Friday, December 03, 2004

Sex comedy, Peruvian style

I failed to make a single film at the Latin American film festival at the beginning of the month. But luckily for me, there’s a second, which is coming to its end. And this week I managed to make one of the films, along with a group from the Institute.

It was Pantaleon y las Visitadoras (Pantaleon and the Visitors), a Peruvian comedy and based on a book by Mario Vargas Llosa. I knew nothing about it when I sat down, which meant I had no expectations. But it was quite good – as Peruvian comedies go. Perhaps a little heavy in its humour, but a change from the usual Hollywood guff.

The film follows an army captain who is charged with opening a brothel for soldiers. As you can imagine, he approaches his work in a thoroughly disciplined manner; the humour is directed at this contrast between the informality of language among the prostitutes and the military organisation of Pantaleon.

I’m not sure how many others (apart from my Institute colleagues) picked up on it, but I was struck by Vargas Llosa’s sly comment within the film. We looked at the role of the military in class a few weeks ago, and the apparent differences between the Peruvian military government (1968-80) compared to those elsewhere on the continent.

Whereas those in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, etc were conservative, anti-communist and repressive, the Peruvians gained international attention for taking power away from the oligarchs precisely because of the failure of the state to develop the country. So while other Latin American armies were incarcerating subversives, Peru’s generals were introducing land reform and creating development projects around the country.

References to the army’s creation of a sex industry (with a double-edged meaning there) and Pantaleon’s literacy classes to the Indians (including writing on the board 'Yo amo a mi Peru' – 'I love my Peru') are all pointers in this direction.

But then I’m sure many others will just say I’ve been working too hard and it’s time to take a break! Perhaps. Term ends next week.

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