Paradoxical inscription and subversion of the gendered construction of time, space, and roles in Maria Victoria menis's El Cielito (2004) and Ines de Oliveira Cezar's Como pasan las horas (2005) and Extranjera (2007).
El Cielito, Como pasan las horas, and Extranjera must be set in the context of the New Argentine Cinema (NAC), which was heralded by the screening of "a heterogeneous compilation of short films called Historias breves (1995)," produced by a new generation of formally trained filmmakers, influenced mainly by Martin Rejtman (Rapado  and Silvia Prieto ) and Alejandro Agresti (Bernardes, Lerer and Wolf 11; 13). (1) While Adrian Caetano and Bruno Stagnaro's Pizza, birra, fasso (1997), was the first NAC feature film, Pablo Trapero's Mundo grua (1999) became the standard-bearer, and Lucrecia Martel's La cienaga (2001) was arguably the most successful.
Women directors of this generation strove for uniqueness. Thus, Martel's La cienaga explores the decadent habits of the impoverished upper-class vis-a-vis their humbler relatives in the context of stagnant provincial mores. Similarly, La nina santa (2004) focuses on a teenager's emotional roller coaster after being assaulted by a physician, as she struggles with her sexual awakening and the religious beliefs purportedly reproduced at school. Other women directors include Albertina Carri, Ana Poliak, Paula Hernandez, Julia Solomonoff, and Celina Murga (for excellent interviews of Martel, Solomonoff, Hernandez, and Poliak, see Rangil). Carri debuted with No quiero volver a casa (2001), which revolves around "personajes fisurados, cuya trayectoria vital demuestra elecciones equivocadas y restriccion sentimental" (Maranghello 279). A homage to Torre Nilsson's La casa del angel (1957) and its claustrophobic atmosphere, Carri's Geminis (2005) centers on incest in an upperclass family. As in a Greek tragedy, the mother's discovery of the siblings' relationship results in a bout of insanity that ends in suicide. Similarly, Poliak's La fe del volcan (2002) explores "la relacion entre un afilador en bicicleta, de unos cuarenta anos, y una adolescente que trabaja en una peluqueria. Ambos transitan por una Buenos Aires desintegrada, con un eje dramatico que alude a la dictadura como herida abierta y supurante" (Maranghello 280). Hernandez's Herencia (2002) contrasts two tales of unrequited love that take place in different periods, but are alike in stranding their immigrant protagonists (Italian woman, German man) in Buenos Aires. Much like Sophie's Choice (1982), Solomonoff's Hermanas (2005) focuses on the lifelong effects of a tragic decision, since one of the sisters divulges the hideout of the other's boyfriend to spare their father's life. Finally, Murga's Ana y los otros (2003) follows the protagonist as she returns from Buenos Aires to come to terms with her past in her native Parana. In sum, these movies explore daily life for women in multiple locations and positionalities.
After a brief plot summary I will analyze the paradoxical inscription and subversion of the gendered construction of space, time and roles, in El Cielito and Como pasan las horas. An examination of Oliveira Cezar's Extranjera based on the notion of actions sculpted in time underscores the similarities between three archaic societies separated by place and time and highlights the experimental nature of all three movies, despite their neorrealist facade.
El Cielito follows the tradition of films about Latin American youth trailblazed by Luis Bunuel's Los olvidados (1950) and Fernando Birri's Tire die (1960), and epitomized by Hector Babenco's Pixote: a lei do mais fraco (1981), Fernando Meirelles's Cidade de Deus (2002), Victor Gaviria's Rodrigo D no futuro (1990) and La vendedora de rosas (1998) and Barbet Schroeder's La virgen de los sicarios (2000). More somber than Walter Salles's Central do Brasil (1998), El Cielito succeeds in weaving a salvational narrative out of a real-life event (Martin). Indeed, the movie juxtaposes the tight bond established between a transient named Felix (Leonardo Ramirez), and Chango (Rodrigo Silva), a baby boy who tellingly lacks a proper name, with the increasing estrangement of his parents Roberto (Dario Levy) and Mercedes (Monica Lairana).
The film begins with Felix, in his late teens or early twenties, jumping off a train and following the tracks to the station, where he meets Roberto who offers him room and board on condition he help Mercedes at the farm. A victim of domestic violence, Mercedes becomes increasingly despondent (for the different manifestations of domestic violente and its potential to be perceived as life-threatening see Volpe; for studies on battered women and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, see Morewitz 173). As Mercedes gazes at Felix we surmise she is attempting to replace Roberto as an erotic object, (despite Laura Mulvey's 1975 dictum that only women can be objectified 19, and in accordance with other film critics such as Silverman and Lehman 21). However, when Felix ignores her, depression sets in, which is understandable since according to Julia Kristeva, the "loss of an erotic object [due to] unfaithfulness or desertion by the lover or husband, divorce, etc. [...] amounts to castration [which affects] the body image, and the entire psychic system" (Black Sun 81). So, after her failed seduction, and ah aborted attempt to escape with the baby, Mercedes disappears presumably by committing suicide. Realizing that Roberto would rather drink himself to death than take care of his son, Felix takes Chango to Buenos Aires. However, destitute after being mugged, he welcomes the lodging Cadillac, a savvy street boy, offers. While his sister plays with Chango, two men give Cadillac a boom box as an advance payment. Unaware of the nature of the job, Felix accompanies him. However, taken aback by his role as decoy, Felix freezes as Cadillac guns a middle-aged man down, which allows a furious neighbor to shoot him dead in turn.
Como pasan las horas
Como pasan las horas focuses on a day that changes a family forever. The movie begins with a piano lesson. Rene (Susana Berco) sits alongside Agustina (Agustina Munoz), whose mutterings, "miedo," "muerte," set the tone of the piece and foreshadow the action. Once at home, Rene greets her son Santiago (Agustin Alcoba) and husband Juan (Guillermo Arengo). Rene discreetly rejects her husband's approaches and is noncommittal about spending the following day at the beach. At breakfast Juan's playful bantering about life in a one-room apartment points at a muted disagreement. Then, the movie branches into two plotlines.
