Sog.: dai racconti Un peón, Los destiladores de naranja, Los desterrados e Una bofetada di Horacio Quiroga. Scen.: Ulyses Petit de Murat, Darío Quiroga. F.: Pablo Tabernero. M.: Gerardo Rinaldi, José de Nico. Mus.: Lucio Demare. Scgf.: Ralph Pappier. Int.: Ángel Magaña (Esteban Podeley), Elisa Galvé (Andrea), Francisco Petrone (Köhner), Homero Cárpena, Raúl De Lange, Roberto Fugazot. Prod.: Pampa Films. DCP. D.: 85’. Bn.
With the release of John Ford’s Stagecoach, Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind, Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka and Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu, 1939 was an extraordinary year for cinema. In Argentina, the film that most surprised critics and audiences alike was Prisioneros de la tierra. Few imagined that Argentinean cinema could have produced a film of such scope and with such a powerful political and social voice. For the first time, the national cinema industry set aside popular entertainment and embraced the risks of making a film that denounced worker exploitation, with a finale that was both grim and simple.
In many ways, Prisioneros is an original film, starting out when Pampa Film, its production house, managed by a successful entrepreneur, decided to produce a film that not only dealt with a strictly national issue but one that would also have great aesthetic appeal; subsequently, the hiring of Horacio Quiroga, a writer who until then had never worked in cinema, whose stories set in the jungles of the north-east of the country depict the difficult lives of peasant farmers, slaves and indigenous women, and offer little or no hope to their protagonists. Mario Soffici, who had learnt his craft under the guidance of José Ferreyra, himself an impressive director of working class dramas of the 1920s, highlighted the importance of using real locations in telling this story, therefore leaving nothing to the audience’s imagination. The film’s rules are immediately established: before going to work, protagonist Ángel Magaña kisses – framed in close-up – a prostitute. A scene unimaginable in the USA during the Hays Code, but also in Spanish, Italian or German cinema, all strictly controlled by dictators. In the same way, a man and a woman, presumably unmarried and with no intention to wed, spend the night together without any preambles or explanations. And again, the hero/antihero is killed by a single pistol shot, but before dying he is the protagonist of a scene of tremendous violence – both vindictive and inhumane. As Jorge Luis Borges observed: “In other films, it is the horrible characters who commit horrible acts; in de la tierra the hero does so, giving the story an almost intolerable effectiveness”. Rigorously and courageously denouncing the exploitation of the Mensù in the lands of the missionaries, Prisioneros de la tierra is the greatest Argentinean film of its era.
Restored in 2018 by Cineteca di Bologna and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project in association with the Museo del Cine Pablo Ducrós Hicken at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory. Restoration funded by the George Lucas Family Foundation. Restored in 4K from a first generation 35mm positive print preserved by Cinémathèque française and a third generation 35mm positive print preserved by Národní Archiv. Color grading supervised by Paula Félix Didier.