Invasión | Invasion – New York Film Festival 2011


Invasión | Invasion (1969)
Hugo Santiago | Argentina | Spanish/Argentinian with French and English subtitles | Running time: 123m
5 October 2011, Walter Reade Theater

Writing credits: Jorge Luis Borges (story, screenplay); Adolfo Bioy Casares (story); Hugo Santiago (screenplay)

Original music and soundscape: Edgardo Cantón

Cast includes: Olga Zubarry (Irene); Lautaro Murúa (Herrera); Juan Carlos Paz (Don Porfirio); Martín Adjemián (Irala); Daniel Fernández (Lebendiger); Roberto Villanueva (Silva); Lito Cruz (Jefe de los jóvenes [as Oscar Cruz]); Jorge Cano (Julio Vildrac); Ricardo Ormellos (Cachorro); Leal Rey (Moon); Horacio Nicolai; Juan Carlos Galván (Jefe de otro grupo invasor); Aldo Mayo (Jefe del grupo invasor); Hedy Krilla (Vieja sirvienta); Claudia Sánchez (Mujer del restaurant)

“Dying is a habit most people have.”

The first work conceived for the cinema by Jorge Luis Borges, in collaboration with Adolfo Bioy Casares and novice director Hugo Santiago (a former assistant to Robert Bresson). Shown on the opening of the first Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes Films Festival.

“A work that is lyrical, unsettling and infinitely suggestive.” (NYFF)

Invasión is set in fictional Aquiléa, a city that looks a lot like Buenos Aires. A gang of middle-aged men, led by an elderly gentleman, resolve to mount resistance to tan-suited invaders while a separate army of youths train for insurrection. The Iliad meets genre police thriller, western, and surrealistic fantasy.

Invasión holds the distinctive honor of a “disappeared film.” Because eight reels of the original negative were stolen upon the official ban, no new print could be made until 2000, when two good prints were found and restored to the density and contrasts of the original release, thanks to Pierre André Boutang, the cinematographer Ricardo Aronovich, and the people of Arte Channel.

From Olivier Gonord’s 2009 interview with Hugo Santiago:

What is the genesis of Invasión?
I was living in France and going back to Buenos Aires to make two short films. I had a simple idea, a town invaded and defended by a handful of people. I saw Bioy Casares and told him about it. He told me “you have to speak to Borges about it”….

How was the shooting and where does the black and white contrast come from?
The shooting went very well. We had an old Arriflex camera from pre-war time but it had a great short lens and we had an excellent operator. We worked a lot, we had time. There were no spectacular things that would have required a lot of money and I had what I needed. We had already made two short films with Ricardo Aronovich, the cinematographer -the second one was more contrasted than the first one. To make Invasión we experimented things. We looked for those intense greys, our reference was Rembrandt’s sketches. We had the chance to work with a laboratory where we could experiment what we wanted. The baths, the times, we worked a lot with an ultra-sensitive film we brought from Rochester, from Kodak. When the film was done and the people of Kodak saw the film, they sent us a congratulation letter asking “how did you do that ?”. This had been the work of a photographer in a lab, testing baths, trying again…

From Kenji’s review on mubi:

The meanings of Invasión “extend well beyond Argentina … to a universal sort of allegory, in which we must all be on our guard and ready to resist, the young ready to pick up where the older generation left off. It’s quite gripping, and almost impossibly cool, something like Melville, with violent men in dark suits, meets Godard, with intellectuals talking in musical cafés, meets Antonioni- the director who lived in France was apparently influenced by the latter. It makes excellent use of the urban and country locations, it’s mysterious and elusive.”

These men, who walk in custom-tailored suits, unencumbered by briefcases, bags, or backpacks, remind us of ancient heroes. “Why die for people who won’t defend themselves?” The answer is forgone. We meet at midnight.

Fantastic camera movements. Rapid-shot visual details. A girl with a cougar. Wild horses. A rare thing, a deeply strange movie.

The shape of Invasión owes as much to the sound design as to the images. Three themes appear in the title sequence and evolve throughout the film, in parallel with the characters, transforming each image.

  • A steel door opening
  • A bird of the pampa (Chajá, Southern Screamer [Chauna torquata])
  • Footsteps going down stairs

“Sound is a character as much as the characters themselves.” Hugo Santiago

Thanks to Hugo Santiago (the most generous of filmmakers, who responded to a question from the audience about the film’s soundscape with a brilliant exposition of method); Richard Peña (for his essay in the brilliantly conceived NYFF online feature “Why You Should See/NYFF Spotlight”); Olivier Gonord; and Kenji.