While father and son go to the beach, Rene takes her terminally ill mother Virginia (Susana Campos) out of hospice and drives her home. In the meantime, Juan stops for a meal, and later because he thinks he has a flat. On both occasions, Santi leaves the battered Ford to explore the surroundings, and his father asks him to promise not to venture out ever again. At the beach, father and son walk playfully in straight or diagonal lines. Afterwards, they meet two fishermen. Later, they look for cockles and build a sandcastle. Since Santi does not want to go swimming, Juan suggests they take a nap. Santi plays close to Juan, who appears to be sleeping. The passing of time is suggested by a shot of the waves at sunset, followed by one of the child clutching at Juan to protect himself from the wind. Surprised to see them sleeping on the beach, the returning fishermen attempt to wake Juan up. As the cell phone rings they speak to Rene. Then, the camera alternates between shots of mother and daughter driving down to the beach, and of a fisherman rocking Santi as he sings a lullaby against the backdrop of the sea.
As a free version of Euripides's Iphigenia at Aulis Oliveira Cezar's Extranjera juxtaposes motifs of the Greek tragedy to an isolated community in a semidesertic region. Cut off from civilization, they experience a severe draught that kills their livestock (goats and sheep) and announces their own demise. To assuage their dire predicament their leader offers a human sacrifice. Given the intertextual reverberations, I will begin by teasing out the way Oliveira Cezar inscribes and subverts Euripides's tragedy.
According to the Greek myth, Tyndareus, Helen's father, made her suitors promise to defend whomever she decided to marry if he were wronged. Thus, ah army of ten thousand men gathers to assist Menelaus in avenging Priam's alleged kidnapping of Helen (Thompson 104). Euripides's portrayal of Agamemnon is far from flattering. According to one version, he boasted about being a better hunter than Artemis, and either the boast or the dead stag angered the goddess. Another version explains that Agamemnon promised Artemis the loveliest creature born the year his eldest daughter was born (Thompson 102). Since Artemis punishes Agammemnon by halting the winds that would allow the fleet to set sail, Kalchas, the seer, calls for the sacrifice of Iphigenia. While Euripides's Agamemnon is afraid of the mob, Oliveira Cezar's Father (Carlos Portaluppi) is portrayed as a failing medicine man [curandero], who very much like the Greek commander struggles with the choice between "the masculine values of war and the feminine values of life" (Zelenak 132). In Euripides's version, Menelaus insists on Agamemnon's duty to sacrifice his daughter. However, his sudden decision to spare his niece Iphigenia only strenghthens Agamemnon's resolve. Conversely, Oliveira Cezar's Menelaus (Father's brother/Agustin Rittano) agonizes due to a leg infection, which appears to have resulted from the kick of a mule.
According to the Greek myth Agamemnon murders Clytemnestra's husband Tantalus and dashes her infant's brains on the floor. Similarly, in Oliveira Cezar's version the curandero raped the Mother (Eva Bianco), and took Iris daughter away later on (me la hiciste y me la quitaste; for the mother's self-sacrifice (erasure) to pass on the social norm see Kristeva's "Stabat" 260). Yet while Clytemnestra was a loyal wife and bore Agammermon several children (Iphigenia, Electra, Orestes), in Oliveira Cezar's rendition it is not clear whether she or the Father's lover (Aymara Rovera) is the boy's (Orestes/Agustin Ponte) mother. While the Foreign prospector's (Maciej Robakiewicz) poignant question on the topic remains unanswered, the daughter refers to him as her brother and the father's lover caresses the child as he goes by. There is, however, a discrepancy regarding the boy's age. While Orestes is a babe in Euripides's tragedy, Oliveira Cezar's denouement requires a four of five-year-old boy, despite the fact that his sister carries him either in arras or on her back during most of the action.
Euripides ridicules Achilles's anger at Agamemnon for having used his name to lure Iphigenia to the site of the action under the pretense of a wedding. On the other hand, by keeping to the Neoclassical units of action, time and place, Oliveira Cezar's Daughter (Iphigenia/Agustina Munoz) remains close by, thus avoiding the need to fabricate an arranged marriage. Furthermore, Achilles's self-absortion prevents him from caring about the impending tragedy. In addition to counselling Clytemnestra against making any emotional displays which might have moved the troops to pity, social tact precludes ah argument with Agamemnon. More poignantly, he does not advise Iphigenia to flee but offers to defend her when he knows that is not possible (Dimock 15). The role of the Foreign prospector in Oliveira Cezar's film is similar to Achilles's insofar as his attempts to communicate are pathetic despite spouting terms in French, Polish, and different dialectical variations of Spanish. Nonetheless, he warns the protagonist that her father is a criminal. Moreover, as she carries her brother on her back, he suggests she flee toward the sea beyond the mountains. As the denouement suggests, his effort is not in vain. Finally, the Prospector's discovery of the corpse of the medicine man's brother underscores the futility of the daughter's sacrifice, indicating that her father was not only aware of his impending death, but also helped him pass away.
A group of women, including three relatively young ones and three old crones spinning wool, appears to fulfill the function of the chorus. Indeed, a pregnant woman refers to the protagonist's curse while the father's lover plucks the feathers off a chicken. Ironically, the protagonist learns about the fatal news, "tu padre te va a matar," from a group of girls playing a game with stones. Though she spits at them, she does not seem surprised. Yet, she distances herself, sitting down on the top of a windswept mesa to consider the news.
The material of the Trojan wars (Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis, Iphigenia at Tauris, Sophocles' Oresteia, etc), appears to hinge on a cultural passage from a matriarchal to a patriarchal order. Women's sensuality (Helen, Clytemnestra) is reined in, but at a huge cost. Thus, while Agamemnon's loyalty wavers between his family and the state, Iphigenia turns her craving for life into ah inmolation for the greater good. In the meantime, the audience wonders why she has to be sacrificed for "brazen Helen" (and whether or not Helen had given Agamemnon and Clytemnestra her daughter to raise). Yet, by refusing to have Achilles fight and die for her, Iphigenia distances herself from her aunt, "Helen will bring on enough fighting, enough/death, for the sake of her body. As for you, stranger,/do not die for me,/and do not kill/ Let me save Greece if that is what I can do" (Dimock 11).
Though Euripides's text may be corrupt, a fantastic deux ex machina appears just as Iphigenia is about to be sacrificed, for as the priest strikes her with the knife, the girl vanishes, and a slain deer appears on the altar. But "her enusuing miraculous salvation by [Artemis], even if we choose to believe it, is no help at all. Clytemnestra has lost her daughter as surely as if she had died; the only difference is that in this case she is not even allowed to mourn for her" (Dimock 6). In other words, she thinks she is being told a pious lie and suffers at the thought of her daughter's disappearence even though she may be consorting with the gods. While order in the tragedy is seemingly restored and the fleet sails, her immolation does nothing to prevent the ten year war and the rape and pillaging of Troy (Dimock 11), Clytemnestra's murder of Agammenon and Cassandra, and Orestes's matricide. In Oliveira Cezar's version, the opposite appears to be the case.
