejection among those who had actually fought against the dictatorship during those years of terror. The latter accused the film director of presenting an unrealistic image of the bloody resistance that preceded the "No" campaign and that – in their opinion – Pablo Larraín knew very well. The film instead showed the end of the Pinochet dictatorship as the result of a risky marketing strategy that would anticipate the subjectivity ideal driven by the neoliberal model. A minor fact compared to the formal virtues of the film. After all, for Larraín "realism is only a well managed illusion" (2019).

[see short fragment of "No" here]

Larraín comes from a generation of filmmakers who gained notoriety in the mid 2000s under the label of “Novísimo cine chileno”. A generation freed from the testimonial demands of their predecessors; reluctant to social representation beyond their own authorships, they instead focused their work – in a way thanks to the introduction of digital media which was lighter and less expensive than celluloid – on private spaces as a territory of interpersonal conflict. Films such as “The Maid” (Sebastián Silva, 2009), “Velódromo” (Alberto Fuguet, 2010), “Play” (Alicia Scherson, 2005) or “In Bed” (Matías Bize, 2005) took this anti-genealogical turn in their historical affiliation to retreat into a subjective, melancholic, and disenchanted world. This is how Sebastian Lelio describes this feeling of ideological orphanhood in a interview about his film "Navidad":

They are the first generation born in democracy, but they are also the first generation after the fall of utopias. And that, which may seem terrible, seems to me a giant opportunity to turn my eyes inward and begin to understand that perhaps the only possible revolution, or the first, is the inner one. (Sebastián Lelio, 2009).

We notice here, in this cluster of "weak poetics," a symptom of the psychological structure of a neoliberal subject that seeks to emancipate her/himself through her/his own individual realization. A pretension that she/he recognizes as impossible, but which she/he is not willing to give up. Lelio himself shows us this paradox in his film “The Sacred Family” (2005) in which a group of fervent Catholics violate each of the postulates sustaining their moral discourse. If Marx and Engels (1975) based their critique of ideology on the rejection of the 'critical spirit' of the Hegelian youth, the new conception of realism promoted by late capitalism demands us to recognize in it the attributes identified by Slavoj Žižek in modern cynicism:

The cynical subject is quite aware of the distance between the ideological mask and the social reality, but he none the less still insists upon the mask. The formula… would then be: ‘they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it’. Cynical reason is no longer naïve, but is a paradox of an enlightened false consciousness: one knows the falsehood very well, one is well aware of a particular interest hidden behind an ideological universality, but still one does not renounce it. (Žižek 1989:25–26).

We propose, therefore, that the film school described above can be thought as part of a global trend, of a type of aesthetics that reveals a questionable but inevitable social order. This aesthetics of cynicism uncovers a state of malaise through the films’ content, it makes the cinematographic image reflexive, but without ever reaching its goal: a cynicism that is not presented in the characters’ damaged lives but in the very architecture of the film. Thus, we dare to refuse the apparatus of ideological criticism as a suitable device for the analysis of capitalist realism, suggesting instead a three-level strategy of discussion: (1) develop an awareness of the material operations that made possible the construction of the films instead of continuing with a deconstruction of the ideological discourse underlying them; (2) how to think of another possible world without renouncing realism? What would be our place of enunciation? Following Gilles Deleuze’ reflections (1996), we say that we should modify our point of view: from the periphery towards the center, instead of insisting on the centrifugal tendency enunciated from the point of view of subjective intimacy. (3) And finally, taking Sigfried Kracauer's studies on German people’s anxieties (1970), portrayed in the expressionist cinema of the Weimar Republic, we are encouraged to argue that the narcotic experience of alienation and detachment from social reality of this film school was a crucial catalyst for the so-called ‘estallido social’ (social uprising) that hit Chile in October 2019.

Bibliography

Azalbert, Nicolas. 2005. “Nouveaux Espoirs Chiliens.” Cahiers Du Cinéma (604):60–62.

Kracauer, Siegfried. 1970. From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 1975. The Holy Family. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Sloterdijk, Peter. 1987. Critique of Cynical Reason. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Žižek, Slavoj. 1989. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso.

Press

Larraín, Pablo. 2019. "El realismo en el cine es una ilusión". La Tercera. Retrieved December 06, 2020 from https://www.latercera.com/culto/2019/09/29/pablo-larrain-ema-entrevista

Lelio, Sebastián. 2009. “Por Piñera no voto ni cagando”. The Clinic Online. Retrieved December 07, 2020 from https://www.theclinic.cl/2009/08/30

Filmography

Bize, Matías. 2005. In Bed. Chile. Ceneca Producciones – CMW Film Company – Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen. 84 min.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1996. L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze avec Claire Parnet. Francia. Vidéo Editions Montparnasse. 453 min.

Fuguet, Alberto. 2010. Velódromo. Chile. Cinépata. 111 min.

Larraín, Pablo. 2012. No. Chile. Fábula. 118 min.

Bize, Matías. 2005. In Bed. Chile. Ceneca Producciones – CMW Film Company – Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen. 84 min.

Lelio, Sebastián. 2005. The sacred family. Chile. Horamágica, Zoofilmes, Bixo. 99 min.

Lelio, Sebastián. 2009. Navidad. Chile. Horamágica–Divine Productions. 99 min.

Scherson, Alicia. 2005. Play. Chile. Parox, La Ventura, Morocha Films y Paraíso. 105 min.