Lepage then imported the first French cinematographic equipment into the country and though Eugenio Py who, using a Gaumont camera in 1897, is often credited for the first Argentine film, La Bandera Argentina (which consisted of a flag of Argentina waving in the wind at the Plaza de Mayo), the credit belongs to German-Brazilian Federico Figner, who screened the first three Argentine films on 24 November 1896 (shorts depicting sights of Buenos Aires). Earning renown, Py continued to produce films for exhibition at the Casa Lepage for several years, following up with Viaje del Doctor Campos Salles a Buenos Aires (1900, considered the country's first documentary) and La Revista de la Escuadra Argentina (1901); by that time, the first projection halls had opened, working as part of the cross-national film production, distribution and exhibition system developed by Glücksmann in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.
Several Argentine artists continued experimenting the possibilities of the new invention, making news shorts and documentaries. Eduardo Cardini filmed Escenas Callejeras (1901) and Mario Gallo made the first Argentine film with a point-of-view: El fusilamiento de Dorrego ("Dorrego's Execution," 1908).
Other directors such as Ernesto Gunche directed a number of successful early documentaries.
The Argentine history and literature provided the themes of the first years of film-making. One of the first successes of the national cinema was Nobleza Gaucha of 1915, inspired in Martín Fierro, gaucho poems by José Hernández. Based on José Mármol's novel, Amalia (1914 film) was the first full-length movie of national production, and in 1917 El apóstol, a satiric short on president Hipólito Yrigoyen, became the first animated feature film in world cinema.
Another notable 1917 debut, for Francisco Defilippis Novoa's Flor de durazno, was Carlos Gardel.
In 1926, Ferreyra released La Vuelta al Bulín, La Costurerita que dio aquel mal paso and Muchachita de Chiclana followed by Perdón, viejita (1927). Many of these Ferreyra films featured two of the decade's most popular stars, Alvaro Escobar and Elena Guido.
Towards the end of the decade, directors such as Julio Irigoyen began to release films such as Alma en pena in 1928. Films such as these began to feature the Argentine culture of tango dancing into films, something which rocketed later in the 1930s after the advent of sound.
In 1931, José A. Ferreyra directed Muñequitas porteñas, the first Argentine film to be made with Vitaphone sound synchronisation. That year, Ferreyra made a second sound film, El Cantar de mi ciudad, encouraging other early directors to make the transition to sound. Movietone arrived in 1933 and it allowed both voice and music in motion pictures. Also, the first two Argentine cinematographic studios were created: Argentina Sono Film was founded by Angel Mentasti; Lumitón was created by a partnership led by Enrique Susini, who was instrumental in the introduction of television to Argentina in 1951.
The first disc-less sound film was Tango (1931), directed by Luis Maglia Barth and a key film of the period was the tango film Dancing which saw the birth of a number of Argentine stars such as Amelia Bence and Tito Lusiardo; other popular actors from the era included Aida Alberti, Armando Bo, Floren Delbene and Arturo García Buhr. Two such features which have endured in local culture are Madreselva, starring Libertad Lamarque and Casamiento en Buenos Aires, starring Tita Merello. The two 1939 films each featured themes that have become Argentine musical standards, likewise immortalizing the two leading ladies.
Other successful period films included: El alma del bandoneón, Mario Soffici, 1935; La muchacha de a bordo, Manuel Romero, 1936; Ayúdame a vivir, 1936 by Ferreyra; Besos brujos (1937) by Ferreyra; La vuelta al nido (Leopoldo Torres Rios, 1938) and Asi es la vida (1939) directed by Francisco Mugica.
Manuel Romero in particular was one of the most prominent directors of the mid to late 1930s and consisently worked in comedy based films often with rising Argentine star Luis Sandrini in films such as Don Quijote del altillo.
The film industry in Argentina reached a pinnacle in the late 1930s and 1940s when 5,000 artisans produced an average of forty-two films annually (then one of the world's most prolific film industries), each of them honouring popular and political themes primarily interested in social criticism.
The growing popularity of the cinema of the United States, pressure from the Roman Catholic Church and increasing censorship during the Perón presidency limited the growth of Argentine cinema somewhat, not least because harassment led to the exile of a number of prominent actors, among them Alberto de Mendoza, Arturo García Buhr, Niní Marshall and Libertad Lamarque, whose rivalry with her colleague Eva Duarte turned against her when the latter became First Lady in 1946. Amid all this, Argentine cinema began losing viewership as foreign titles gained an increasing foothold in the Argentine market. The problem eventually became so bad that Argentina tried to curb the influx with the Cinema Law of 1957, establishing the "Instituto Nacional de Cinematografía" to provide education and funding.