The Father's control over the Mother/Clytemnestra was complete when he raped her and took the child/ren. Yet, as the frenzied circular movement of iris horse evidences, he seems confused when she confronts him about taking their daughter's life. After begging him to spare her, she suggests sacrificing ah animal, or even his agonizing brother. The mother also attempts to speak to the protagonist, who has just learned about her father's plans. Despite giving away her identity by mentioning that she could in fact be her mother, and addressing her as "chiquita," she is rebuffed, perhaps because in the eyes of the community, and of the daughter herself, the lack of a mother figure conferred upon her the status of foreigner, and/or slave, as reflected by her full time dedication to the little boy. The mother also falls to have her daughter participate in a plot to hasten the medicine man's death by offering him poisonous mushrooms, in order to end his life before he metes her death. However, the mother's plan appears to succeed after her daughter's sacrifice, since her outraged little brother places the poisonous mushrooms in a visible place for his father to consume. The medicine man's impending demise suggests a new beginning, and the fact that he is deceived by the gift signals that the mother's power/knowledge has finally surpassed his. In other words, Oliveira Cezar's version is very close to Euripides's critique of the Peloponesan War to which the Athenians had been sacrificing their youth for "the last twenty-five years of [the Greek playwright's] career" (Dimock 4). Needless to say, the message of the play remains current.
Later, when her father seems to hesitate, the protagonist belittles him by telling him he's always been a coward. She walks to the site of the sacrifice, and bids farewell to her brother telling him she has to go, hoping for the best, "que sea para bien." She shows the decorum and bravery expected in a Greek sacrifice, by placing the noose around her neck and awaiting the end, which comes as the father kicks the chair she is standing on. Finally, as in the Greek play the "unspeakable and unspoken" sacrifice is elided, "What came next?" "I neither saw, nor do I tell" (Gurd 16), for in Oliveira Cezar's rendition, the daughter's end is suggested by focusing on the torn tope of the noose. The movie concludes with a shot of her mother carrying the girl's body on the mule only to pan to the little brother, who having watched her demise and presumably feeling the hatred his sister had foreseen, walks away along the winding road. Ultimately, given the prevalence of the generic conventions of Hollywood movies, a contemporary audience expects the protagonist to escape or resist her impending immolation. Perhaps, Oliveira Cezar's peripheric position results from her adhesion to the Greek's interest in the way events are presented rather than in their originality.
Paradoxically, the five apparent characteristics of the postwar new image--"the dispersive situation, the deliberately weak links, the voyage form, the consciousness of cliches, [and] the condemnation of the plot," which were forged by Italian neorealism (Deleuze, Cinema 1 210; 212), appear in all three movies. Repudiation of plot, and the concomitant "dispersive situation [as well as] the deliberately weak links" is evident in El Cielito, Como pasan las horas and Extranjera insofar as the protagonists are placed in an ongoing situation, but remain unaware of the causes that led to it; Furthemore, all three films exemplify the neorealist emphasis on "the seer and no longer [...] the agent" (Cinema 2 2), which would exert a lasting impact on the New Latin American Cinema, considering that Fernando Birri, Tomas Gutierrez Alea, and Julio Garcia Espinosa were trained at the Centro Sperimentale di Roma (Burton 22; Hess 105; Lopez 1997: 140; Rich 274). Accordingly, both Felix and the protagonist of Extranjera take on the role of witnesses. Similarly, action per se is quite muted in Oliveira Cezar's film, for while Juan and Santi play at the beach, Rene and Virginia remember old times. In addition both movies ate structured in terms of truncated voyages. Felix's initial train ride ends as the employee who checks tickets approaches. Furthermore, with a baby on tow, Buenos Aires offers him no options. Similarly, Juan and Santi's day at the beach ends unexpectedly.
Lastly, the consciousness of cliches appears in Roberto's abusive behavior, which may be also be attributed to the widespread (Hispanic) custom of adding sexual services to the duties of female employees. Ambiguously, he refers to Mercedes as his "mujer," which includes the connotation of wife. This lack of consideration extends to his issue. As a white male, Roberto might feel superior to Mercedes and Felix, both of whom appear to share indigenous traits (Coya and Guarani respectively; Martin describes Felix as "indio"). However, as the diegesis evidences, Roberto's intense homosocial bond, his abusive behavior and his addiction to alcohol are attempts to conceal his extreme vulnerability (for machismo as a performance designed to disguise insecurity see Meler 83; for domestic violence as a result of the questioning of authority, and the perpetrator's resorting to alcohol and drugs to deal with their feelings of worthlessness, see Liendro Zingoni 135). In Como pasan las horas, consciousness of cliches appears precisely in avoiding postcard images of the countryside in spring as well as of the beach in summer.
Subversion of the Gendered Construction of Space, Time, and Roles
Furthermore, in terms of the gendered construction of space while Extranjera offers a slightly different approach which I will discuss further along, El Cielito and Como pasan las horas evidence "the pervasiveness of spatial institutions and their association with gender identification over time and across cultures" (Spain xiv). Since Mercedes and Rene are in charge of the reproduction of labor, the home is "the space of duty, of endless and infinitely repeatable chores that have no social value or recognition, the space of affirmation and replenishment of others at the expense and erasure of the self" (Grosz 122). In addition to the housework and the chores around the farm, Mercedes's responsibilities include taking care of the baby. Though the time span of Como pasan las horas is only one day, Rene prepares breakfast for husband and son and begs Juan not to feed Santi on the way to avoid an upset stomach. Moreover, adhering to the gendered construction of space, Rene and Virginia settle in the house, however, given the latter's terminal illness they cherish their time together, so it becomes "the space [...] that nurtures without requirements" (Grosz 116; for the symbolic connotation of homes, see Bachelard). Similarly, in accordance with gendered construction, Juan and Santi stop by the house at the beach, but spend the day outdoors. Ironically, the sea foreshadows death, since from a mythical perspective, "los oceanos, se consideran [...] la fuente [...] y el final de la [vida]. [Therefore] 'volver al mar' [es] 'retornar a la madre,' morir" (Cirlot 298).
