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date: 25 September 2017

Uruguayan Cinema in the 20th Century

Summary and Keywords

Cinema began in Uruguay with the exhibition of foreign films by visiting representatives of the Lumière brothers in 1896 before the first Uruguayan film was produced and shown in 1898. From the early period of Uruguayan cinema to the end of the 20th century, Uruguayan national cinema struggled to exist in the estimation of critical observers. Considering these periods of growth and stagnation, this history of Uruguayan cinema seeks to shed light on the industry’s evolution by focusing on exhibition, production, and spectatorship. This essay explores Uruguay’s national film productions, transnational businesses in shaping local film exhibition, the growth of mass publics and critical spectatorship, and the significance of political filmmaking in understanding the evolution of Latin American cinema during the 1960s. The history of Uruguayan cinema during the 20th century also provides a lens for understanding the political, social, and cultural histories of a country that has struggled to live up to its reputation as South America’s “most democratic” nation.

Keywords: Uruguay, Argentina, Latin American cinema, 20th century, film, Lumière brothers, transnational business, popular spectatorship, exhibition, production

Silent Cinema and Exhibition in Uruguay

On July 18, 1896, the art of cinema was introduced in Uruguay at a downtown theater in the capital city of Montevideo through the temporary establishment of a “Cinematographe Lumière” by employees of the Lumière brothers.1 The screening occurred just ten days after a similar show in Rio de Janeiro. Following its Latin American debut in Brazil, cinema in Uruguay also preceded the medium’s debut in larger Latin American countries such as Argentina and Mexico. Since this auspicious beginning in the late 19th century, Uruguay’s film industry followed an uneven pace of growth and produced a history that is best understood in fragments and especially through Uruguay’s relationship with Argentina and the rest of Latin America.

In 1898, the first Uruguayan film was made by Félix Oliver, a Catalonian immigrant to Montevideo who had arrived in 1874 and subsequently went into business as the proprietor of a paint shop. Oliver acquired a camera during a visit to France in 1898 and returned to Uruguay to film Una carrera de ciclismo en el Velódromo de Arroyo Seco (A Bicycle Race at the Arroyo Seco Velodrome). Oliver traveled to Europe again in 1900, where he encountered the “trick films” of Georges Méliès and befriended the French filmmaker. Oliver then returned to Uruguay and created his own film influenced by Méliès.2 Titled Oliver, Juncal 108 (1900), the film was publicity for his paint shop. In the following years, Oliver would continue making short documentary films about subjects such as a train ride leaving from the Peñarol station, Uruguay’s president descending from a car, and a visit to the Montevideo zoo.

In 1904, the French-Argentine filmmaker Henri Corbicier arrived in Uruguay to document the Uruguayan civil war for the Buenos Aires–based cinema equipment and distribution firm Casa Lepage. Corbicier’s production, “La Paz de 1904,” would be shown in newsreels in Uruguay and also in Argentina. The interlinking histories between Uruguayan and Argentine film productions would continue to mark the destinies of Uruguayan cinema for the next century. In 1918, the first “Uruguayan” fiction film was titled Carlitos y Tripín de Buenos Aires a Montevideo. Coproduced by an Argentine studio, the film starred and was directed by Argentine Julio Irigoyen, who appropriated Charlie Chaplin’s mannerisms to create comedic effects.3 In the 20th century, Argentine-backed financial interests would frequently provide the material support for filming endeavors in Uruguay. During the 1920s, there were also Uruguayan cinema productions like Juan Antonio Borges’s melodrama Almas de la costa, which was filmed in 1923 and sympathetically explored the lives of Uruguayan fishermen.4 Through the late 1920s and early 1930s, Uruguayan films continued to be exclusively silent films even after the global diffusion of sound films from Hollywood and European cinema. The cost of acquiring the new technologies was a barrier to entry for Uruguayan filmmakers to the world of “talkie films.”

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Uruguayan filmmaker Carlos Alonso continued with the Uruguayan tradition of silent film. Over the course of several years, Alonso filmed El pequeño héroe del Arroyo del Oro and successfully released the film in 1933. Alonso’s film was a narrative retelling of the popular history of the Uruguayan child hero Dionesio Diez during the 1920s and his sacrificing himself to save his younger sister’s life after having been mortally wounded by his deranged stepfather. Alonso’s El pequeño héroe was considered to be the last and arguably most important of Uruguayan films produced during the silent era, becoming a staple of exhibition in Uruguayan cinemas for the next two decades.5 In 1936, the film Dos destinos would earn the distinction of being the first Uruguayan sound film, although it was not close to matching the commercial success of Alonso’s film.

