Wednesday, April 29, 2015

#558: The Hour of the Furnaces

1968, TSPDT Rank #354

The Hour of the Furnaces represents one of the most significant examples of "third cinema", a revolutionary movement intended to be completely separate from and in explicit opposition to conventional cinema, along with all of the systematic ideologies and distribution strategies associated with it. This was a concept that radical film theorists of the time, such as the editors of the overhauled Cahiers du Cinema of the late 1960s, thought to be theoretically ideal but virtually impossible to put into practice. However, this film rose to the task, partially due to its authors' strict adherence to the philosophy that the film was intended solely for those who were participating in the revolution against the military government in Argentina and the instutionalized neo-colonialism which marginalized and oppressed the majority of Argentina's population at the time.

The first part of the film provides a detailed history of neo-colonialism in Argentina, occasionally contrasting the pseudo-European aspirations of the ruling classes and bourgeoisie of Buenos Aires with the rampant poverty and marginilization of the Argentine working class throughout the rest of the country. This section of the film gradually builds to a fever pitch, illustrating the extreme class disparity and "ideological warfare" of the ruling classes with a number of climactic sequences featuring rapid-fire editing and extremely dense sound design. While this first part of the film could function as a standalone work, in this case it only serves to establish the proper context for the second and third parts of the film - which deal specifically with the political history of Argentina in the 20 years before the military occupation and the call for revolution against the oppressive powers that existed at the time the film was being made.

With a running time of over four hours, and the consistent involvement of the viewer against the ruling imperialist powers, this film fully fits the directors' self-imposed requirements for a film "that the System cannot assimilate and which are foreign to its needs... and explicitly set out to fight the System". While at this time in its history, Argentina was in a period of apparent peace and prosperity, the threat of its military powers were fully mobilized and poised to keep its own people under strict control. A film like The Hour of the Furnaces was able to cause real damage to this facade with ample information about the country's recent history and political unrest, as well as blatant subversion against the prevailing social systems.

The wealth of well-researched facts and information about the recent past which are presented in the film had been suppressed by the government and therefore made the simple act of viewing this film illegal. Or as the directors state in the film's introduction: "here there is no room for spectators or for accomplices of the enemy; here there is room only for the authors and protagonists of the process to which the film attempts to bear witness and to deepen." In their attempt to make a film that was completely disconnected from the system as well as an effective component of a revolution, the directors succeeded by making an impassioned and informed documentary which could not possibly be accepted by the prevailing social order, because it shed light on elements of truth which had the potential to upset the foundations upon which this order was built if they were not suppressed. Despite its length and specific political agenda, The Hour of the Furnaces succeeds in being watchable today largely because of the clear and effective manner in which it presents its information. Especially in view of its clandestine production and non-professional creators, this film represents a staggering achievement, and functions as a fascinating and compelling example of "third cinema" reaching its full potential.

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