Forma Western (masculine and thus putatively universal) perspective, time tends to be perceived as linear; moreover, it is usually associated with Positivism and the concomitant belief in unlimited progress. However, women's bodies (menses) remind them that time also includes a cyclical aspect, which is why some of them perceive it as "discontinuous" (Cottle 187). In other words, the "linearity pitched toward the future differs radically from [...] the organic cycle of life, which the states of pregnancy, birth, and lactation make available to women living in industrial society" (Pfeufer 21). On the one hand, all of the activities associated with Roberto, such as the job at the factory, bonding with Felix because of their shared interest in boxing, and showing him how to shoot, clearly point at a linear structure (for bonding through sports, and specifically boxing, see Connell's Masculinidades 86; 54; for the paradox of the construction of masculinity as an "extended adolescence [that precludes] earning a livelihood, constructing long-term relationships, building households, making hard choices, and facing social issues" see Connell's The Men 85).
On the other hand, work at the farm is cyclical involving daily and seasonal activities, such as raising livestock and picking fruit respectively. Thus, even though Mercedes is associated with nature, she is not in her original locus. To the contrary, she tells Felix, who has simply crossed the Parana River that she migrated to support her family. She laments the subsequent loss of their land, and the scattering of her family members. Since Roberto despises farmwork, he delegates these responsibilities to Mercedes, who is expected to perform the daily household chores, in addition to raising the baby (for the constellation of factors affecting the construction of motherhood see Hardy and Wiedmar 2; for the reproduction of mothering see Chodorow). Despite the lack of background information about the characters in Como pasan las horas, and the fact that each action needs to be executed for the first time before it can become habitual, it would appear that though Juan and Santi have spent time at the beach before, they have usually been accompanied by Rene, as suggested by Santi's repeated (two) inquiries about her whereabouts. Therefore, in spite of its habitual nature, there is a certain uniqueness to their day at the seaside. Conversely, Rene's activities, including the piano lesson, appear to be cyclical insofar as they have taken place many times in the past.
Location shooting not only provides a striking documentary tone in El Cielito, but also suggests the passing of time, especially by focusing on the huge hollow tree trunk close to the house. Similarly, the design of the construction suggests the turn of the century, a feeling buttressed by the weather stains on the walls. Therefore, the setting points toward the sociohistorical context of the "aluvion inmigratorio" since an excess of 3,500,000 immigrants entered Argentina between 1881 and 1930 (Costa 45; Sarmiento preferred northern European immigrants, "colonias alemanas o esocesas," whom he considered more hardworking, 29). Furthermore, the references to the Rio Parana, and the shots of the river, remind an Argentine audience of the immigrant colonies of the period, such as those portrayed by Alberto Gerchunoff. These allusions inscribe the plot at a precise point in Argentine history, that of the generation of 1880, which is associated with Positivism, progress and modernity. Despite the fact that his family had (at least for two generations) always lived off the land, Roberto admits he hates that lifestyle, which is why he worked at a factory. Perhaps his resentment stems from having lost his job when it closed down (for trauma theory see Kaplan 31-41; for the effects of neoliberal policies on different types of establishments, see Notchteff and Abeles 39).
Given the myriad economic recessions in Argentina's recent past, the reference is ambiguous. The impoverishment of the Argentine middle class began with the 1976 military coup, but "between 1980 and 1990 the average income of salaried personnel and wage earners dropped 40 percent [...] Furthermore, the working poor represented 3.2 percent of the population in 1980, [but] by the end of the decade the corresponding figure was 26.7 percent (INDEC 2003)" (Grimson and Kessler 87). However, the inscription of social reality is apparent as Felix travels to Buenos Aires, since he wakes up when the bus is stopped by piqueteros--jobless protesters who take to the streets to demand better living conditions (though the inception of the piquetero movement has been traced back to 1996, roadblocks gained momentum with the economic meltdown of 2001). The shots emphasize the presence of women and children; moreover, the closeup on the sign Bienaventurados los ninos is certainly ironic given the huge increase of population living below the poverty line.
Once in the city, shots of a piquetero demonstration suggest unrest and an impending sense of violence. Unfortunately, as an alienated cabecita negra (rural immigrant of indigenous phenotypes) Felix is unaware of the nature of the piquetero movement, which might have offered him support (for piqueteros's creation of "new social network for the homeless" see Young, Guagnini and Amato). The conventions of the documentary are more marked on the bus and become prevalent in the metropolis. Though shantytowns have become a permanent feature of Buenos Aires, the increase in homeless people, suggested by men (living and) sleeping in the park, date the movie and attest to the devastating effects of globalized neoliberalism and the dismantling of the welfare state.
The process of neoliberal globalization started under the 1970s military dictatorship and accelerated under presidents Raul Alfonsin and Carlos Menem in the 1980s and 1990s (Bassi and Fuentes; for the Washington consensus on Latin America--the assumption that democracy and human rights would improve with open markets and free trade, see Wiarda and Skelley; for the origin and development of neoliberalism and its relation to the diminishing returns of production, see Dierckxsen 90-91). Thus, in 1997 "only 29.7 per cent of the population was employed in the formal sector of the economy" (Nochteff and Abeles 39; for the failure of the IMF's one size fits all approach, see Stiglitz). In response to the deep recession, high unemployment, and economic crisis, the government froze bank deposits (the corralito). The massive banging of pots and pans--or cacerolazo--on December 19, 2001, followed by demonstrations and repression, brought about the resignation of the president (Grimson and Kessler 150-51; for new conceptualizations of labor generated by the workers's taking over of factories after the 2001 debacle, see Negri).
In other words, the film offers a definite contrast between the modernist ideal of unlimited progress and the actual outcome of neoliberalism. Though Como pasan las horas follows the Neoclassical unities of time, place, and plot, the desolate beach and the bare tree trunks suggest winter and thus conjure the passing seasons. Similarly, though the function of the sparse background information on the characters lends a certain universality by viewing them in terms of subject positions--that is, as parents, children, lovers, and thus allowing for a broader identification--the movie is dedicated to Susana Campos, who was very ill at the time (Jubis). Since Campos was Berco's mother in real life and a brain tumor would take her life soon after the film was shot, the plotline reflected the actresses's predicament as a mise-en-abyme.