Spectatorship and Sound Films

During the first three decades of the 20th century, the world of Uruguayan cinema revolved primarily around spectators going to theaters to see foreign films. Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Buster Keaton all become as familiar to Uruguayan moviegoers as they were to patrons in New York. Among the most influential figures in the history of film distribution and exhibition in both Uruguay and Argentina during the early 20th century was the Austro-Argentine Jewish immigrant Max Glucksmann, who had become the sole owner in 1908 of the leading Argentine film distribution business, Casa Lepage.6 In 1913, Max Glucksmann dispatched his younger brother Bernardo Glucksmann to Uruguay to expand the business operations in Montevideo for the family’s firm, now known as Casa Lepage, Max Glucksmann.7

Uruguayan Cinema in the 20th CenturyClick to view larger

Figure 1. Bernardo Glucksmann, photographic portrait from a profile in the Hollywood Spanish-language trade publication Cine-Mundial in 1918.

When Bernardo Glucksmann entered the film exhibition business in Uruguay in 1913, he quickly took over Casa Lepage’s Uruguayan operations from the brothers José and Luis Crodara, who were theater impresarios that operated several different downtown Montevideo theaters.8 At this time, Uruguay’s most ambitious commercial exhibitor of silent films was Roberto Natalini, a local businessman.9 Natalini began his business in 1907 and quickly expanded to operate four cinemas in Montevideo. During the 1910s, Natalini negotiated directly with North American film studios such as First National Pictures to distribute films that were highly profitable in Uruguay such as Charlie Chaplin’s A Dog’s Life.10 This was similar to the business strategies that the Glucksmanns deployed to grow their business interests in Argentina. In 1918, Natalini also signed a distribution deal with the Fox Film Corporation and successfully expanded to include theaters in Argentina and Brazil. From his original base in Montevideo, Natalini became a regionally significant film distributor in a number of Latin American urban centers such as Rosario and Córdoba in Argentina and Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in Brazil. Other film exhibitors in Montevideo that competed with Natalini included Mariano Oliver and Juan Oliver, the nephews of Felix Oliver.

While Natalini increasingly looked abroad from Uruguay for market opportunities in the 1910s and 1920s, the Glucksmanns pursued another strategy in Montevideo and throughout Uruguay. Working with their brother Jacobo Glucksmann, who was based in New York as an agent to negotiate distribution rights with the film studios, the Glucksmanns were able to quickly distribute and exhibit films in both Argentina and Uruguay. During the 1920s, the Glucksmanns operated fifteen theaters in Montevideo that were solely dedicated to cinema and also controlled the programming in another twenty-five that showed films. Their operations also included another twenty theaters throughout smaller cities in the Uruguayan interior such as Salto, Paysandú, Colonia, San José, and Punta del Este to create a profitable national circuit. During the 1920s, there was strong economic growth in the export sectors of the agricultural and industrial economies in Uruguay. The steady political hand of the Uruguayan government also strengthened the building blocks of the welfare state, and this coincided with different social classes beginning to go regularly to the cinema. In this stable political environment, the Glucksmanns found the opportunity to grow their cinematic empire.

Through the 1920s, Bernardo Glucksmann remained his brother’s junior partner as the Glucksmanns expanded their distribution and exhibition empire across South America from Argentina to Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Bolivia.11 The arrival of sound films in Latin America required the Glucksmanns to retrofit older theaters with sound equipment and also heightened the market imperatives for the construction of new movie palaces in Uruguay. During the 1930s and early 1940s, Montevideo became the site of numerous modern theaters. In 1936, the Hollywood studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer opened the modern Metro, with 1,051 seats. In 1937, the Glucksmanns opened their own movie palace, Radio City, with 1,236 seats. In 1941, the Glucksmanns unveiled their crown jewel, the Trocadero, with 1,241 seats, and then opened the Coventry movie theater in 1943 with its 1,013 seats.12

At a high point of Bernardo Glucksmann’s commercial powers and also an apex in Uruguayan cinema history, the Trocadero movie theater opened on January 16, 1941, with the local premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. The screening was a major regional event that attracted spectators from Buenos Aires, where the film was banned due to its subject matter that satirized Hitler.

