Journeys of Flight: Amigomio

Road movies depicting journeys of flight present yet another narrative structure that differs from the two previous models. While the journey of discovery depicts the road as a zone of freedom and exploration, and the search evokes it in a centripetal movement toward a point of arrival, the flight assumes a negative point of departure and describes the journey as a movement that is centrifugal in nature. The goal of these voyages is to take oneself to safety, and the best way to do this is to flee as far as possible from the threatening place where the journey began.

us cinema has several examples of these road movies of flight, often involving the figure of the outlaw in American popular culture (Seal 1996). Noteworthy examples include Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967), Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1994), Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990) and Thelma and Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991). Even if these characters are not always “bad” per se, they have all committed some form of crime (robbery, murder, albeit in self-defense, for example) according to the legal system, which explains the fact that they are sought by the police. Moreover, their journey of flight—though sometimes headed for the Mexican border— generally takes place on US territory. Amigomio (1995) presents a very different situation. The immediate context of flight is the Argentine dictatorship (1976-1983) and the detention (and subsequent disappearance) of Carlos Lowenthal’s wife in Buenos Aires. When explaining to his 9-year-old son, Carlitos (nicknamed “Amigomio”), why they have to leave Argentina, the protagonist describes the situation as “a kingdom in reverse” [ un reino al reves]: when the people in power are bad, the people who need to flee the country are the ones who are good. They are therefore not real criminals, but victims of a criminal regime.

This film focuses directly on one aspect of “cruel modernity,” as presented in the introduction to this book: the elimination of people who disagree with the ideas of a certain regime and their practices. The first part of the film depicts the daily worries that the change of regime implies for Carlos and his son. They live separately from the mother, who belongs to an underground movement of resistance, and their occasional encounters are wracked with fear: the Ford Falcon belonging to the roving secret police gangs haunts the city, and every night people are arrested under the vague accusation of being engaged in some kind of “subversive” or “terrorist” activities. Once Carlos’s wife is arrested, he himself becomes a target for the police, and friends advise him to leave the country as swiftly as possible and travel to Ecuador, where he will supposedly find a safe address for him and his son.

Contrary to the aforementioned US films, Amigomi o describes a journey of flight that involves border crossing, and in this case, the borders are represented as being far from “soft” (in the sense of easy to cross) but rather as “hard”: they are guarded by the police and border patrol, and crossing them involves the risk of being detained (Eder 2006, 255). This hardness has a double dimension: on the one hand, it allows father and son to leave a dangerous country. Indeed, once they are on the other side of the border, the Argentine police no longer has the power or jurisdiction to detain them. On the other hand, every crossing implies a checking of documents and, as Carlos has forgotten his son’s identity card, he cannot legally prove that he is his father, which makes him a possible suspect of child abduction.

Until they reach Ecuador, Carlos and Carlitos travel as “outlaws.” Their vulnerability is heightened by the fact that they do not have a vehicle. Whereas Guevara and Granado initially traveled on a motorcycle, and Martin Nunca on a bicycle, Amigomio and his father use trains, buses, and boats and hitchhike. Whatever the mode of transport, Meerapfel’s film—similar to the previous ones—draws upon the road as a Bakthinian space of social encounters with very diverse kinds of people. Once again, a crucial part of the film is dedicated to the pair’s encounter with the indigenous population. In Bolivia, Carlos and his son watch a folkloric feast with indigenous people dressed up in their traditional festive outfits, attend a religious ceremony in a mine, and experience a healing ritual with indigenous herbs and formulas when Carlos becomes infected by a local mountainous disease. However, while the encounter with the indigenous population makes Guevara and Martin Nunca aware of a different kind of America, the discovery of which is a major theme in Salles’ s and Solanas’s films, in Amigomio the encounters with the indigenous population have quite a different effect on Carlos LOwenthal. He does not feel at all related to these indigenous people, and his behavior is characterized by feelings of repulsion and estrangement during these ceremonies. When sitting beside a Bolivian woman on the bus (Fig. 2.3), he even starts an imaginary dialogue with his parents, accusing them of having turned him into an “ international foreigner” [un gringo international] wherever he goes.30 His white skin, inherited from his European parents, moreover, makes him appear continuously as a tourist in the countries he visits, as though he had not been born in Latin America at all.