A Deleuzian Approach to Time
In terms of the consideration of time, and from a philosophical perspective, Gilles Deleuze notes that, "the present and former presents are not [...] like two successive instants on the line of time; rather, the present [instant] necessarily contains an extra dimension in which it represents the former and also represents itself" (Difference and Repetition 80). Regarding the representation of time in film, Deleuze identifies three figures, the "crystal-image," "peaks of present," and "sheets of the past" respectively (Cinema 2 68-125). Echoing the characterization of time in his seminal Difference and Repetition, he notes, "the crystal-image is the most fundamental operation of time, [since] time [...] has to split the present in two heterogeneous directions, one of which is launched towards the future [to make] all the present pass on, while the other falls into the past [to preserve it] all" (Cinema 2 81). Though philosophically the split applies to each and every action by its very nature each instance of domestic abuse reminds the victim of previous occasions and projects the event into the future. For instance, Roberto rapes Mercedes repeatedly and the more aloof she becomes the more he beats her up. By bearing witness Felix allows for a disjunction between present as past--the habit and the future--the possibility that he may set her free. However, Felix does not intervene. Conversely, in Como pasan las horas, and Extranjera the very nature of the plot lends credence to the assertion that for Santi and Orestes the link between present and past will forever define the last day spent with his father and his sister respectively.
Regarding the notion of sheets of time, Deleuze notes that, "The past appears [...] as the coexistence of circles, [...] constituting so many stretched or shrunk regions, strata, and sheets [...] each of which contains everything at the same time and the present of which it is the extreme limit" (Cinema 2 98). While the river suggests timelessness, the sheets of time are particularly evident in the farm. The tree with a hollow trunk, the design of the house and its weather-beaten walls attest the passing of time. Similarly, Roberto remembers that for generations his people managed to make a living at the farm. Furthermore, Mercedes brings the past into life by reading one of Roberto's grandmother's recipes and telling Felix how Roberto's father taught her to make preserves. Conversely, the notion of sheets of the past describes Virginia and Rene's interaction, for going for a walk, having dinner, sitting on the porch, and so on, constitute a repetition of an activity performed (and enjoyed) repeatedly in the past. Therefore repetition leads them to relive their memories. Moreover, to the extent that they are recalling habitual actions, their present is suffused by the past, defined as "the fusion of that repetition in the contemplating mind" (Difference and Repetition 74). Similarly, given the denouement, for Santi in the future, habitual actions such as building castles in the sand will become suffused with the past and particularly with the last occasion he played with his father.
On the other hand, the preocupation with the passing of time, which arises from the acknowledgement of Virginia's impending demise, allows mother and daughter to go beyond their own lifespans by singing ancient ballads about death and repeating customs followed for millennia, such as spilling wine for the dead. Thus, mother and daughter sculpt actions in time, a leitmotif of Oliveira Cezar's films, which recurs in Extranjera (2007). Indeed, while the rugged rock landscape suggests timelessness, the sheets of time are particularly evident in the stone homes dug in caves, given that the community depicted the film appears to live in dwellings made by the Comechingones. From the daughter's perspective, awareness of the repetition of certain actions, such as carrying her little brother around, or rocking him to sleep, would probably recall happier times, especially knowing her life is running out.
Lastly, defining peaks of time, Deleuze adds, "if the present is actually distinguishable from the future and the past, it is because it is the presence of something, which precisely stops being present when it is replaced by something else." Though the event still includes a "present of the future, a present of the present and a present of the past [...], it is the possibility of treating [...] a life or an episode, as one single event which provides the basis for the implication of presents" (Cinema 2 100). In sum, rather than "the coexistence of sheets of the past [we would be witnessing] the simultaneity of peaks of present" (Cinema 2 101). Therefore, the first emphasizes aspects, the second accents. In El Cielito Felix witnesses two of the most dramatic instances: Mercedes's aborted flight and her failed suicide attempt. By escaping her predicament, the former offers the possibility of a future. Though Mercedes teeters on the brink of taking a leap of faith, reality--her limited choices with a baby--sets in and she succumbs to the routine of the past. Some time later, Felix watches Mercedes move to and fro, about to plunge into the river, for freedom paradoxically implies annihilation. As she wavers between an oppressive present/past and an unknown present/future, the dog nudges her back to reality. Similarly, despite (and because of) the fact that Mercedes becomes increasingly alienated from the baby as the cycle of abuse spirals and Felix begins to take her place, the night that he is awakened by the bawling baby is highly significant, since it is the first time that Chango is being ignored by both parents. While Mercedes lies fully dressed in bed appearing to be asleep, Roberto drowns the infant's cries by increasing the volume of the TV. At this point Felix takes on full responsibility for Chango. Lastly, and though it is hard to speculate on time because Extranjera focuses on one day, the Daughter seems to be cut off from all other community members other than her brother. Perhaps the scapegoating did not occur all of a sudden. Therefore, each and every time she was rejected by the community members would be experienced as a peak of the present.
Though not flashbacks per se, the dream sequences provide the context necessary to infer Felix's motivation. In contextualizing the practice, Deleuze reminds us that "Soviet cinema, [...] German expressionism [... and] the French school [represented psychic phenomena] to break away from 'American' limitations of the action-image" (Cinema 2 55). Furthermore, the production of dream images either "proceeds by rich and overloaded means--dissolves, superimpositions, deframings, complex camera movements, special effects, manipulations in the laboratory--going right to the abstraer [...] [Or] by [...] montage-cut, making progress simply through a perpetual unbinging which 'looks like' a dream, but between objects that remain concrete" (Cinema 2 58). El Cielito appears to partake from both options. Images of lily pads, trees, a table, a wrinkled woman, are concrete. However, Menis restricts the chromatic palette to white, hues of blue, green, and red. Moreover, the shots are overexposed and the repetition of certain shots lends thern a rhythm. Therefore, despite the simplicity of the montage, the recurrence of shots of water, lily pads, trees, and branches, suggests a combinatoire that allows for the difference and deferral of differance (see Derrida's Margins 3-27).