During the 1940s, Bernardo Glucksmann would encounter increased competition from rival film exhibition companies in Montevideo, CENSA and SAUDEC. The first serious rival, CENSA, emerged in 1938 as a consortium of local businessmen that owned various important theaters in Montevideo. Between 1941 and 1956, Bernardo Glucksmann’s business would decline in the face of increased competition and also a combination of questionable business decisions and bad luck. The competition from CENSA and SAUDEC adversely impacted the Glucksmann business after the other companies opened new theaters downtown and also operated extensively in the outer neighborhoods of Montevideo where Glucksmann had long operated highly profitable theaters. In addition, the distribution company Ariston International Films SA joined with CENSA to become the primary distributor of films from Paramount, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and the trio of major Argentine film studios consisting of Argentina Sono Film, Artistas Argentinas Asociados, and Lumiton. These types of distribution deals were a major boon for CENSA and a sizable blow for Bernardo Glucksmann’s own interests. With these new rivals, Glucksmann lost ground with his distribution of Hollywood films and was also unable to capitalize on the distribution of Argentine studio releases, which were highly profitable in the postwar era.13

An even more dramatic and damaging blow to Bernardo Glucksmann’s Uruguayan cinematic business enterprise occurred on December 6, 1954, when his office building caught fire in downtown Montevideo. The damage from the blaze included the destruction of the offices of the Cinematográfica Glucksmann business and the incineration of over one thousand film canisters, film exhibition equipment, and also forty electric stoves that had been imported and were soon to be sold. The stoves were meant to be a source of revenue to help recoup recent losses from the exhibition of films. Compounding the disaster, the business was behind in its insurance payments, and there was no insurance coverage to help rebuild. The fire was front-page news in the majority of Uruguay’s various daily newspapers. The headline in El Debate read “Spectacular Fire in the Heart of the City: The Flames Ended the Glucksmann Movie House.”14 The headline of El Plata read “Casa Glucksmann on Fire” while providing extensive details about the damage caused by the fire. After this tremendous setback to his business, Bernardo Glucksmann sought to rebound as best as he could. The longtime Uruguayan film exhibition titan placed several newspaper advertisements in the following days to announce that his theaters remained in business. Despite his optimism, Glucksmann’s business would suffer considerably in the coming years, and it never recovered. During the 1950s and 1960s, Bernardo Glucksmann slowly lost control of his remaining second-run theaters in Montevideo. Former employees watched him grow old in the 1960s as a nostalgic businessman who had witnessed the dramatic decline of his cinematic empire in Uruguay.

National and Transnational Production for Uruguayan Cinema

From 1938 to 1953, the world of Uruguayan cinema began to expand in terms of commercial production of sound films following the 1936 release of Dos destinos (Two destinies). During this decade-and-a-half window before and after World War II, there were thirteen national films that saw the light of day and the producers of each film all failed to make another one. In 1938, the film Soltero soy feliz (I am happy as a bachelor) became a well-received national film and featured two prominent Uruguayan performers, the tango pianist and actor Ramon Collazo and the tango singer Alberto Vila.15 In 1939, the Uruguayan film Radio Candelario was a star vehicle for the immensely popular Uruguayan radio actor Eduardo Depauli. The film featured numerous Uruguayan performers and was a musical comedy that was indebted to numerous Argentine films of the era. Depauli was particularly influenced by the work of the Argentine comic actor Luis Sandrini, who was among Latin American cinema’s biggest stars. In 1946, the Argentine director Julio Saraceni filmed an adaptation of The Three Musketeers in Montevideo’s Parque Rodo with Argentine actors Roberto Airaldi, Armando Bo, and Augusto Codecá. The film was an Argentine-Uruguayan coproduction and enjoyed moderate commercial success in both national markets. In 1949, the Uruguayan director Adolfo Fabregat filmed the slapstick mystery film Detective al contramano (Detective on the Wrong Track). The film starred the well-known Uruguayan radio performer and comic actor Juan Carlos Mareco, and the production received considerable press in Uruguay in anticipation of its arrival in the theaters. The film’s domestic box office was strong, and the film’s producers were anxious to release the film in neighboring Argentina to appeal to the mass public of Buenos Aires. However, the Peronist regime in Argentina embargoed the Uruguayan film when it was sent to Buenos Aires, and the film’s Uruguayan producers never made the profits they expected on the film from exhibiting in Argentina. Their production plans for another film were thwarted. Also in 1949, the European émigré film editor Kurt Land arrived in Montevideo to direct the film noir El ladron de los sueños (The Thief of Dreams). The film was advertised as an authentically Uruguayan production but featured Argentine actors in leading roles and was directed by an Austrian residing in Argentina. After concluding his work on El ladron de los sueños, Land directed several films in Argentina during the 1950s. In 1950, Uruguayan director Adolfo Fabregat made another film after Detective al contramano when he helmed Uruguayos campeones (Uruguayan Champions), a documentary about Uruguay’s World Cup–championship soccer team in 1950 that was also a commercial success. However, all of Fabregat’s subsequent cinematic directing work in the 1950s and 1960s was focused on documentary films for the Uruguayan state on such subjects as national beer production and historical interest topics such as the tomb of national here José Gervasio Artigas.