Carlos Lowenthal and his son on a Bolivian bus in Jeanine Meerapfel’s Amigomio (1995)

Fig. 2.3 Carlos Lowenthal and his son on a Bolivian bus in Jeanine Meerapfel’s Amigomio (1995)

This brings out the paratopic quality of Carlos Lowenthal, as a person whose identity cannot be grounded in a fixed place. The notion of “paratopia” is proposed by Dominique Maingueneau in his book Le discours litteraire. Paratopie et scene d’enonciation (2004), where it receives the following definition:

Paradoxical locality, paratopia, a word that does not refer to the absence of any place, but to a difficult negotiation between the place and the non-place, a parasitic way of localizing something , which lives on the very impossibility of stabilizing itself (2004, 52-53; my translation).31

Maingueneau distinguishes between different forms ofparatopia, though all come down to the idea of a spatial paradox.

Every paratopia expresses in a minimal way the idea of belonging and not-belonging at the same time, the impossible inclusion in a ‘topia’. Whether it takes the face of the person who isn’t at home, of the one who goes from place to place without wanting to settle down, of the one who cannot find a place of his own, the notion of paratopia averts from the group (paratopia of identity), from a place (spatial paratopia) or from a particular moment (temporal paratopia). These distinctions are ultimately superficial: as the word itself indicates, every paratopia can be brought back to a paradox of a spatial nature. One might add linguistic paratopias which are crucial when it comes to literary creation. (Maingueneau 2004: 86-87; translation mine).32

This multiple sense of paratopia certainly applies to Carlos Lowenthal. He is Latin American, but looks like a European person. He is traveling for personal, security reasons, but is confused for being a tourist. He speaks Spanish, but also understands German. His troubled identity also reflects on his fatherhood: his son does not take after him as his skin is darker, and his personality is more militant and assertive than his father’s more appeasing demeanor. The final part of the film shows the son perfectly integrated into his Ecuadorian environment, whereas the father never really even succeeded in feeling at home in Argentina. The soundtrack to the film expresses this sense of uprootedness that is so characteristic of Carlos Lowenthal: “A nest in the sky” [ un nido en el cielo]—instead of a home on Mother Earth—is the only place that he might call his own.

Far from finding a form of consolation in a unified Latin America, Carlos LOwenthal travels across a continent fragmented by borders, and marked by chaos and political unrest. Identification in this film seems to be possible only with a universal community of displaced people, explicitly including the Jewish refugees from Nazi-Germany. Indeed, Carlos Loowenthal’s name refers to his descendence from European immigrants, and the film makes clear that his journey reenacts the initial journey of flight undertaken by his own parents. Several scenes in Amigomio recall the historic background of the main protagonists through the inclusion of what is supposedly material from a historic family archive. The implicit comparisons between the Holocaust and the Argentine dictatorship endow this road movie—made almost 20 years after the period depicted in Argentina—with a dimension of transnational cultural memory (Assman 2014).

A last important divergence with respect to the other films discussed in this chapter resides in its presentation of masculinity. In one of the very few thorough analyses of this film, Sophie Dufays (2014, 268) has pointed out the originality of Amigomio with respect to other Latin American films featuring children.33 While the father is generally absent (never more strikingly than in El viaje), here Carlos Lowenthal is continuously on display.

Rather than a figure of authority and stability, however, Carlos appears as an “anti-hero,”34 in that he refrains from putting his own life at risk for the political ideals which he shares with his wife, and renounces any search for her once she is detained. Carlos’s son regularly blames him for having left his mother behind, and believes they ought to have bought a revolver. Later on in the film, Carlitos starts wearing a knife—a gift from a passing gaucho. When they both attend the religious sacrifice in a Bolivian mine, Carlos has to run away from the place because the sight of an animal being killed makes him sick; his son, on the contrary, stays and dances to the tunes of the flutes accompanying the ceremony.

In the light of these examples, Carlos has been described as a “weak” father, but one could also see him as an alternative model of masculinity, one that implicitly questions the masculine discourse subtending the previous films. Rather than being an expression of his “cowardice,” Carlos’s flight is a way to assume a very concrete form of responsibility out of respect for one specific human being: his son. It is he who cooks for him, takes him to a football match, changes the sheets when the boy wets his bed as a result of a bad dream. Whereas Salles’s Guevara is a hero-in-the-making, whose dramatic swim across the Amazon can even be read as a typically male crucible narrative related to stories of adventure,35 Meerapfel’s protagonist avoids violence and danger in order to save his son’s life. And while Solanas’s Nicolas Nunca is the forever elusive father, romanticized by his son, Carlos LOwenthal is the father who is physically present in his son’s life, keeping the memory of his wife and grandparents alive through images of Super 8 films, which he watches together with his son at the beginning and the end of the movie, in a never-ending process of recognition and estrangement.

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