Since the aesthetics of the dream sequences is unique, risking being descriptive, I will include a brief summary of the montage. Based on the notion that "dream-states or states of extreme sensory-motor relaxation [allow for the surfacing of] past, floating childhood memories, fantasies, or impressions of deja vu" (Cinema 2 56), the recurrent overexposed abstract sequences are essential to Felix's characterization. The first dream begins with shots of lily pads, trees, and marshes. The shot of a skinny woman, taken from the back and focusing from the waist down is superseded by the startling closeup of stick, apparently endowed with a movement of its own, since the woman's hand its concealed, moving branches around on the ground. Focusing on the bugs displaced by the movement, the camera pans on the woman's legs as she walks into the water. Lacking context, the first dream sequence is ambiguous insofar as it could suggest Felix's interest in Mercedes.
The second sequence is presented as daydreaming. It is based on the belief that "the sensations of the external and internal world [are] no longer relate[d] to specific recollection-images, but to fluid, malleable sheets of past which are happy" (Cinema 2 56). Thus, rocking the baby to sleep triggers Felix recollection of his grandmother's lullaby. The dreamlike effect results from blending his voice into (presumably) hers as the camera focuses on arras cleaning a wooden table and a red tablecloth. Then it shifts to shots of gnarled hands sprinkling a powdery substance into a pot of water. As the hands peel French beans and drop them into the liquid, the camera rhythmically returns to the hands setting two places on a table. The sequence ends with the reflection of a child's face in the water, which vanishes as the liquid is stirred. Once again, the body parts appear parceled; however, the audience infers that Felix identifies with Chango.
Like the first one, the third sequence appears as Felix sleeps, in this case on the bus to Buenos Aires. The dream is interrupted when he is woken by the appearance of the piqueteros who seem to have blocked traffic. Thus, a shadow disolves into fabric waving in the wind. A close up of eyes and nose is followed by that of a wrinkled face. Following the parceled effect, the camera focuses on an old woman's smile. The similarity between her wrinkled arm and the rugged tree trunk is not lost. In an upward swoop, the camera follows the branches into the sky. The direction is reversed as the camera follows the downward movement of a red cloth waving as it drops to the ground. A barefooted woman throws twigs into the cloth. She ties them into a bundle and fastens the cloth onto her back as she walks away. At this point, there is no doubt that Felix remembers the frugal lifestyle of his grandmother, who nonetheless took care of him. The last dream sequence suggests Felix's death. As he lies fatally wounded on the sidewalk, his gaze fixes onto the branches above him. Then, a closeup of a hand stirring something in a red bucket is juxtaposed to one of an old woman with a baby about Chango's age on her lap, revealing Felix's wishful return to the comfort offered by his grandmother.
Though there is only a passing reference to dreams in Como pasan las horas, it is significant because it articulates Virginia's wish to be young again. However, like Menis, Oliveira Cezar includes shots that convey psychic processes. In other words, the anamorphic shots are supposed to suggest an altered state of consciousness. The first one, attributed to Virginia, appears at the hospice. Another set of anamorphic shots, presumably attributed to Juan, appears at the beach and focuses on the paradoxical view of the pier suspended in high air. Though it would be hard to attribute an altered state of consciousness to either or to both of the characters, the anamorphic shots recur, focusing on the surrounding tree trunks as Rene and her mother go for a walk. Lastly, an anamorphic shot focuses on the piano at the estate house. Its function may to to juxtapose the initial piano lesson with the recollection of the lessons Virginia imparted to her daughter (for the anamorphic shots see http://www.fdk-berlin.de/en/forum/forum-archive/2005/main-program/ como-pasan-las-horas.html).
Finally, the interrelation between time and roles appears in the notion of "maialogical time [that is], a time of mutuality, or interrelatedness," which involves relationships such as those of childbearing and lactation (Pfeufer 27). In El Cielito, the actions involved in feeding, cleaning, and rocking Chango to sleep remind Felix of his own childhood and especially of the deep connection with his grandmother. As he identifies with the infant and he becomes aware of his predicament, Felix offers him protection. Thus, as Roberto drags Mercedes in to have sex leaving the baby outdoors Felix promises Chango, "Yo nunca lo voy a dejar solo. Nunca mas usted va a estar solo" (Felix's actions may be attributed to remnants of the matriarchal nature of Guarani ideology; for Guarani marriage, family structure, the role of women in childrearing and the transmission of language and culture, see Rocca and Rossi 27). Similarly, in Como pasan las horas the notion of maialogical time does not follow the expected mother/child relationship. On the one hand, Juan rather than Rene is presented as the parent who interacts the most with Santi (conversation about Tom and Jerry, his birthday, etc). Furthermore, though he presumes Juan is asleep, the child tells his father how much he loves spending the day with him. Indeed, three types of fathering coexist in Argentina, namely: premodern (father-patron), modern (classical father of Oedipal resolution), and postmodern (wherein awareness of the tension between these models leads to a search for new gender positionalities) (Burin 332). While Roberto epitomizes the premodern type, Felix stands for an androgynous postmodern version predicated on harmony and defined as a subjective and social construct which transcends systemic duality though it results from the constant interaction of opposites (Burin 342). On the other hand, Rene and Virginia take turns mothering each other. Virginia offers advice when Rene admits her disenchantment with Juan. She admonishes her daughter for living in a hurry, assuring her that Juan loves her and adores Santi. Instead of thinking it over, Rene quibbles, "si uno supiese cual es el tiempo de cada cosa." Laughing, Virginia agrees, "el tiempo, si uno supiese." Similarly, Rene is shown as tender and caring towards her mother, helping her walk, preparing dinner, and relishing their outing. In sum, the notion of maialogical time is fleshed out in the depth of the relationship between Rene and Virginia, and Juan and Santi respectively.
Experimentation in Extranjera
As suggested by the line from William Empson which closes the movie, "we choose to live in the present as a question of habit," Extranjera focuses on actions sculpted in time. In other words, while the shots of spiders and snakes reinforce recurrent cycles of life common to many places of the planet, Oliveira Cezar's film emphasizes the similarities between archaic societies across time and space. French sociologist Henri Lefebvre allows us to develop this argument by focusing on the Marxian concept of simple reproduction inherent in precapitalist societies and defined as the production and reproduction of "the quantity of goods which allows its population to survive (to reproduce itself biologically, to bring up children and to maintain--more or less adequately--its non productive members" (Capital, vol 3, part 7; Lefebvre 317). However, the French sociologist takes issue with the strictly economic approach by noting that "Society must also reproduce the social relations between its members" (emphasis in the original). In other words, "social relations retain a relative stability while the members of a society are constantly changing; they are born and they die, and pass from one group to another (through marriage, notably)" (Lefebvre 317). Furthermore, agradan societies "organize themselves in time and according to time more than in space, while significantly they have no historical time or 'temporality' comparable to our own society but, instead, a time scale made up of intertwined cycles" (Lefebvre 319).
