Somewhere Between The 400 Blows and Los Olvidados: Crónica de un Niño Solo

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Synopsis

Crónica de un Niño Solo (1965) tells the story of a young boy, Polín, living in a reformatory. Everyday he is tormented by the adults who run it and the punishments they dole out. One day, after hitting one of the adults, he is sent to a police station where he escapes and goes to his hometown, a villa miseria (shantytown). He falls back into his old routine but is soon apprehended and brought back to the reformatory.

Leonardo Favio

Leonardo Favio

Crónica de un Niño Solo was made in 1965 at the height of discontent with the Argentine state. Favio was a lifelong Peronist and would later make a documentary about the history of Peronism called Perón, Sinfonía del Sentimiento. He considered himself a worker before anything else and put his Peronist beliefs in his films. Favio said, “I am not a Peronist director, but I am a Peronist that makes movies, and at some point, it shows.” Favio used his privilege as a filmmaker to critique the current president, Illia’s, state institutions. These were institutions that Favio was intimately familiar with as, like Polín, he spent his youth in and out of reformatories. For Favio, this film was extremely personal and extremely political.

Juan Peron’s Presidency (1946-1955)

Juan Peron

Juan Peron was a populist who rose to the presidency after serving as the Secretary of Labor from 1943 to 1945. His popularity among the working class was enormous so when he was arrested in October of 1945, supporters staged a massive demonstration for his release at the Plaza de Mayo. For Peronists, that day, October 17th, is remembered as Loyalty Day. During his presidency, Peron was a major figure in the Non-Alignment Movement and a strong supporter of labor unions. Under Peron, unions doubled and the agricultural industry grew enormously. By his side, Peron had the best one-person PR team in Evita.

She was extremely charismatic, young, beautiful, philanthropic, and the perfect mouthpiece. Things started to take a turn later in his presidency. In 1949, he reformed the 1853 constitution in order to give himself more power. In 1952, Eva Peron died and so too did his good publicity. By 1955, the economy was tanking and a military coup was staged. Peron went into exile and his followers waited for their hero to come back.

The Post Peron Period (1955-1966)

Arturo Illia

The period in Argentine history before Peron’s return is pretty messy. First, Pedro Eugenio Aramburu took over the presidency as a major figure in the coup and a staunch anti-Peronist. He dissolved Peron’s old party and enacted a lot of severe changes, but Peronists still held a great deal of influence. Frondizi, a Peronist, won the presidency in 1958, but after losing army support yet another coup was staged. Jose Maria Guido served as interim president and Frondizi was detained without trial for 18 months so he couldn’t participate in the elections. In 1963, Arturo Illia was elected and tried to split the Peronists during that time. By 1966, the Peronists became so fed up with the system that they supported another coup, and Illia was taken out and replaced by Juan Carlos Ongania.

The Reformatory

Polín in the reformatory

Polín’s reformatory is a suffocating prison. The adults are constantly punishing the kids for the slightest infraction and those punishments are often humiliating. At one instance, Polín is forced to wear a sign labeling him as a “piantadino” or “dunce”. When they are not being punished, they are forced to stand in rows silently. These measures are all in the service of creating order among the children, but similar to the military generals who instill order through coups, they actually provide more instability.  When there is no adult supervision, the children immediately revert back to fighting each other or dreaming of an escape. Polín especially is mesmerized by windows. Anytime he is near one, he has to find a way to get a better look at the outdoors and cannot focus on what people are saying to him. Favio asserts that just because you aim to create an order through oppressive tactics does not mean you will create a stable environment.

Nature

Polín playing with friends

When Polín finally escapes, we are left with a question. Is he free or just alone? Favio uses nature to stress the precariousness of Polín’s situation. One of the first things Polín does when he comes back home is go skinny-dipping with his friend. At first, the scene is utterly serene. The two boys oscillate between playing and sunbathing until other boys come to swim. While Polín is away, they brutally attack his friend. Polín’s fate can flip on a dime. Danger is lurking nearby and it’s only a matter of time before it reaches him. Later, Polín finds a horse in a yard and decides to free it and lead it to grass. On his way, a policeman stops him and takes him back to the reformatory. Last time it was his friend and this time he is the victim of a traumatic event. The horse is free for the time being but his freedom is just as precarious as Polín’s was. This is a state that most Argentines know. They’re safe now, but when will the next coup come?

The 400 Blows and Los Olvidados

This film exists in a space between these two films. On one hand, Cronica resembles The 400 Blows in its depiction of adults as uncaring, but Cronica takes a darker turn. Unlike The 400 Blows, there is not a lot of solidarity between adults or youth. But when it’s compared to Los Olvidados, it is still quite different. While they share a similar disdain for the state, there is much more hope in Cronica. Polín may be heading back to the orphanage, but we know that just as easily as he was caught, he can escape again. This makes it a particularly Argentine film of its time. Favio is angered by his current government but hopeful that Peron will return. For better or for worse, Favio was right and Peron did return. While the film is incredibly dark in its depiction of 1960s Argentina, he knows the situation can flip on a dime.

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