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La Hora De Los Hornos (1968) is a three-part propaganda documentary that uses the historical example of Argentina to make a case for Latin American liberation. Part I: Neo-Colonialism and Violence gives a historical, geographic, and economic analysis of the country. Part II: An Act For Liberation examines Juan Peron’s rise and fall and its effects on the continent. Part III: Violence and Liberation serves as a call to action for armed revolution across Latin America.
It’s hard to think of a more impassioned, artistic, informative, and effective piece of propaganda than La Hora De Los Hornos. Used throughout the 1960s and 70s as agitprop in meetings for radicalized workers’ unions and their sympathizers across the continent, the film’s legacy has become greater than anyone could have possibly foreseen. Somehow this four-hour-long, intense political visual essay found an audience. Through director Fernando Solanas’ revolutionary style which perfectly translates revolutionary discourse, he makes one of the most compelling cases for armed struggle. At a time when revolution was in the air, Solanas gave a clear map of how to turn theory into praxis and show that popular violence could be a positive tool.
Solanas uses the Argentine example to connect their contemporary struggles with others across the world and across time. Consider the title. It comes from the epigraph Che Guevara used in one of his last political statements. Not only that, but the author of that epigraph is Jose Marti, the 19th-century Cuban independence hero. By referencing a revolutionary who fought and died for independence from Spain and another revolutionary who fought against neocolonialism and died along the way, Solanas shows that the contemporary liberation struggles and the older independence wars had more in common than previously thought.
Much of Part I deals with this comparison and thus shows the urgency for this new fight. As film theorist Robert Stam perceptibly noted, “La Hora’s persuasive power derives from its ability to render ideas visually. Abstract concepts are given clear and accessible form.” When Solanas describes the immediate betrayal of Latin American independence by Buenos Aires elites who made a deal with British banks, effectively switching oppression from Spanish to British hands, Solanas shows images of contemporary rich Buenos Aires residents golfing at their country club or lounging by their pool. This new generation of rich Argentines are the very same that stabbed the continent in the back more than 100 years prior.
The use of photomontage allows us to not only understand this common historical and political thread but easily identify it. In one of the most absurdly poignant moments of the film, Solanas even captures a “Belle Epoque” themed party hosted by one of the richest families in the country. With their lavish old-world parties and constant statements about feeling more European than Latin, they draw the parallels themselves. Solanas just had to point a camera at them. These families and this popular struggle remain the same. He draws a straight line from Argentina’s declaration of independence to modern and violent protests. This subjugation began with the Spanish then went to the English and now rests with the Americans. The Spanish began by bringing settlers, viceroys, and soldiers, and now the Americans, as shown in another montage, bring with them friendlier but equally destructive subversives like the Kennedys and the Peace Corps.
This continued relationship is not only re-examined but redefined. In this relationship, who is the dependent one? Often, Latin America has been viewed as the continent in need of constant Western aid, but in a thrilling montage, Solanas shows that it has been Europe and the US who have remained constantly dependent on their resources. Cutting back between images of Argentine workers in a meat factory and the increasingly vulgar ads from the “developed” world, we see how Latin America kills itself and its resources every day for the gaudy commodification of it. The Columbian exchange never died. While weaving this historical thread of exploitation, Solanas also makes the connection between Argentina and countries across the world.
The second part of the film focuses on the Peron years and their aftermath. On the joyous day of Peron’s liberation from jail, the 17th of October, 1945, Solanas notes that this important crack in the imperialist facade was made before India was an independent state and before China saw revolution. Before then, Argentina and countries across Asia and Africa shared the same violent fate. Solanas doesn’t just reveal that 300,000 Latin American children die of starvation every year, he says that that number is greater than that of the children who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These constant comparisons make Argentina’s struggle not just its own, but the world’s and vice-versa.
In an effort to move Argentina towards armed struggle, he focuses on the example of Vietnam. The one good thing the Vietnamese have, in his eyes, is they know exactly who their enemy is. In Argentina, it is unclear. They often look the same and talk the same, but they are no different. This metaphor is expanded upon when he describes Western mass communications which he describes as a stronger weapon than napalm. Argentine writers like the Nobel Prize winner, Manuel Mujica Lainez, who pride themselves on their English sensibility simply use this weapon to translate elite ideas into Spanish. Through that, they decimate the population by creating a group of people who believe that because they are from an underdeveloped country, they are underdeveloped people. This ideological violence creates a young generation who looks to Europe alone for culture. A union jack slapped on one of their shirts, these young hippies are not as radical as they think. They are victims of an invisible enemy and a deadly weapon.
Still, Solanas understands that even with these compelling historical and global comparisons, most people want to find a legal and peaceful way to win. To the hesitant viewers, he offers the provocation: what if legal violence has already been perpetrated on the Argentine people? The Navy’s bombing of the Plaza de Mayo in June 1955, not only achieved its goal of forcing Peron out but killed 300 civilians along the way. Later, his ideology was outlawed and men who defended him and his legal constitution were summarily executed without trial. When Arturo Frondizi won the presidency with Peron’s endorsement, he failed to achieve any lasting change and was even forced to block the election of labor leader Andres Framini to the governorship of Buenos Aires because of military pressure.
One by one, Solanas reveals that a legal return to Peron or Peronism is impossible. But how can violence transform from a terrifying last resort to an inspirational tool? For that, we only have to look at the image of Che’s lifeless body on a slab in Bolivia, an image that turns from horrifying to inspirational in the span of a few minutes. Over the still image, Solanas narrates Che’s own words on the new man in which he states, “To choose with his rebellion his own life and his own death. When he inserts himself in the struggle for liberation, death ceases to be the final state. It becomes a liberating act. A conquest. The man who chooses his death is choosing also a life. He is already life and liberation itself.” Solanas goes on to say that Che’s death liberated the continent and inspired many others to keep fighting. For nearly three minutes a close up of Che’s lifeless face plays on the screen accompanied by Afro-Cuban drums. With compelling arguments and parallels, Solanas brings life to Che and the continent.
Death is no longer ugly and neither is violence. Quoting the liberation theologist, Juan Carlos Saperodi, he introduces the concept of the violence of love which is used against the systemic violence of the oppressor. According to Saperodi, “The violent love of combatants is in essence a sublime form of love for truth. The love of Jesus Christ led him to the cross. He was killed because he made the people rebel.” Violence is not a hateful and sad final act but a loving rebirth. Solanas manages to drive through his point of view in a way that is effective but not oppressive. At the end of the second and third parts, he leaves a space open for the audience’s dialogue. Solanas wants debate to take place. La Hora De Los Hornos doesn’t placate its audience, because in his eyes it’s an unfinished film that only time and the brave acts of others can end. The first and last shots of the film are the same: a torch leading the way in the black of night. This struggle will go on a loop until brave citizens decide to invent their own revolution and end the cycles of oppression that first took root in far-reaching countries a long time ago.