The social matrix portrayed in Oliveira Cezar's Extranjera is that of an archaic society, which bears resemblances both with the Greece that gave birth to the myth of Iphigenia, and that of the Comechingones who inhabited the area where the movie was shot. Finally, Pierre Bourdieu's notion of habitus, defined as a way "to account for practice in its humblest forms--rituals, matrimonial choices, the mundane economic conduct of everyday life, etc.--by escaping both the objectivism of action understood as mechanical reaction, 'without an agent' and the subjectivism which portrays action as the deliberate pursuit of a conscious intention" (120) reinforces the likelihood of convergences between archaic civilizations set apart by time and place--Euripides wrote in 400 BC, and the Comechingones, who inhabited Cordoba, Argentina, were discovered in the sixteenth century. In other words, habitus or, "the durable and transposable systems of schemata of perception, appreciation, and action that result from the institution of the social and the body" interacts with fields, that is, "systems of objective relations which are the product of the institution of the social in things, or in mechanisms that have the quasi reality of physical objects; and, of course, of everything that is born of this relation, that is, social practices and representations, or fields as they present themselves in the form of realities perceived and appreciated" (Bourdieu 127).
Though Neolithic settlers appeared in Greece before the end of the seventh millennium, "the first date for a village in central Greece is 5520" BC, and it consisted of "several houses of large size [...] surrouned by a wooden palisade. The houses are crooked; they have rectangular or curved irregular walls [...] constructed by sinking posts in the ground, slapping mud around and between them, and covering the outside with wattle" (Vermeule 7). While these "farmers knew both barley and wheat, and kept sheep and goats" by the third millennium BC there were a number of changes:
a choice of a low hill quite near to the sea to build on (less often inland by fresh springs as in Neolithic); houses of two rooms organized in bloc with graveled or cobbled streets outside, the whole area sometimes surrounded by a defensive wall; a habit of digging storage pits [...] the use of herringbone masonry for the foundations of houses with some quite large central building sometimes a focus for the rest; general use of good mud-brick for walls and even tiles for roofs [...] an active trade overseas and a variety of imports and influences [...] and the increasing use of copper and silver. (Vermeule 8; 27)
According to Diane Thompson, while "the Troy Cycle is rooted in the real world of the Mediterranean Bronze Age [...] of the third and second millennium BC [...], the Trojan War is set at the end of the Mycenaen Bronze Age, [that is] during the fifteenth through thirteenth centuries BC [...] when the palace state of Myceane dominated Greece and neighboring areas" (15). The palaces were built of huge stones, but "evidence of increasingly strong fortification [...] indicates frequent raiding and warfare." However, as "production and trading centers [these palaces were both] full of beautiful crafts and arts [and] staffed by highly organized bureaucracies that used writing to keep track of every slave, jar of oil, weapon" and so on (Thompson 15-16). In terms of everyday life, references (in tablets) to barley, figs, olive oil, flour and wine suggest the extent of agriculture. Similarly, livestock included horses, asses, sheep, goats, and oxen (Chadwick 102-33). During this period, infanticide, or exposure of sickly, crippled, "wrong gender" (girls), or illegitimate babies, seems to have been common, but it was "legally prescribed" in Sparta (Kamen 89). Likewise, tablets recording religious ceremonies include explicit references to human sacrifices, which also appear in Homer, as well as in the plot of many tragedies (Chadwick 90-92; 94-96). However, during the thirteenth century BC, the Bronze Age Culture came to an abrupt end. Competing theories such as the following attempt to explain the conundrum: "Great masses of warlike people migrating into and through the area; Interstate warfare; Climate changes such as prolonged drought; Volcanic Eruption; Plague; Earthquakes; New Technologies of warfare; Overly centralized, over populated Mycenaean palace states" (Thompson 17). Whether as a result of war, pestilence or famine, depopulation followed (Chadwick 192).
Spanish explorers discovered the Comechingones in the "mountainous region included today in the provinces of Cordoba and San Luis" (Aparicio 673). In contrast to other natives, they were described as tall, brown, and bearded peoples (Aparicio 673; Canals Frau 46; Michieli 36). They settled near springs and streams and planted maize, beans, quinoa (Aparicio 676-77; Michieli 2). Their diet was complemented by wild vegetable foods such as the algarroba, chanar and mistol (Michieli 2). Since they lived in cave dwellings and underground houses (Aparicio 680; Canals Frau 45), they were usually detected by their plantations (Michieli 27). But, as proven by their pictographs, the Comechingones were herdsmen. They had large flocks of llamas and many fowls. They also hunted guanacos, rabbits, deer and other game (Aparicio 677; Michieli 21). They dressed with wool or highly crafted skins. They wore long capes [mantas] of coarse wool in winter, and short woolen tunics [camisetas], woven with beads in a technique of small meshes of delicate work around the openings, the bottom edge, and the sleeve openings in summer (Aparicio 680; 689). They lived in groups of between ten and forty dwellings under chiefs who did not recognize any central authority (Aparicio 683; Michieli 25-26). During the course of one century, they were exterminated by illnesses and forced labor [encomiendas], as well as the loss of their culture and dignity (Torres 26).
The similarities between the Greek Bronze Age and other archaic societies such as the Comechingones are embodied in the isolated community portrayed in the film. While the drovught precludes the focus on agriculture, it echoes one of the reasons given regarding the demise of the palace states, and stresses its devastating effect on livestock in the movie (sheeps, goats, horses). Indeed, the drought is omnipresent, and almost a character in Extranjera. The inhabitants chew to ensure the production of saliva. While the protagonist carries her brother to the faint trickle of a spring, their uncle agonizes beside another one. The dwellings offer the most vivid recollection of the Comechingones, not only because they are partly caves and partly constructed with rock, but more importantly because the director appears to have scouted locations to offer "authentic" remnants of those dwellings. Likewise, Oliveira Cezar's movie recreated Comechingon clothing. While the mother wears a typical leather tunic, the daughter's blouse is reminiscent of their elaborate embroideries. More importantly perhaps, the simplicity of the trousers worn by the Daughter, and the fact that they billow in the wind, as we would expect of Greek clothing, emphasizes the connection with Ancient times. On the other hand, the prospector's clothing and the son's boots would seem to date the movie to the turn of the century. Even the obviously contemporary plastic bottles acquire the splendor of amphorae as they fulfill the ancient function of water vessels. So, by paring down the costumes to bare essentials, Oliveira Cezar achieves a kind of timelessness, which is reinforced on the occasion of the sacrifice when the mere outlines of the women standing on the top of the hill are set against the sky.
