25 Watts: Uruguay’s Youth in Revolt

Para la versión en español, cliquea aquí


25 Watts (2001) follows a group of teenagers as they navigate a day in Montevideo. They struggle against boredom as they try to figure out what they are supposed to be doing with their lives.

Entering Democracy

Julio Maria Sanguinetti

A remarkable aspect of the 1984 elections was the extent to which they represented continuity with the pre-1973 period. Not only was the electoral system unchanged, but the party hierarchies were also little altered except by the passage of time and residual military interference. Neoliberalism was still readily embraced. Sanguinetti assumed the presidency on 1 March 1985 and Uruguay experienced a modest economic revival with relative stability, promoted more by fortuitous external conditions than by domestic economic reconstruction. Sanguinetti was hailed by outsiders for his moderation in the interests of stability and consolidation but experienced a steady decline in prestige at home. Once the fear of military intrusion had passed, the democracy that Sanguinetti promised seemed to provide less freedom and more factional differences.

Nevertheless, the management of the economy represented a considerable achievement for the administration, until the recession tarnished the image after 1988. Change came for the old military order as well. Although the Naval Club Pact laid down the terms of the transition from military to civilian rule, it left open the question of the criminal liability of military personnel for human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship. The issue was sharpened in 1985 by the administration’s decision to release 250 former Tupamaro guerrillas still held in jail. The rehabilitation of the Tupamaro image was remarkable but disturbing to the conservative establishment. 

The 2002 Banking Crisis

In December 1986, facing a constitutional crisis over the issue, the administration secured a law that exonerated the military for offenses committed during the dictatorship. The realignment of political forces after 1985 was undramatic, tending to confirm rather than qualify the view that Uruguayan democracy was merely restored, not renewed. As the 1989 election approached, the overwhelming impression was that in spite of some modest realignments, neither the military dictatorship nor the transition to democracy had fundamentally affected the functioning of the Uruguayan political system or its personnel. The victory of the Blanco Party, its first since 1962, with the election of Lacalle in 1989 was clear-cut. But it also showed that while traditional parties remained strong in the interior, they were losing Montevideo to the Frente Amplio. Economically the 1990s were about continuing economic stabilization with the creation of the Brady Plan in 1991, the price stabilization plan in 1990-2002, the first central bank act in 1995, and social security reform in 1996. By 1998, inflation reached a one-digit figure for the first time in 30 years. Between 1999 and 2001, however, the economy received an array of external shocks amid gradual restrictions to external financing.  At the beginning of 2002, the end of the convertibility in Argentina led to a run on bank deposits, especially from nonresidents which caused a loss of international reserves. This scenario led to abandoning the exchange rate commitment in July 2002. On the one hand, the devaluation slowly favored the growth of exports since the end of 2002. It also increased the vulnerability of public finances. The economy was in shambles.

The Adults

25 Watts

It’s easy to point out how the youth of this story are extremely lazy and uninspired, but it is also important to look at the adults in their lives. These young people may be practically braindead from doing drugs and hanging out on the street, but what is the excuse for the traditional, conservative adult? Is it possible these young people are lazy because there is nothing about their parent’s generation that inspires them to do anything? One notable scene shows an old woman sitting outside as the radio plays a news report about politics. This old woman doesn’t hear it or respond to it like many of her generation have. They have created the political malaise and the young just follow suit. They cannot inspire action in these kids. Even their boss can’t make them do their job. They are supposed to ride around the city in a car that plays an ad for pasta but they choose to play rock songs instead. Neoliberal economic ideals are so boring. Maybe rock is really just a step up. The older people in their lives can’t see the degradation of society even when it’s right in front of them. When one of the boys rents a porno and Leche’s grandmother walks in, she is too unaware to realize what’s on TV. It’s a comic scene but also a poignant one. Maybe these boys wouldn’t be so lazy if they had something or someone to look up to and guide them.

The War Against Boredom

25 Watts
La Haine

When you watch this movie, it’s clear to see the influence of the new movement of Independent cinema in the United States. The film contains echoes of Richard Linklater or Kevin Smith but the look is altogether different. The black & white film mixed with the urban setting recalls the French classic La Haine. But La Haine is about the major problems afflicting France: racism and police brutality. 25 Watts doesn’t confront any of those issues. Could it be that Uruguay’s greatest problem wasn’t violence but boredom and confusion? The mixing of the American slacker genre with the visual style of La Haine feels like it points in that direction. Is this a better problem to have? The characters in the film don’t know. One of the early scenes shows one of the boys step in dog shit and wonder if it is supposed to be a good or bad omen. They never figure it out. Without progress or even change anywhere in sight, these boys turn away from traditional society’s ideas of success. Leche, for example, fails his Italian exam several times so he will have more time to try to flirt with his Italian tutor. Nothing feels changed or improved. They live in a limbo that is clear to repeat the following day. Boredom and confusion are all that can really come from a neoliberal victory.

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