While Uruguay’s fragmented cinematic producers created approximately thirteen commercial films from the late 1930s to early 1950s, there was still no development of viable national film studios in Uruguay. The imposing shadow of Argentina’s film industry was in large part responsible for this national deficiency in Uruguay. In the neighboring metropolis of Buenos Aires, Argentine film studios in the 1940s and 1950s expanded to become large-scale operations akin to Hollywood studios and attracted the most notable Uruguayan directors and performers to establish their careers in Buenos Aires. During the 1940s, Argentine film studios such as Lumiton, Argentina Sono Film, Estudios San Miguel, and Estudios Baires were all prolific centers of cinematic production. The studios were partially based on Hollywood studios and collectively produced an average of thirty to forty Argentine films annually.

Uruguay’s other neighbor, Brazil, also gradually expanded its cinema industry during the 1940s. The Brazilian film industry gathered momentum in Rio de Janeiro by building on the star system that had developed in Brazilian radio programming. Beginning in 1941, the Brazilian film studio Atlântida expanded to become a leading part of the construction of national film culture. Atlântida was able to produce a number of successful musical comedies and capitalize on Brazil’s expanding mass culture industries. This was another advantage that Uruguayan cinema did not have at this time. The transnational dissemination of knowledge related to cinematic production also occurred between Argentina and Brazil during the same period that it occurred between Argentina and Uruguay. There was also the movement of Argentine directors such as Carlos Hugo Christensen to Brazil. However, the future of Uruguayan cinema depended largely on Uruguayan directors, producers, and performers engaging in fruitful collaborations that were far from assured in Montevideo and much likelier to develop in Buenos Aires.

The Uruguayan director Román Viñoly Barreto was a key example of a talented Uruguay filmmaker who never made a single film in Uruguay. Trained as an opera director, Viñoly Barreto permanently relocated to Argentina when a wealthy landowner asked for his help in making films after seeing him direct operas at the Teatro Colón. From 1947 to 1961, Viñoly Barreto directed over twenty films in Argentina for studios such as Argentine Sono Film that received widespread commercial release and dealt in genres ranging from tango films, to film noir, to horror. Viñoly Barreto worked closely with the studio Argentina Sono Film, including the 1952 film noir La bestia debe morir.

The zenith of Argentine film, the period from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, also marked the rise of increasingly engaged spectatorship among the Uruguayan public with the growth of film criticism, cinema clubs, and also the wide expansion of ticket buying. In 1936, the Uruguayan magazine Cine Radio Actualidad was launched to appeal to the local filmgoing public. The weekly publication was highly successful and created a devoted readership interested in the latest gossip and production news related to Hollywood, European, and Latin American film. It also provided a local platform for the first few Uruguayan film critics such as Homero Alsina Thevenet. In Uruguay, the local movie stars were primarily Argentinean leading men and ingénues, and the national film critics were well versed in the development of Argentine cinema as their local film industry. In 1952, the Cinemateca Uruguaya was founded as an amalgamation of two smaller clubs, Cine Universatario and Cine Club. The Cinemateca became a central spot for film connoisseurs in Uruguay beginning in the 1950s and also published a well-regarded magazine devoted to publishing critical essays about global film.

Documentalismo and New Latin American Cinema

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new generation of Uruguayan filmmakers emerged. Ugo Ulive and Mario Handler became the two leading figures in Uruguayan cinema. Their documentary filmmaking was largely concerned with the emergence of youth culture and political demands on the increasingly autocratic state. Ulive and Handler’s oeuvre also connected Uruguay’s national cinema to wider currents in Latin American cinema, especially Third Cinema and the politically engaged filmmaking that became influential following the Cuban Revolution.

