By: Brian Davisson
In 1998, the Argentine magazine Tres Puntos asked one hundred people involved in the country’s film industry to name the five greatest Argentine films and the greatest Argentine director. Leonardo Favio placed first on the list of directors, and his film El romance del Aniceto y la Francisca first on the list of films. In 2000, the Museo Nacional de Cine Argentino (National Museum of Argentine Cinema) conducted a poll for the 100 greatest Argentine films. Favio’s Crónica de un niño solo placed first on the list, with 75% of the votes. Other films by Favio appearing on that list include El romance del Aniceto y la Francisca (6th), Juan Moreira (11th), El dependiente (21st), Gatica, el mono (39th), and Nazareno Cruz y el lobo (54th). Despite this acclaim, Favio seems to be largely unknown as a director outside of Argentina, or at the very least outside of Latin America. (Information on the polls is from Wikipedia.)
Leonardo Favio was born Fuad Jorge Jury in 1938 just south of Mendoza, Argentina. His early life presents several parallels with the central characters of his first films, as he was frequently sent to reform schools, was often expelled, and was jailed for stealing. Through the involvement of his mother, he began his artistic career as a voice actor on radio in Mendoza, and then moved to Buenos Aires.
Favio with Elsa Daniel, in Leopoldo Torre Nilsson’s La mano en la trampa (1961)
|Fernando Ayala (1920-1997)||Leopoldo Torre Nilsson (1924-1978)|
He began acting in 1957, and appeared in two films directed by Fernando Ayala and six by Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, both of whom likewise deserve considerably more attention. Favio’s first completed film as a director was El amigo, a short that he says he made to impress María Vaner. Vaner would appear in both Crónica de un niño solo and El romance del Aniceto y la Francisca, and he went on to marry her and have two children (though he and Vaner later divorced).
María Vaner and Leonardo Favio
Being a Peronist, Favio was forced to leave Argentina during the National Reorganization Process that lasted from 1976 until 1983. During this time he traveled through Latin America performing as a singer, a career he had begun with the release of his 1968 album Fuiste mía un verano [You Were Mine One Summer]. From the release of this album and throughout the 1960s and 70s, he became one of the most famous singers in Latin America. He released over two dozen albums in his career.
Favio’s films El romance del Aniceto y la Francisca and Aniceto are based on the story “El cenizo,” written by Favio’s brother Jorge Zuhair Jury. The story can be read here (in Spanish). Jorge Zuhair Jury also wrote the story that provided the source for El dependiente, and collaborated on the screenplays for all of Favio’s feature films.
Jorge Zuhair Jury
Favio died of pneumonia on November 5th, 2012, in Buenos Aires. He had apparently been dealing with a prolonged illness at the time. Information regarding his career and passing can be seen here, in Spanish, including some video and photos.
During his life, he directed eight feature films, two shorts (one of which was never completed), and one documentary: a six-hour made-for-television work concerning Juan Perón. Part of his appeal as a director is his ability to shift freely among plots and visual styles, to the point that it can be difficult to pin his style down in any consistent way. That said, his films are generally very approachable for the audience in terms of visuals and story, and, with the exception of his documentary on Perón, rarely exceed 90 minutes in length.
Filmography: (click on the pictures to go to the film’s page)
El señor Fernández (1958) (Short; never completed)
El amigo [The Friend] (1960) (Short) (not in database)
This short features an unnamed boy who works as a shoeblack near a carnival. He befriends a middle-class boy one evening and gets a chance to spend time inside the carnival gate. It’s charming, and leads pretty clearly into Chronicle of a Boy Alone, though it’s much lighter in tone than the later film.
Crónica de un niño solo [Chronicle of a Boy Alone] (1965)
This is one of the best of the famous “children in (juvenile) prison” genre, and despite its connection to Shoeshine, it doesn’t coat its pessimism in any bit of sugar. The lead actor Diego Puente is the clear stand-out, and it’s a heavyweight feature film debut for Favio. The film won the Cóndor de la Plata (the highest Argentine film award) for best picture in 1966.
El romance del Aniceto y la Francisca [The Romance of Aniceto and Francisca] (1967)
This is probably the simplest love story ever put to film, but it features great performances by Elsa Daniel, Federico Luppi, and María Vaner, and also shows a specifically provincial Argentine context. It won the Cóndor de Plata for best film in 1968.
