«Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea». This is how Henry James begins The Portrait of a Lady. These circumstances can be various: plenty of spare time (i.e. money), a cool enough summer with soft light when night takes hours to fall, the peace of a garden and good company. The circumstances are the setting for the experience, a composition containing all that existed before in detachment from any depth. Does what is agreeable, what is beautiful, what is free depend on them? And if it were not summer, if night fell quickly, if time were short, if it were not warm but chilly, if there weren't a house and a garden, if one lacked company, and tea, without a cent, would this time, this afternoon, have the right to be agreeable?
Ana Poliak (b. Buenos Aires, 1962) made three feature-length films against the circumstances. Belonging to a generation that came of age under the dictatorship, her early adult life went by amid financial and political crises, endless instability, at a time when historical memory was not institutionally guarantees as it is now in Argentina. The decades in which Poliak made her first three feature films -I say first because she still has many afternoon hours left- were years of total economic collapse, the direct legacy of the economic policy of the dictatorship, which dismantled everything public. Women directors could be counted on the fingers of one hand: Vlastah Lah had made some films in the sixties, Eva Landeck in the seventies, María Luisa Bemberg in the eighties, and Lita Stantic moved between producing and directing over all these decades. In neighbouring countries things weren't much better: Marilú Mallet, Carmen Castillo and others had been in exile for some time.
Poliak studied at CERC (today ENERC, the national school of film-making and experimentation) and her first job was as a director's assistant. She worked with Jeanine Meerapfel, Alberto Fischerman, Fernando Solanas and Eduardo de Gregorio on Cuerpos perdidos. Out of all these, perhaps the most similar to Poliak in that ability to make magic (illusions) in a simple space with only a few people, with whom the films do not create portraits but collaborate. Though she began to make films after the eighties generation, Poliak did not officially belong to New Argentine Cinema, nor did she benefit greatly from the big change brought about in production by the new film act of 1994. It could only be related, perhaps, to the odd gesture towards the street in Labios de churrasco by Raúl Perrone, or to Rapado by Martín Rejtman, the central character of which could be a kind of Buenos Aires cousin of the guy in Parapalos.
Poliak did not even belong to her own style: her films are very different from one another. Especially in their form, something that depends a lot on the circumstances and that in turn creates its own circumstances for the future of film-makers. ¡Que vivan los Crotos! (1995) is a film that exists in the place where fiction and documentary meet: bodies and spaces. The second, La fe del volcán, goes into the street, with all its rhythms and noise, to seek the threads to directly tie anguish into the story. Her last feature film to date, Parapalos, weaves its web somewhere between the first two, constructing new, invented, performed stories, with tales of real lives and working conditions that are also real, bad and unusual.
However, there are some feelings they share. The first is that feeling is not distant from ideas. Conversations about lives, about the sensitive experience of travelling the world, are not separate from the conscious relationship with the time in which it falls to one to live. The second is that these conversations are central to the story, which is made up first of oral memory and second of other things. The third is that freedom is a state of grace, one that is collective and one that has to be reached out for. Apart from control over circumstances or not, life is more than that: it's everything, every day. Her films manage, against all the circumstances, to find a way of feeling the joy of living consciously against things.
As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lots gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing: bread and roses, bread and roses!
James Oppenheimer, 1911
Curated and notes by Lucía Salas
Suco de sábado
Argentina, 1987, 8 min, colour, Spanish
¡Que vivan los Crotos!
Argentina, 1990, 75 min, colour, Spanish
Argentina, 1984, 3 min, colour, Spanish
La fe del volcán
Argentina, 2000, 85 min, colour, Spanish
Argentina, 1982, 2 min, B&W, silent
Argentina, 2004, 90 min, colour, Spanish