In the 1950s, Ulive was a young theater actor and director working with Uruguay’s left-wing theater troupe Teatro del Pueblo. Ulive became involved in filmmaking in Montevideo while participating in different competitions organized by the Uruguayan film clubs Cine Universitario and Cine Club. Ulive’s 1959 fiction film, Un vintén pa’l Judas (A Dime for Judas), was a fifty-minute film about a tango singer who swindles his friend on Christmas Eve. The film would become the last fiction film commercially released in Uruguay for twenty years. In 1960, Ulive next filmed Como el Uruguay no hay (There Is No Place like Uruguay), a film that mixed animation and documentary footage while critiquing the status quo of Uruguayan politics that alternated governments between the Blanco and Colorado parties. The film gained a supportive following at Cuba’s national film institute, ICAIC, and Ulive was invited to work in Cuba. In Cuba, Ulive’s most important accomplishment was his co-authored screenplay of the 1962 Cuban film Las doce sillas (The Twelve Chairs), along with leading Cuban auteur Tomas Gutierrez Alea. Ulive returned to Uruguay the next year and soon began to collaborate with Mario Handler, a young Uruguayan documentary filmmaker who had returned to Uruguay after studying in Europe.

During the 1960s, Mario Handler gained an international reputation as a key figure in the movement of the New Latin American Cinema along with filmmakers like Argentina’s Fernando Birri, Bolivia’s Jorge Sanjines, and Brazil’s Glauber Rocha. Handler’s first film was 1964’s Carlos, Cine-retrato de un caminante (Carlos, Cine-Portrait of a Tramp), a thirty-minute documentary about Carlos, a rural migrant and hobo in Montevideo that Handler had befriended. They spent time walking around the port area of the city, and their conversations and actions explored everyday issues of marginality.16 After completing this film, Handler began to collaborate with Ulie on Elecciones, a documentary released in 1967 about the presidential elections of 1966. In Handler’s words, the documentary was conceived as a “barbed, analytical treatment about the upcoming elections.”17 The film was first screened in the 1967 film festival organized by the popular left-wing Uruguayan magazine Marcha, and the reception was very positive. Right afterward, the film was banned from the national film festival organized by the Uruguayan national government’s public broadcasting service, Sodre (Servicio Oficial de Difusión, Radiotelevisión y Espectáculos). Despite this setback, the film was exhibited for four weeks at a venue in Montevideo organized by the Uruguayan producer and exhibitor Walter Achugar and paired with the Argentine drama Este es el romance del Aniceto y la Francisca. Beginning in 1967, Achugar became an important distributor of Cuban and Latin American films in Uruguay that reflected the increased political importance of left-wing cinema to Uruguayan audiences.

After his experiences of censorship related to Elecciones, Ulive went into exile in Venezuela, where he developed a career as a leading figure in Venezuela cinema during the 1970s. Handler continued to work in Uruguay during the late 1960s and produced several more important films that circulated in Latin American festivals. In 1968, Handler filmed Me gustan los estudiantes about student protests in Montevideo. The film’s production history speaks to the political turmoil of the era, as Handler’s camera was destroyed by police while he was filming a demonstration. He finished the film with an inferior camera and edited the film by hand.18 The film was screened at the Marcha film festival in 1968 and critically praised. Handler’s next film was about striking Uruguayan meatpackers and their demands. In 1970, Handler’s most widely distributed film, Líber Arce, liberarse, was a silent film and powerful document about the death of a student from police brutality. With the rapidly deteriorating situation in Uruguay, Handler followed Ulive to exile in Venezuela, where he would remain from 1973 to 1998.

Uruguayan Cinema in Dictatorship and Democracy

With the exile of Handler and Ulive, Uruguayan cinema in late 20th century became a silent industry with little to no production, especially during the political tumult of the 1970s. In a moment of military dictatorships seizing power throughout Latin America, Uruguay endured its own long period of undemocratic government from 1973 to 1985. In 1973, the military took power from the civilian government piece by piece, beginning with the removal of the presidential authority to make ministerial appointments in February, followed by the military takeover of state corporations in April and the dissolution of the national legislature in June.

Arguably the most important film ever made about Uruguay by a foreign director was the 1972 French political drama State of Siege, directed by Greek-French filmmaker Costa-Gavras. State of Siege depicted the actions of the Tupamaros, Uruguay’s guerrillas, who were gaining international attention for their political actions even before the military coup. State of Siege was explicitly about what was going on in Uruguay but was filmed in and around Valparaiso, Chile, during the Allende regime.

The repression of Uruguayan civil society expanded after the military regime began in 1973. During the 1970s, Uruguayan culture suffered from the exile of many leading figures and the climate of censorship. In 1979, the Argentine director Eva Landeck conceived and shot the feature-length film El lugar del humo in Uruguay, using her Argentine crew as a pretext to move freely around the country and work with Uruguayan actors. The film’s producers demanded the participation of George Hilton, a Uruguayan actor who had worked in spaghetti westerns filmed in Europe.19 Landeck’s film can be considered a coproduction between Argentina and Uruguay, although the relationship was dominated by the goals of the Argentine producers. In 1980, the Uruguayan military government financed and produced a film called Guri about gaucho customs in the countryside that was conceived as an educational film for Uruguayan and also American students.20 The film’s merits were discussed in the national press, evidence that Uruguayan cinematic productions of any kind could attract critical viewpoints. In 1982, the first notable narrative film in two decades was released, the historical drama Mataron a Venancio Flores. Produced by the Cinemateca Uruguaya, the film examined the political assassination Uruguayan president Venancio Flores in 1868 and the resulting political violence of the 1870s in Uruguay. The film received unfavorable reviews from numerous publications, including the Cinemateca’s own magazine. Despite this reception, the film marked a rebirth of full-scale production for Uruguayan cinema.

The next notable Uruguayan film that received widespread publicity was the 1994 film El Dirigible, directed by Pablo Dotta.21 The film was a poetic narrative about the flight of the Graf Spee zeppelin in Montevideo as well as complicated storylines involving Uruguay’s 20th-century political histories of dictatorship and exile. The film’s protagonist is a French journalist in Montevideo involved in several mysteries. The first is whether she has interviewed the great Uruguayan writer Juan Carlos Onetti during his unannounced return to Uruguay from exile in Spain. Second, she is interested in finding a missing photo of the suicide of the Uruguayan political leader Baltasar Brum in 1933. The film was easily the most expensive production in the history of Uruguayan cinema and was a coproduction with numerous grants from the United States, Mexico, France, and Uruguay. The film opened in Cannes and then in Uruguay, attracting thirteen thousand spectators to the theater. The film’s public paled in comparison to earlier Uruguayan films like Carlos Alonso’s silent film El pequeño héroe del Arroyo del Oro, which had attracted 150,000 viewers to the cinema.

In the 1990s the complicated terrain of intersections between Argentina and Uruguayan national cinemas continued. In 1993, the Argentine director Adolfo Aristarain’s Un lugar en el mundo (A Place in the World) was submitted to the Academy Awards as a Uruguayan film but was disqualified from consideration, since it was almost entirely an Argentine production. The film had been nominated for the Golden Globes as an Argentine film but had not received the country’s nomination for the Academy Awards, losing out to another film. Instead, Aristarain had solicited the help of Uruguay’s minister of culture, Antonio Mercader, but their unorthodox plan to increase the appreciation and awareness of Uruguayan cinema was thwarted. In 1996, the Argentine film El lado oscuro de la corazón (The Dark Side of the Heart) was filmed and set in Montevideo, with the city being represented as a space for sexual liberation. However, it was generally regarded as an Argentine production.


After the release of El Dirigible, several Uruguayan films were made with wider commercial release at the turn of the 21st century. The first Uruguayan film to deeply shape the consciousness of the national public and also (surprisingly) gain international recognition was the 2004 film Whisky. Directed by the young Uruguayan directors Juan Pablo Rebela and Pablo Stoll, the film was the follow-up to their 2001 release 25 Watts. In contrast to the familiar storyline of aimless youth in 25 Watts, the narrative of Whisky provided an unforgettable Uruguayan tale of two middle-aged Jewish brothers whose lives have taken them in different directions. Both brothers manufacture socks, but Herman has left Uruguay for Porto Alegre, Brazil, and Jacobo has remained as the owner of a sock factory in Montevideo. After the death of their mother, Jacobo persuades one of his employees, Marta, to pretend to be his wife. After their period of mourning, the brothers take a brief trip to the Uruguayan resort of Piriapolis with Marta. At this point, the film explores the interior lives of the two protagonists with great humor and psychological insight. The film deserves its place among the best Latin American films of the early 2000s and also shows how Uruguayan cinema could be conceived as original and appealing across borders. The film’s production history also reflected the established patterns of Uruguayan cinema, as it was a coproduction with financing from Argentina, Germany, and Spain. The film’s principal producer, Fernando Epstein, also managed the rare feat of producing additional Uruguayan films since Whisky.