Among the era's most successful films were: Historia de una noche, Luis Saslavsky, 1941; La dama duende, Luis Saslavsky, 1945; Malambro (Lucas Demare and Hugo Fregonese, 1945); Albeniz (Luis César Amadori) starring Pedro López Lagar (1947); Pelota de trapo (1948) and Crimen de Oribe (1950), Leopoldo Torres Ríos; and Las aguas bajan turbias, by Hugo del Carril, 1952. One of the few Argentine actors who made a successful transition into directing was Mario Soffici, who debuted behind the camera in 1935 to acclaim with El alma del bandoneón and went on to become an institution in Argentine film over the next generation; among his most memorable work was the film adaptation of Marco Denevi's bestselling mystery, Rosaura a la diez ("Rosaura at Ten O'Clock"), for whose 1958 screen release Soffici wrote, directed and starred.
Horror, a genre little explored by Argentine film-makers, found an Argentine director during this era, as well. Narciso Ibáñez Menta kept screen and t.v. audiences on their toes for decades with his takes on the Dracula fable and tales of those doomed in almost any way imaginable.
Television, as in the United States, began to exert pressure on the film market in the 1950s; on the air since the 1951 launch of Channel 13 (public television), Argentine television programming is the oldest in Latin America.
Since the late 1950s a new generation of film directors succeeded in joining the technical ability with aesthetic refinement that finally took Argentine films to international film festivals. The first wave of such directors are Leopoldo Torre-Nilsson, Fernando Ayala, David Jose Kohon, Simon Feldman and Fernando "Pino" Solanas, who began by making La Hora de los Hornos ("The Burning Hour", 1966-68) the first documentaries on the political unrest in late-1960s Argentina (at great risk to himself).
Directors such as Tulio Demicheli and Carlos Schlieper began to emerge who often both wrote and directed them. A second generation that achieved a cinematographic style were José Martínez Suárez, Manuel Antin and Leonardo Favio.
Kurt Land directed El asalto in 1960 starring Alberto de Mendoza, a crime drama shot in black and white. Lautaro Murúa, a Chilean actor working in Argentine cinema directed Alias Gardelito in 1961. The film showed strong political and social undertones and is about the difficulty of living an honest life in the face of an unrelenting poverty. The title of this story is taken from the name of the great Argentine singer Carlos Gardel, the idol of the antihero Toribio portrayed by Alberto Argibay. Toribio's goal in life is to emulate the famous singer and making his own way successfully in the music business. Yet at the same time, he does not stop his illegal means of making ends meet, stealing and petty thievery. Films such as A hierro muere starring Alberto de Mendoza and Olga Zubarry and Accidente 703 in 1962 were often co-produced with Spain and often featured both Argentine and Spanish born actors.
In 1963, comedy films became to feature prominently in Argentine cinema, and films such as Alias Flequillo in 1963 directed by Julio Saraceni starred comedians such as José Marrone. Likewise, Las Aventuras del Capitán Piluso en el Castillo del Terror starred comedians such as Alberto Olmedo who consistently appeared in the genre thorughout the 1960s and 1970s appearing in 1967's El andador and countless other slap-stick comedies.
The trend towards fr:Ciné Vérité so evident in France in the early 1970s found an Argentine exponent in stage director Sergio Renán. His 1974 crime drama La tregua ("The Truce"), his first foray into film, was nominated for an Oscar. The same year, Osvaldo Bayer cooperated with the Province of Santa Cruz to make La patagonia rebelde as an homage to a violently quelled 1922 sheephands' strike. The collaboration was among the first of its kind in Argentina. Nostalgia was par for the course during these fast-changing times and perhaps nobody captured this interest like Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, whose reworking of Argentine literary classics like es:La Mano en la Trampa (1961), Martin Fierro (1968), es:Los Siete Locos (1973) and es:Boquitas Pintadas (1974) earned him an international cult following that endures to this day. Similar in atmosphere, Jose Martinez Suarez's moody Los muchachos de antes no usaban arsenico ("Older Men Don't Need Arsenic", 1975) takes a turn at murder worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. It's also memorable as Mario Soffici's last role.
