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Surrealism and Symbolism in Latin American Societies and Cinema

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Surrealism and Symbolism in Latin American Societies and Cinema

Latin American countries possess a diverse in details but at the same time similar cultural structure in its core. Each Spanish and Portuguese speaking country that was formed in central and South America was formed through a similar way. Latin America was once home to a group of civilizations that was completely incommunicative with the rest of the World. They have developed their own religions, social systems and method of thinking. Ancient civilizations in this geography being completely isolated from the other part of the world made these cultures very unique.

In 1492 Christophe Columbus discovering the continents completely changed the course of development in these cultures. Starting with Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conquistador, in 1519 western powers started a fierce invasion in the area. Due to technological power of Spaniards and Portuguese compared to indigenous people, the invasion took short time and soon South America was under the control of Spaniards and Portuguese. (Pikerman, 2002)

These events occurring during the mediaeval era before the renaissance, was unfortunate for the indigenous people of South America. The assimilation process was cruel and there was almost no respect to prior belief systems of indigenous. The indigenous people were forced to adapt to Christian beliefs and learn Spanish. The lack of communication between the Spanish and the locals caused communication to take a new form. While verbal and written form of communication was difficult, the images were still a solid way of communication.

In the film, La Otra Conquista directed by Salvador Carrasco, the brutality of the invasion and the assimilation process of the indigenous is told through the eyes of a young Aztec scribe Topiltzin. After he survives the massacre, he gets caught by the conquistadors and is prisoned in a Church. There he is not able to communicate with anyone verbally but he has a perception of his surroundings so he annotates the world through visuals. Indigenous cultures in the area already being highly interested in the visual world prior to conquest, considering the art and religion, made these newly formed composite cultures very sensitive to visual symbolism in their way of understanding the existence. A insightful scene to this process from La Otra Conquista is when the statue of Acolmiztli is brought down by conquistadors and a cross is put up instead.

Similar manipulations took place in South America in order to manipulate the indigenous in various ways. The most striking one would be the Virgin of Guadeloupe. An important goddess and mother figure to Aztecs was Teteoinnan, the mother of gods. Teteoinnan was an important symbol in Aztec society because in most cultures there is a need of symbols that can fulfill basic emotional needs of the society. The destruction of this symbol was later replaced by a fake story of indigenous saint seeing Virgin of Guadeloupe. The idea of a protecting mother in Christian culture filled the gaping hole in the hearts of indigenous and was a major step in the assimilation. Even today you can see Mexican Christians walking on their knees for miles to the basilica of Guadeloupe every December. Another interesting example to the visual communication would be the subway system of Mexico City. The only subway system that has images of surrounding by the stops along with the names is the Mexico City subway system.

Spain also had created an Indian like caste system in Mexico, having more blood of a Spanish put the person in a higher status in society. Similar examples of this were going on throughout Latin America. This caused people to be very aware of social statuses and economical differences among people carried over centuries. Most Latin American countries have been living through political and social problems. Apart from the global apolitical youth of this generation, political awareness is high and often communicated both in daily life and through art.

Maria Candelara directed by Emilio Fernandez is a melodrama that follows the story of a sinned indigenous in a village. The film stereotypes indigenous people as primitive and unintelligent. They are unable to find cure to their problems and unable to justify the events in a modern manner. While indigenous are shown in this way, church is presented as the savior of indigenous and the mother of all good. When Maria Candelara disrespects the virgin of Guadeloupe, he is scolded by the priest to act properly and she apologizes and obeys thus creating an obedient but ignorant image of indigenous in the minds of Mexicans. As a result of these manipulations, in Mexico, the word "indigena" indicates that someone is stupid or/and ignorant.

In a Jungian perspective, these chain of events and the historical back ground of Latin America has shaped the subconscious of the people. "From the living fountain of instinct flows everything that is creative; hence the unconscious is not merely conditioned by history, but is the very source of the creative impulse. It is like Nature herself - prodigiously conservative, and yet transcending her own historical conditions in her acts of creation."(Jung,1959) With the guidance of Jungian concept the dreams and symbols were shaped through these events along with personal ones. Latin American cinema also acquired its own distinct vocabulary of visuals and symbols with the birth of Surrealism in 1929.

Surrealist film making was introduced to Latin America by Luis Bunuel. Bunuel was born in Spain and he started his film making career in Spain. Later on he moved to France and stayed close to the surrealist group. When the Spanish civil war started, he initially stayed in Spain as political activist. Later on he left Spain and moved to Mexico. He stayed in Mexico for 20 years and had a huge impact on Mexican filmmaking. He was not only master of his art in technical terms but also extremely innovative in his story telling. (Bunuel, 1985)

Los Olvidados was one of the first films in Mexico where Bunuel had total creative control. When the film was published "it is known that at the time of the

premiere of Los Olvidados in Mexico City (November 9, 1950) the movie was mainly taken as an insult to Mexican sensibilities and to the Mexican nation". (Munoz, 1997) However once Bunuel won the best director award in Cannes film festival and the film gained international recognition, it gained popularity in Mexico.

The main story-line of the film is far from being surrealist; it would likely to be considered

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