The fragmented history of Uruguayan cinema in the 20th century illustrates the importance of understanding Uruguay’s unique relationship with Argentina and also its place as an incubator of Latin American cosmopolitanism. Bernardo Glucksmann, Ugo Ulive, and Mario Handler all represent these cultural tendencies, and so do the productions of recent Uruguayan directors like Pablo Dotta and the duo of Rebela and Stoll. The history of Uruguayan cinema reflects the importance of understanding Latin American cultural history as populated by historical actors and cultural forms that deserve wider audiences as they have crossed national borders.

Discussion of the Literature

The scholarship about Uruguayan cinema includes a number of monographs by Uruguayan scholars that chronologically trace the history of national production and also synthetic studies that focus on the history of exhibition and spectatorship. Most scholars have focused on the origins and development of Uruguayan cinema in the national context. The historian Eugenio Hintz has produced a body of Spanish-language work that provides a useful point of departure. Hintz’s research offers a guide to the participation of different directors and producers in the expansion and stagnation of Uruguayan cinema. Scholarship by the Uruguayan film scholar Georgina Torello has focused on the silent film period in the 1910s and 1920s and helps to understand the difficulties for Uruguayan filmmakers to create a national cinema industry during the 1930s. In contrast, the scholarship on Uruguayan political cinema in the broader Latin American context in the 1960s has been more extensive. A number of North American– and European-based scholars have examined the work of documentary filmmakers such as Mario Handler and Ugo Ulive during the postwar era. The possible connections between the national cinema of the 1940s and 1950s and the later periods remain under-explored. In this respect, the scholarship about Uruguayan cinema from the 1960s onward focuses on how filmmakers were responding more to hemispheric and global trends in the various aspects of filmmaking.

On the side of film exhibition and spectatorship during the 20th century, the Uruguayan film connoisseur Osvaldo Saratsola authored the indispensable work Función completa, por favor: Un siglo de cine en Montevideo. The monograph offers an encyclopedic history of the career of leading businessmen such as Bernardo Glucksmann while also collecting oral histories from participants in the Uruguayan film industry. The history of the Cinemateca and its place in cinema attendance and criticism has been carefully explored in the work by Carlos María Domínguez 24 ilusiones por segundo: la historia de Cinemateca Uruguayo.22

Primary Sources

The major collections for studying Uruguayan cinema are at various locations in Montevideo. The Cinemateca Uruguayo holds both print and visual materials related to the national film industry for the whole of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the opportunities for viewing the films in their collection are limited by their lack of proper screening facilities. The collections of publications such as Radio Cine Actualidad at the Cinemateca and the library of the government’s Sodre are an excellent source for research on the 1930s and 1940s. The Biblioteca Nacional in Montevideo has collections of publications related to Uruguayan film such as the national newspapers and magazines like Mundo Uruguayo that are also excellent sources for the early period of Uruguayan cinema. Additionally, the digital collections of the University of Wisconsin such as Cine Mundial provide insights into Uruguay’s place in global film exhibition during the first half of the 20th century. For primary sources on Uruguayan film in the latter decades of the 20th century, another important repository for research is the Biblioteca Nacional’s Archivo Literario, which holds the materials of various Uruguayan writers involved in cinema as screenwriters and critics.

Further Reading

Burton, Julianne, ed. Cinema and Social Change in Latin America: Conversations with Filmmakers. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Ehrick, Christine. “Beneficent Cinema: State Formation, Elite Reproduction and Silent Film in Uruguay 1910s–1920s.” The Americas 63.2 (October 2006): 205–224.Find this resource:

Hintz, Eugenio, and Graciela Dacosta. Historia y filmografía del cine uruguayo. Montevideo: Ediciones de la Plaza, 1988.Find this resource:

Pick, Zuzana M.The New Latin American Cinema: A Continental Project. Austin: University of Texas, 1993.Find this resource:

Richards, Keith. “Born at Last: Cinema and Social Imaginary in 21st-Century Uruguay.” In Latin American Cinema: Essays on Modernity, Gender and National Identity. Edited by Lisa Shaw and Stephanie Dennison, 137–159. New York: McFarland, 2005.Find this resource:

Saratsola, Osvaldo. Función completa, por favor: Un siglo de cine en Montevideo. Montevideo, Uruguay: Ediciones Trilce, 2005.Find this resource:

Schumann, Peter. “Uruguay.” In Historia del cine latinoamericano. Edited by Peter Schumann, 281–295. Buenos Aires: Legasa, 1987.Find this resource:

Torello, Georgina. “Cintas cartográficas. Itinerarios del cine uruguayo (1920–1929).” Imagofagia 8 (2013): 1–29.Find this resource:

Zapiola, Guillermo. “El cine mudo en Uruguay.” In Cine latinoamericano, 1896–1930. Edited by Héctor García Mesa, 319–332. Caracas, Venezuela: Consejo Nacional de la Cultura, 1992.Find this resource:


(1.) Guillermo Zapiola, “El cine mudo en Uruguay,” in Cine latinoamericano, 1896–1930, ed. Héctor García Mesa (Caracas, Venezuela: Consejo Nacional de la Cultura, 1992), 319–332.

(2.) José Carlos Alvarez, Breve historia del cine uruguayo (Montevideo, Uruguay: Cinemateca Uruguaya, 1957).

(3.) Georgina Torello, “Cintas cartográficas: Itinerarios del cine uruguayo (1920–1929),” Imagofagia 8 (2013): 1–29.

(4.) Eugenio Hintz and Graciela Dacosta, Historia y filmografía del cine uruguayo (Montevideo, Uruguay: Ediciones de La Plaza, 1988), 24.

(5.) Daniela Bouret and Gustavo Remedi, El nacimiento de la sociedad de masas, 1910–1930 (Montevideo, Uruguay: Ediciones de la Banda Oriental, 2009), 324.

(6.) On Max Glucksmann as an Argentine cultural impresario in film and popular music, see Matthew B. Karush, Culture of Class: Radio and Cinema in the Making of a Divided Argentina (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 71–75. Also on Max and Bernardo Glucksmann’s business relationship, see Daniel Richter, “Symbiotic Cities: Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Mass Culture, 1910–1960” (PhD diss., University of Maryland, 2016).

(7.) On Bernardo Glucksmann, see Jacinto A. Duarte, Dos siglos de publicidad en la historia del Uruguay: desde la fundación de Montevideo, 1726–1952 (Montevideo, Uruguay: Ediciones Trilce, 1952), 154–161.

(8.) Osvaldo Saratsola, Función completa, por favor: Un siglo de cine en Montevideo (Montevideo, Uruguay: Ediciones Trilce, 2005), 14.

(9.) Saratsola, Función completa, por favor.

(10.) “Roberto Natalini,” Cine-Mundial 5 (January 1920): 118–119.

(11.) For a recent analysis of Max Glucksmann’s exhibition business across Latin America, see Raanan Rein and Tzvi Tal, “Becoming Part of the Moving Story: Jews on the Latin American Screen,” Jewish Film and New Media 2.1 (2014): 1–8.

(12.) Saratsola, Función completa, por favor, 89–93, 282.

(13.) Saratsola, Función completa, por favor, 62–65.

(14.) “Impresionante incendio en plena ciudad,” El Debate, October 18, 1946, 6; “Se incendio la Casa Glucksmann,” El Plata, October 18, 1946, 2–3.

(15.) Peter Schumann, “Uruguay,” in Historia del cine latinoamericano, ed. Peter Schumann (Buenos Aires: Legasa, 1987), 281–295.

(16.) Zuzana M. Pick, The New Latin American Cinema: A Continental Project (Austin: University of Texas, 1993).

(17.) “Mario Handler,” in Cinema and Social Change in Latin America: Conversations with Filmmakers, ed. Julianne Burton (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010), 19–20.

(18.) For Mario Handler’s perspective on Me gustan los estudiantes, see Octavio Getino, “Pobreza y agitación en el cine: Reportaje a Mario Handler,” Cine y liberacion 1 (1969): 73–77.

(19.) Élodie Hardouin and Eva Landeck, “Eva, la atrevida,” Cinémas d’Amérique latine 22 (2014): 57–67.

(20.) Aldo Marchesi, El Uruguay inventado: La política audiovisual de la dictadura, reflexiones sobre su imaginario (Montevideo, Uruguay: Trilce, 2001).

(21.) Jorge Ruffinelli, “1994: El dirigible,” Nuevo Texto Crítico 23.45–46 (2010): 228–230.

(22.) Saratsola, Función completa, por favor; and Domínguez, 24 ilusiones por segundo.