Towards the mid to late 1960s, directors such as Armando Bo produces a high number of sex comedies many of which shocked the audience as they were a from of soft porn and displayed a controversial degree of nudity and sex not seen in the industry before. This preference continued into the 1970s, with Jorge Porcel's suggestive comedies. Self-deprecating and unflappable, Porcel's well-meaning, weak-willed "everyman" played the perfect foil to Alberto Olmedo's fastidious tee-totaller, spinning this time-honored comic formula into a string of hits between 1973 and 1988.
Heavily censored from 1975 until about 1980, Argentine film-makers generally limited themselves to light-hearted subjects. Among the most memorable productions during that era was Héctor Olivera's adaptation of Roberto Cossa's play, La nona ("Grandma," 1979). The dark comedy became an uncanny allusion to the voracious foreign debt interest payments that later saddled the Argentine economy. One director who, even as a supporter of the military regime, delved into middle-class neuroses with frankness was Fernando Siro, an inventive film-maker seemingly insensitive to many of his colleaugues' tribulations, many of whom were forced to leave during the dictatorship; though his attitudes distanced him from his peers and public, his 1981 tragedy Venido a menos ("Dilapidated") continues to be influential.
A new era in Argentine cinema started after the downfall of dictator General Leopoldo Galtieri and his autocratic regime in 1982; besides a few memorable exceptions like Alejandro Doria's family comedy Esperando la carroza ("Waiting for the Hearse," 1985), the era saw a marked decline in the popularity of slapstick comedies towards films with more serious undertones and subject matter.
The first group deals frankly with the repression, torture and the disappearances during the Dirty War in the 1970s and early 1980s. They include: Hector Olivera's Funny Little Dirty War (1983) and the true story Night of the Pencils (1986); Luis Puenzo's Academy Award-winning The Official Story (1985); "Pino" Solanas' es:Tangos El Exilio de Gardel (1985) and Sur ("South", 1987) and Alejandro Doria's harrowing Sofia (1987), among others.
Among films dealing with past abuses, one German-Argentine co-production that also deserves mention is Jeanine Meerapfel's La amiga ("The Friend," 1988), where Swedish leading lady Liv Ullmann is cast beside argentine film standards Federico Luppi, Cipe Lincovski, Victor Laplace and Lito Cruz.
A second group of films includes portrayals of exile and homesickness, like Alberto Fischermann's Los dias de junio ("Days in June," 1985) and Juan Jose Jusid's Made in Argentina (1986), as well as plots rich in subtext, like Miguel Pereira's Verónico Cruz (1988), Gustavo Mosquera's Lo que vendrá ("The Near Future", 1988) and a cult favorite, Martin Donovan's English-language Apartment Zero (1988). These used metaphor, life's imponderables and hints at wider socio-political issues to reconcile audiences with recent events.
This can also be said of treatments of controversial literature and painful 19th century history like Maria Luisa Bemberg's Camila (1984), Carlos Sorin's La película del rey ("A King and His Movie," 1985) and Eliseo Subiela's Hombre mirando al sudeste ("Man Facing Southeast", 1986). This latter title, a reworking of Adolfo Bioy Casares's short story "Morel's Invention" (1940), was remade in the United States as K-PAX, in 2001.
The 1990s brought another New Argentine Cinema wave, marked by independent productions and a twist from the classical Argentine cinema.
In 1991, Marco Bechis' Alambrado ("Chicken Wire") was released. That same year, activist film-maker Fernando "Pino" Solanas released his third major film, El viaje ("The Journey"), a surreal overview of prevailing social conditions in Latin America. Existential angst continued to dominate the Argentine film agenda, however, with Eliseo Subiela's El lado oscuro del corazon ("Dark Side of the Heart," 1992) and Adolfo Aristarain's Un lugar en el mundo ("A Place in the World," 1992)--notable also for its having been nominated for an Oscar.
Later in the 1990s, the focus began to shift towards Argentina's mounting social problems, such as rising homelessness and crime. Alejandro Agresti's Buenos Aires vice versa (1996) rescued the beauty of feelings in the shadows of poverty in Buenos Aires and Bruno Stagnaro's Pizza, birra, faso ("Pizza, Beer, Smokes;" 1997) looked into the human duality of even the most incorrigible and violent individuals.