Though in contrast to the Archaic Greek Age, Comechingon culture does not appear to have included human sacrifices, the plausibility of the plot arises from the alienated, almost enslaved status of the protagonist, and the possibility of scapegoating her given the community's predicament. Following the neorealist dictum common to many of the NAC directors, Oliveira Cezar includes a healthy mix of professional and nonprofessional actors. Among the latter, the indigenous and mestizo phenotypes of the neighbors reinforce the link to the Comenchingones. Oliveira Cezar also follows the neorealist tenet of natural settings, another hallmark of the NAC (Bernardes, Lerer and Wolf 10). Thus, the camera portrays Comechingon cave dwellings, as well as the semidesertic panorama of the Sierras de Cordoba. Similarly, for those who know the area, the prospector's allusion to the sea beyond the hills toward which he entices the daughter to escape, and which appears to become her young brother's destination, hits home by way of the huge salty lake (Mar Chiquita) at the opposite (northeastern) end of the province.
The documentary effect of El Cielito is supplemented by the sequences attributed to Felix's dreams and recollections, which ultimately disrupt the linear structure of the plot both as journey and as Bildungsroman. Despite the distancing effect arising from the chromatic choice, the rhythmic structure of the repeated overexposed shots of the lily pads, the trees, and the old lady take on a lyrical quality reminiscent of the echolalia of poetic language, and insofar as it analogous "to vocal or kinetic rhythm" it is reminiscent of Kristeva's notion of chora, defined as the "preverbal functional state that governs the connections between the body (in the process of constituting itself as a body proper), objects, and the protagonists of family structure" (Revolution 26-27). This process reinforces Felix's final regression to the [grand]mother and sheds light on his motivation. Though dialog is succint and we are not privy to the character's thoughts, we could argue that Felix relives his childhood, the only happy period of his life, vicariously through Chango. However, as proven by lack of empathy (and generosity) during the begging scene, Portenos are not used to seeing a teenager taking care of a baby. So, as Mercedes appears to have dreaded, Chango becomes an albatross. Furthermore, from an allegorical standpoint, insofar as Felix represents the guacho [orphan] gaucho [mestizo] he stands for all Argentines, as they are betrayed by neoliberal policies. For instance, Roberto is traumatized by the closing of the factory and lack of jobs. Moreover, given the crisis no one stops to purchase preserves, and pricewise farms cannot compete with established industries. The lack of social services deprives the characters of much needed assistance: rehabilitation clinics, subsidized childcare, safety nets to combat domestic abuse. Thus, as Menis suggested, "en una Argentina devastada, cada uno esta librado a si mismo sin proyectos, sin futuro. La vida no es mas que una supervivencia individual" (Martin). Yet, perhaps her greatest success lies in the aesthetics of the film. Finally, by focusing on time, the film succeeds in highlighting the dire predicament of the growing masses of impoverished Argentines for whom the land no longer affords sustenance. Conversely, in Como pasan las horas undecidability arises from the lack of information on the background of the characters; however, the juxtaposition of lifelong habitual actions with the recurrent cyeles of nature ultimately leads to a quasi-allegorical reading of the film. Even though the audience is not privy to the protagonists's thoughts, it would appear to project by drawing on life experiences because a certain identification arises from the subject positions and the duration of the film. At any rate, the film is based on Heraclitus's paradox of constant change.
To conclude, in addition to inscribing and subverting gendered constructions of time and space, these movies disrupt hegemonic representations of roles, and despite the inscription of (Roberto's) abusive behavior, they coincide in reinscribing fatherhood, by means of gentle and caring male characters such as Felix and Juan. On the other hand, despite its timeless conflict and the apparent neorealist local color and the admixture of professional and non professional actors, the experimental nature of Extranjera, gives another twist to the to the engage tradition of the New Latin American Cinema. Very much like the other movies, it follows the neorealist tenets of the NAC. Additionally, though most of the action takes place outdoors, the film inscribes a traditional complementary division of chores and spaces, that is, women sit together spinning and cooking; adolescent girls play together; and boys work together with their elders mending a stone fence. Yet, Oliveira Cezar also suggests the end of the patriarchal rule of the curandero. His power fails to save his brother, and the unnecessary death of the protagonist alienates his son, who purportedly leaves the community. Finally, to the extent that his son leaves the poisonous mushrooms in a visible place as an offering to his father, his former victim, the woman he raped repeatedly, and the mother of the siblings, appears to gain the upper hand. More poignantly perhaps, El Cielito, Como pasan las horas and Extranjera coincide in projecting the plotline into the future by having the audience wonder about the fate of these fatherless and/or orphaned boys, as symbols, perhaps, of the nation in an era of ruthless globalization, and as reminder of the futility of wars.
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Arizona State University
(1) Menis graduated from the Centro Experimental del Instituto Nacional de Cinematografia Cortometrajista. She won two George Melies awards for Vecinas (1984) and ?A que hora? (1985). Los espiritus patrioticos (1989), for which she wrote the screenplay and directed, obtained the Condor de Plata Prize for the best Opera Prima in 1989, as well as the first prizes at the Festivals of Santa Fe and Bariloche. Menis also received the Martin Fierro Award for two soaps she wrote the screenplay for and directed, namely: Cosecharas tu siembra (1991) and Mas alla del horizonte (1993). Her filmography includes Arregui, la noticia del dia (2001), Mas alla del horizonte (1994), and Vivir a los 17 (1986). El Cielito, screenplay with Alejandro Fernandez Murray, was nominated for the Argentinean Film Critics Association Silver Condor for best new actor (Leonardo Ramirez). See <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0364270/>. Ines de Oliveira Cezar's career blends theater direction and acting with an interest in psychology. In 1991 she directed an adaptation of Antony and Cleopatra at the Parakultural New Border. Her filmmaking career began in 1992. For information on Como pasan las horas, see <http://www.imdb.com/ title/tt0428443/>. For Extranjera see www.extranjera-pelicula.com.ar.
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