Magic of Real Life
In 1996 thirtysomething Chilean authors Alberto Fuguet and Sergio Gomez wrote a manifesto that rejected magic realism as the hallmark of Latin-American literature. In place of the fantastic town Macondo found in the most famous magically real novel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Fuguet and Gomez suggest Latin-American culture actually resides in McOndo, shorthand for the fast-food, free-market, channel-surfing mentality that has overtaken South America since the 1980s. No longer linked by a utopian revolutionary struggle, Latin Americans now share an identity communicated by television and the Internet. "Latin America is, irrevocably," the authors argue, "MTV Latina."
The Sentimental Teaser, the biggest-grossing film ever produced in Chile, projects McOndo on to the big screen. Based on a popular Santiago radio call-in show by the same name, the 86-minute film explores South American life in the age of the music video. Directed by Cristian Galaz, who earned his bread in the 1990s making commercials and videos for bands such as La Ley and Los Prisioneros, this series of three vignettes has a rough aesthetic edge that is MTV all over. Executive producer Roberto "Rumpi" Artiagoitia also has an extensive résumé in music media. Playing himself in his real-life role as radio host, Rumpi ties together the film's three distinct segments with intermediary sections, shot on video, where he responds to phone calls and wanders about the radio studio. The film opens with Rumpi reading a list of names for the penis scrawled on a bathroom wall -- among them "the sentimental teaser" -- while he urinates.
The biggest draw of a record ten films produced in Chile last year, The Sentimental Teaser testifies to the successful collaboration between the national film industry and Corfo, a government agency charged with promoting Chilean businesses. At a time when traditional film powerhouses like Argentina, Cuba, and Brazil seem to be in decline, Chile has overcome years of official and self-censorship under the Pinochet regime with a vengeance.
The Sentimental Teaser is stunning. The aggressively hip posture of a film that takes its name from male genitalia might have doomed a project in less capable hands. Instead scriptwriter Mateo Iribarren imbues the stories phoned in by Rumpi's listeners with riveting detail and perfectly wrought metaphor. Galaz directs an impressive cast with extensive experience in experimental theater. Many of the principals previously have worked together, lending the production an ensemble feel rare in Hollywood productions.
Roughly 30 minutes in length, each segment of the film presents a distinct genre. "Black Paws" is a farce starring Daniel Muñoz as a horny college student enraptured by his married, nymphomaniac neighbor. Laughter gives way to pathos in "Secrets," an elegy to the unraveling of a family played with understated elegance by Ximenas Riva Carmen and Patricia Rivadeneira as two suffering sisters. Scriptwriter Iribarren's performance as their father gives a clue to the source of the film's consistently original characterizations. The final segment, "Living Like Pigs," borders on neorealism. Tamara Acosta and Pablo Macaya play a young married couple attempting to find intimacy within their cramped, government-issued quarters.
True to its name, The Sentimental Teaser seduces viewers with the promise that we might sate the otherwise endless desire generated by the relentless consumerism of McOndo if we surrender our most intimate stories to the mass media. Ironically that tender gesture leaves the audience begging for more.
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