Having an intense past and rich cultural heritage to draw on, directors continued to reach back with moody period pieces like Eduardo Mignogna's Flop (1990), Maria Luisa Bemberg's De eso no se habla ("You Don't Discuss Certain Things," 1993, her last and one of Italian leading man's Marcello Mastroianni's last roles, as well), Santiago Oves' rendition of Rodolfo Walsh's Agatha Christie-esque tale Asesinato a distancia ("Murder from a Distance," 1998), as well as bio-pics like Leonardo Favio's Raging Bull-esque Gatica, el mono (1993) and Javier Torre's Lola Mora (1996).
Political history was re-examined, too, with films like Eduardo Calcagno's controversial take on '70s-era Argentine film censor Paulino Tato (played by Argentina's most prolific character actor, Ulises Dumont) in El censor (1995), Juan J. Jusid's indictment of the old compulsory military training system, Bajo bandera ("At Half Mast," 1997), Marco Bechis' Garage Olimpo (1999), which took viewers into one of the dictatorship's most brutal torture dungeons and Juan Carlos Desanzo's answer to Madonna's Evita, his 1996 Eva Perón (a portrait of a far more complex first lady than the one Andrew Lloyd Webber had taken up).
Popular culture, likewise, has had its turn on the Argentine screen. Alejandro Doria's Cien veces no debo ("I Don't Owe You Forever," 1990) took an irreverent peek into a typical middle-class Argentine home, Jose Santiso's De mi barrio con amor ("From My Neighborhood, with Love," 1996) is a must-see for anyone planning to visit Buenos Aires' bohemian southside and Rodolfo Pagliere's El día que Maradona conoció a Gardel ("The Day Maradona Met Gardel," 1996) is an inventive ode to two standards of Argentine culture.
Films such as Fabian Bielinsky's twister Nueve reinas ("Nine Queens", 2000), his gothic El aura (2005) and Juan José Campanella's teary El hijo de la novia ("Son of the Bride", 2001) have received praise and various awards around the world. Juan Carlos Desanzo cast theatre great Victor Laplace as the immortal Jorge Luis Borges in El amor y el espanto ("Love and Foreboding," 2001), a look at the writer's stuggles with Perón-era intimidation as well as with his own insecurities.
Always politically active, Argentine film continues to treat hard subjects, like Spanish director Manane Rodriguez's look at abducted children, Los pasos perdidos ("Lost Steps," 2001) and "Pino" Solanas' perhaps definitive film on the 2001 economic crisis, Memorias del saqueo ("Memories of the Riot," 2004). Tristan Bauer took audiences back to soldiers' dehumanizing Falklands War experience with Iluminados por el fuego ("Trial by Fire," 2005) and Israel Adrián Caetano follows four football players through their 1977 escape from certain death in Crónica de una fuga ("Chronicle of an Escape," 2006). Responding to its sentimental public, Argentine film at times returns to subjects of the heart. David Lipszyc's grainy portrait of depression-era Argentina, El astillero ("The Shipyard," 2000) was a hit with critics, Paula Hernandez's touching ode to immigrants, Herencia ("Heritage," 2001), has become something of a sleeper, Adolfo Aristarain's Lugares comunes ("Common Places," 2002) follows an elderly professor into retirement, Cleopatra (2003), Eduardo Mignona's tale of an unlikely friendship, received numerous awards, as did Carlos Sorín's touching El perro ("The Dog," 2004). Depression and negativity, a staple for filmmakers anywhere, were explored in Mario Sabato's India Pravile (2003), Francisco D'Intino's La esperanza (2005) and Ariel Rotter's El otro (2007) each deals with mid-life crises in very different ways. The pronounced sentimentality of the average Argentine was also the subject of U.S. screen legend Robert Duvall's 2002 Assassination Tango, a deceptively simple crime drama that shows that still waters do, indeed, run deep. Buffeted by years of economic malaise and encroachment of the domestic film market by foreign (mainly, U.S.) titles, the Argentine film industry has been seen through partly by the 1987 creation of the National Institute of Cinema and Audioviual Arts (INCAA), a publically subsidized film underwriter that, since '87, has produced 120 full-length "art house" titles.
Since the beginning of Argentine cinema, almost 2,500 films have been produced, with 2004 and 2005 being the most prolific years with 66 and 63 films, respectively.