El dependiente [The Dependent/The Clerk] (1969)
The Dependent was included in the simultaneous watching and analysis project a couple of years ago. The thread, written by Javier Quintero, includes a very good reading of the film as well as enlightening responses, and a helpful biography and description of Favio’s films.
Juan Moreira (1973)
Juan Moreira is a true historical figure in Argentina’s history, who was killed almost exactly a century prior to this film’s release (he died in 1874). He was a gaucho and folk-hero who represented the resistance to injustice that would have appealed to leftists in the 1970s. The film takes up the troubles Moreira faced by government officials, and his subsequent violent death. Along with the visuals, the music is a real stand-out in this film. It shared the Cóndor de la Plata for best film in 1974.
Nazareno Cruz y el lobo [Nazareno Cruz and the Wolf] (1975)
At some point, though I’m not sure if it’s still the case, this was the most-watched Argentine film in the country. Nazareno Cruz is the seventh son born of his mother, and this means he’s destined to turn into a werewolf during the full moon once he turns an adult. But then he falls in love, and meets the devil, and visits hell…. Probably the most over-the-top of Favio’s films.
Nazareno Cruz was also made into a musical. Here’s the official site with photos, videos, and extra information. It’s worth a look around if you’ve seen the film.
Soñar, soñar [To Dream, to Dream] (1976)
This was the last film Favio made before going into exile. By description, it feels like an outlier to the rest of his films, but watching it shows that it’s very much in line with his other works. It shows the friendship between a wandering performer and a down-on-his-luck waiter from a small town who wants to make it in the big city as a singer. It is one of the few films of Favio that wasn’t a big success at the time of its release.
Gatica, el mono [Gatica, the Monkey] (1993)
José María Gatica (“the Monkey”) was a flamboyant Argentine boxer, and it’s little wonder that Favio was attracted to his story. Gatica grew up on the streets (and was a shoeblack for a time), was a staunch supporter of Perón, and had an over-the-top style in the ring. The film documents his relatively short life (he died in 1963 at the age of 38 after being struck by a bus), but engages Gatica’s politics, his boxing career, and his troubled life. It film won the Cóndor de la Plata for best film in 1994.
Perón, sinfonía del sentimiento [Perón, Symphony of Sentiment] (1999) (Documentary) (not in database)
Favio’s documentary on Juan Perón is a six-part made-for-television work on the political life of Perón, who died in 1974 during his third presidential term. It shows substantial footage from speeches and interviews given by and with Perón.
Cinematic eye candy. Aniceto is an updating of The Romance of Aniceto and Francisca with some minor alterations to the story, but with the visual flourish of a staged ballet with colorful sets and wonderful dancers/actors. It won 9 of the 11 Condor Awards (the Argentine film critics award) it was nominated for, including Best Film.
All of Favio’s feature films can be purchased on region-free dvd from Argentina if you search around a bit. Most of them have English subtitles. There is little question that he is among the greatest of Argentine and Latin American directors, and deserves a wider audience. Outside of Gatica el mono, which I don’t like much (mainly because I don’t enjoy boxing), I recommend his films without reservation.
Several of Favio’s films appeard in the 2013 Directors Cup, where he made it to the quarterfinals. Below are links to the introductory threads and voting threads for those films:
Round 1: Nazareno Cruz y el lobo– introductory thread; voting thread (won against Samuel Fuller’s Park Row)
Round 2: El romance del Aniceto y la Francisca– introductory thread; voting thread (lost to Georges Franju’s Nuits Rouges)
Round 3: El dependiente– voting thread (won against Akio Jissoji’s Marquis de Sade’s Prosperities of Vice)
Round 4: Crónica de un niño solo– introductory thread; voting thread (won against Tomu Uchida’s Chikamatsu’s Love in Osaka)
Round 5: Juan Moreira– introductory thread; voting thread (lost to Jacques Rivette’s Paris Nous appartient)
Leonardo Favio’s official website. It’s in Spanish, but you can listen to most (possibly all) of his songs on the main page.
A few other lists that include Favio’s films:
Apursansar’s Latin American Film Canon
Latin America: Argentina
América Latina: The Top 100 Films
I Was Once an Alpaca: Kenji’s Latin American Selection
Here is my ranking of his feature films: