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Against Neoliberalism, a Search and Struggle For an Authentic Living in La Marea: A Film Review

Still from La Marea/Corriente.

La Marea/Corriente (Wave/Current 2020) is filmmaker Miguel Novelo’s counter narrative to the American dream.  One of the main emphases in the 14 minute short documentary presented by CiNEOLA (a platform for Latin American stories) touches on the most overlooked dream, “The Mexican Dream.”[1] In this case Jorge’s dream. A youth whose desire is to not leave Mexico like so many others who, facing dire economic and social conditions, emigrate in order to survive. The documentary begins with the ocean’s soft lullaby of gentle waves.

The film carries a youthful layer of optimism with a subtle dialectic framework between the Mexican filmmaker who immigrated to the United States and his conational who decides to pursue the Mexican Dream. The main protagonist, Jorge, affirms his place of dwelling in the world distant from the major metropolises of Mexico and the global North.

Novelo pans across Seybaplaya, Campeche (Mexico), a town of fishermen in the most circular time frame. It is a sequence that runs, walks and moves at the pace of a non-urban town, unlike other films where time is squeezed, rushed, sliced, flattened and linear. It is a moment with a movement. Unlike most urban cities with chaotic dissonance of noises stacked on top of each other with no rhythm, La Marea’s soundtrack evokes the common living elements of nature: thunder, rain and lighting, which sing differently to a town that grasps the notes of flashes, drips, and singing roosters with a distinct tempo of organic rhythms and meaning. Seybaplaya’s surrounding nature “is not a landscape, it is, memory.” It is Jorge’s and his town’s biography.[2]

The documentary has the quality reminiscent of the advice that renowned Revolutionary Cuban filmmaker Humberto Solas, founder of the first Cine Pobre Film Festival in 2003, shares with filmmakers. He says, “film life, go film the children, the beach, the sea” and he points to a nearby street fair with mechanical rides lit up beneath the tropical night skies of Gibara, Cuba. “There, film that!”[3] In this same film festival the best documentary was awarded to an Iranian filmmaker who for Solas spoke of war without ever showing it.

La Marea falls under the same spell/spirit expressed by Humberto Solas. Its visual presentation takes the viewer through the unspoiled happiness from/through the shadow of an encroaching (terrorizing) adverse effect of the the fanatic politics of neoliberalism on all life. The word neoliberalism is too often tossed around without revealing its concept or its meaning. Philosopher Rafael Bautista best describes it as an attempt to canonize capitalism in which all life is susceptible to become a commodity for sale in today’s globalized world. La Marea is the unseen crossroad made visible.[4]

Novelo’s short documentary poses a question between life and nature understood by a capitalist society and what makes it challenging to those who seek alternative that no longer objectify life. Bautista elaborates, “Capitalism (modernity’s baby) removes the sensorial perception which constructs shapes and forms individual life with solidarity and community consciousness.” The interpretation of nature as an object of exploitation, translates, for scholar Juan José Baustista Segales, into a subject-object relation. The way in which we treat nature as an object of exploitation and domination the same relation will carry over between human interaction. Neoliberalism becomes “the principles and the parameters by which new semantics grounded on market values are forged” [5]  into today’s politics and culture. And, it is modernity that maintains the judiciary and rationality that feeds the social relations required for the maintenance and function of capitalism.[6]  The irony of social programs (federal to non profits) set to alleviating poverty by a state fathered by capitalism are the same ones which systematically produce poverty.

Jorge’s wish is to become an animal caretaker rather than continue the family tradition of fishermen and divers. His friends ask Jorge why he is not following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Jorge, a musician who plays the guitar, seems to have chosen to spend his youth in activities that do not carry the weight of a corporatist’s spirit by extending/nurturing his caring sensibility to creatures dear to him and not be at the mercy of the market as an objectified/alienated laborer. One step towards the north away from his non urban town with ways of being not quite diluted is one step less for Jorge’s preservation of his particular being. As minute as it might be it is one less human empowering the control and domination of the U.S dollar over all aspects of  Mexico’s economy, as well as its cultural and political identity. The innocence of both the film and the director is expressed in many scenes, in particular during the circus performance with no animals, just clowns and tricks. Rain works its way through the seams of a weathered canvas only to be met with laughter and surprise. The audience responds by improvising. They move around the bleachers in search of a clear spot to continue enjoying the performance.

Improvisation as a quality of resilience enhances the film. This same resilient approach is what makes La Marea authentic and distinguishes it from exuberant cinematic formulas. The author’s technique of using extended slow scenes of a community in coexistence with its environment gives hints of Andrei Tarkovsky’s slow poetic and textured film language, but with a slight difference. La Marea has ontological sprinkles of working within the realm of what is precisely there (Dasein), the un-staged. Novelo is merged with the content of his film. This content is an extension of his experience with that of Jorge’s. In other words he does not sever his philosophy and politics from his art. However, La Marea could do without the interactive digital component, which is a remnant of Novelo’s experimental stage. The story by itself is strong enough to stand on its own two feet. The digital interactive aspect of the film works more as a close-up; it magnifies rather than bringing nearness. Nearness is built on narrative. It supplies proximity of one subjectivity to another. Digital interaction does facilitate communication but does not transfer any sense of lived experience in community. Its transmission is colonial. It is soundless!

La Marea is a critique of the exceptional hegemonic dream which projects itself above all other aspirations; the American dream, brings in view a phantasmagoria or a house of mirrors that does not allow looking beyond the distorted reflections caused by the mirrors and its soteriological content. What does this entail for people around the world impacted by such a claim to all other manifestations of hope? Jorge’s narrative takes the form of a dream at risk in a hyper fetishized digital era. Novelo moves La Marea’s storyline away from a post nostalgic scenario of defeat and regret by making us realize that happiness does exist in the Global South. Unexamined perception that happiness only exists in rich Global North countries (The Disneys of the world) is an extension of imperial propagandas.

The trek made to the Global North, in this case to the U.S., is often met with hostility from all sides. Some label immigrants as intruders and aliens, while others tag immigrants as an extension of the colonial settlers. Such definitions come from those who have no clue, fail or care not to understand the core/periphery relations between empires and Global South nations as satellites; providers of labor, resources, and fiscal space for investments and speculation. A recent article by Arian Arahonian brings to our attention empirical evidence about the abysmal disparities in North/South core-periphery relations. Arahonian’s article also points out that there are “economists that work for the rich to become richer and economists that work for the poor to be less poor.”[7]

The film carries a sensibility that is in contrast with today’s hyper-violent neoliberal culture. It is a prayer of actionthrough cinema for the Mexican Dream as an existential possibility for a new horizon which departs from and affirms life. It is a film that keeps the liberatory project from instantly being erased. By mapping potential liberating ways not dominated by a saturated culture of anxiety, likes, shares, information vs. knowledge, La Marea allows us a moment of reflection.  Hence, neoliberalism as a modern civilizing program is one that is set to evaporate small towns like Seybaplaya. Or be converted by the planning of mega projects by both conservative and progressive governments into resorts for those who can afford such exclusive luxury in the name of progress.[8] In Saving Beauty philosopher Byung Chul Han writes as his last sentence in his book “The saving of beauty is the saving of that which commits us.”[9]

La Marea, in its simplest form works as a life affirming commitment that carries its own shape and form in creating cinema with a layer of resistance by “saving of the other.” This means us, as spectators should not be a mere reflection of circumstances complying with a rationale that destroys lives and eco-narratives like those shown in La Marea. La Marea intends to demonstrate all that is in-between cause and effect. It is an existential visual moment/glimpse before and at risk to completely dissipate into the burning furnace of progress. In The Swarm: Digital Prospects Byung Chul Han affirms, “All those who participate in the capitalist system belong to It.”[10]

Can towns like Seybaplaya survive in a world of finite resources? What are the effects of the geopolitical strategies formulated in the Global North that shape the politics and social/community relations in the Global South?  What are the consequences of industrial fishing on traditional and local ways of subsistence for small towns?[11]  What is the impact of bourgeoise science and its economic philosophy on life?  Philosopher Rafael Bautista states: “Los límites están hablando (the limits are speaking)!”  La Marea’s narrative is a utopia that belongs to all those who retain a spirit of youth and the will of life aimed at change and becoming today what we all want to collectively be tomorrow regardless of age. It is an attempt to rescue the liberating content in utopia. For utopia is more than a slogan of yes we can. It is mythic energy encapsulated within horizons of hope in human memory. When fertilized and ingested, it can bring us closer to seeing an un-fractured reality beyond the double pane mirrors. It clears out any deterministic conscious and unconscious values that perpetuate visions unable to integrate concepts that enrich the human experience.  A dialectic engagement between utopia and the historical moment for the desirable, necessary and the possible is crucial for the gathering of a new language that allows memory to reach beyond inventing and instead learn how to construct and read reality. Perhaps this can be a liberating moment from what Chul Han describes as “perpetrator and victim at the same time.” Utopian theory must depart from the political lived reality. The closer theory is to the current political reality, the better equipped we are to understand our role in the world in community that is: el ser humano es el ser supremo para el ser humano in coexistence with nature.[12] For there is no moment in human history without the company of utopias.

This review is dedicated to professors and compañeros Rafael Bautista and Juan José Bautista Segales. 

In memory of filmmaker Fernando Solanas 1936 -2020 who did cinema not on behalf of an expression or for communication, but a cinema of action for liberation.

Notes.

[1]  CiNEOLA was founded by producer Daniel Díaz (www.cineo.la)

[2]  Quotes from Rafael Bautista.

[3]  Interview with Humberto Solas by the writer.

[4]  It is a stateless state acting as a manager on behalf of private interest vs. the public good. It is no coincidence today to be told “you must market yourself.” For the Andean/Indigenous/Latin American philosopher, “It is the quantifying of reality. The modern world yanks away the sacred content in life and produces irrationality.” The godlike/religious status inherent to neoliberalism’s economic doctrine is the “consumption of indifference and the naturalization of such indifference.” In other words we “consume domination” and exploitation. Bautista further adds that capital removes the means of subsistence under communal relations by converting the community into ‘modern‘ individuals competing against one another to get an individual return at any cost. It is essential for the reproduction of the system to shape individuals to have the same expectations, perspectives and perceptions.

[5]  Quote from Juan José Bautista Senegal.

[6] Rafael Baustista is a philosopher, writer, poet and activist. He teaches de-colonial workshops in Bolivia.

[7]  “Annus horribilis, ¿el que pasó o el que se nos viene?”,

https://rebelion.org/annus-horribilis-el-que-paso-o-el-que-se-nos-viene/

[8]  “El Corredor Interoceánico del Istmo de Tehuantepec: desarrollo capitalista y depredación del medio ambiente”, https://rebelion.org/el-corredor-interoceanico-del-istmo-de-tehuantepec-desarrollo-capitalista-y-depredacion-del-medio-ambiente/

[9] Byung Chul Han, ‘Saving Beauty’, transl. Daniel Steuer (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018) p.81.

[10] Byung Chul Han, ‘In The Swarm; The Digital Prospect’, transl. Erik Butler (MIT Press, Cambridge, 2017) p.13.

[11]  “La cara oculta de la acuicultura, sobreexplotación de los océanos y maltrato a los peces”, https://rebelion.org/la-cara-oculta-de-la-acuicultura-sobreexplotacion-de-los-oceanos-y-maltrato-a-los-peces/

[12] The human being is the Supreme Being for the human being, is a conversation between philosophers Franz Hinkelammert and Juan Jose Bautista. The phrase according to the conversation originates with Karl Marx. Hinkelammert expands the supreme Being to configure the excluded, marginalized, the poor and discarded by capitalism as a priority for all of humanity. This priority extends to include the co-existing with nature as a subject and no longer as an object.