not cry for the Perons, weep bitterly for Argentine architecture. It was not
pretty, at least as practiced in the provincial Northwest in the early 1970s.
Jonathan Perel will take the audience on a silent video excursion through four
villages created as part of the government’s urbanization campaign to combat
guerilla uprisings in Toponymy (trailer here), which screens
during the 2016 edition of First Look at the Museum of the Moving Image in
were all designed and built by the national government and it shows. No private
developer would ever do such ugly work. Of course, Perel’s narration and
narrative-free approach does not do them any favors. After cherry picking still
shots of the various government memorandum and schematics detailing their
design, Perel gives viewers a tour of each Tucuman province village, consisting
of sixty-eight snippets, lasting fifteen seconds each. Or so he says. In an
attempt to pass for subversive, he reportedly changes up the plan without
telling us. Nevertheless, the viewing experience remains the same.
Toponymy takes its title
from the study of place names, which is in fact apt. All four Tucuman villages
are named after fallen military heroes. Somewhat ironically, Casa Soldier
Maldonado looks like it has been kept up better than those named for Lieutenant
Berdina, Captain Caceres, and Sergeant Moya, but it is a dubious distinction.
Still, we cannot help noticing how much open space and greenery these towns
have. Naturally, they are all laid out almost identically, with ugly entry
arches, tree lined boulevards, and a central park. Frankly, the military’s Tucuman
burgs would probably get high marks from the urban planning departments of most
problem with Perel’s approach is there is really nothing to tell us why these micro
urban centers are so distressed, aside from the Dirty War and the recently
dismissed government’s ruinous economic policies. The architecture looks shoddy
and oppressive, but there is no reason why the residents still cannot thrive.
Without more context, we are basically looking at a document dump, followed by the
most depressing travelogues ever.
Perel is getting likened to Heinz Emigholz’s
wordless architectural documentaries, but at least films like Perret in France and Algeria takes us
inside visually stimulating buildings. In contrast, Perel does not give viewers
much to engage with, especially if they are not fully cognizant of his ideological
and aesthetic conceptions coming in. For an extremely narrow, self-selecting, and
defiantly pretentious audience only, Toponymy
screens Sunday (1/17), as part of this year’s First Look at MoMI.
Labels: Argentine Cinema, Documentary, Experimental Film, First Look '16