Entrenamiento Elemental Para Actores

13, 20, 26/05 – 19:00
52 min

Education, transmission processes and generational conflicts run through everything Federico León does. The Kunstenfestivaldesarts has regularly presented the work of this Argentine director and film-maker, a leading light on the arts scene in Buenos Aires. For his latest film, León has joined forces with Martín Rejtman, himself a leading director of New Cinema in Argentina. The main character of Entrenamiento Elemental Para Actores (Elementary Training for Actors) is the astonishing Fabián Arenillas, a drama and acting teacher for children aged between 8 and 12. Through the painful mirror effect he creates between the world of adults and that of his young students, the film unleashes an astonishing subversive force. Concern for strictness and perseverance alternate with access to tyranny and abuse of power. The boundaries between acting and life gradually blur. Their parents, doubtlessly projecting their own dreams of success onto their offspring, see their reference points turned upside down. Deliberately ambiguous, this remarkable filmed essay is as edifying as it is hilarious.

Written & directed by
Federico León & Martín Rejtman

Executive producer
Rosa Martínez Rivero

Assistant director
Adrián Lakerman

Production coordination
Julieta Squeri

Gustavo Nakamura

Martín Mainoli, Karina Flomenbaum

Catriel Vildosola

Fabián Arenillas, Ulises Bercovich, Luca Damperat, Matías Delgado, Paula Egdechman, Melanie Guignant, Agustín Prieto, Milena Psevosnik, Lourdes Reynoso, Iago Scippo, Brian Sichel, Candelaria Toria, Micaela Vega, Iván Vitale, Julián Zuker, Carlos Portaluppi

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Rits

Ruda Cine (Rosa Martínez Rivero, Violeta Bava)

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Entrenamiento Elemental Para Actores (Elementary Training for Actors), a film by Federico León and Martín Rejtman

Ten years ago, a young Argentine writer and director burst onto the scene at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts with his performance of Mil quinientos metros sobre el nivel de Jack (Fifteen Hundred Metres Above the Level of Jack). Born in Buenos Aires in 1975, his name was Federico León and with a few plays already to his name, he was helping to assert the innovative vitality of a whole side of independent new theatre in Buenos Aires. The action in Mil quinientos metros sobre el nivel de Jack took place in a tiny bathroom, around a bath tub, and upset the intentions usually served up by conventional theatre. Water was not only the thing being splashed all over the place: mixed up with it were snippets of a family story being screamed out and echoes of a country that had regularly endured raging military, social and political storms. Never before had we seen Argentina like this with its absences, silences and excesses, its hidden violence and dulled memory, the obliteration of fathers, the weight of mothers and the unawareness of sons. The audience was being confronted by acting with a new kind of tension, up close to vehement actors, as if they had been dragged out of their own childhood and teenage years to confront their elders – confrontations that will run throughout Federico León’s work.

Judging by his visits to the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, it could almost be said that this young writer has become a regular – apart from the fact that he never returns where he is expected. Bolstered by his early success, he could have been content with mining the same seam, but on almost every occasion he has chosen to explore very different, yet still closely linked paths. After Mil quinientos metros sobre el nivel de Jack in 2001 the Kunstenfestivaldesarts presented El Adolescente (The Adolescent) in 2003; Estrellas (Stars), a film co-directed by Marcos Martinez, in 2006; Yo En El Futuro (Me in the Future) in 2009; and this year Entrenamiento Elemental Para Actores (Elementary Training for Actors), a film co-directed by Martín Rejtman. So theatre (2001 and 2003), film (2006 and 2011) and something that cannot be called anything other than film-theatre (2009).

It would however be ill-considered to divide Federico León’s work between theatre and cinema. Quite the opposite, in fact, since his work is formed from two genres and in two genres. The same themes run through his work both on stage and on screen, creating a highly identifiable universe. The co-director of Entrenamiento Elemental Para Actores, Martín Rejtman, notably the director of Rapado (1992), Silvia Prieto (1999) and Los Guantes mágicos (2003) makes films about disruption in everyday life, the instability of identity and unusual movement, and is capable of shifting from documentary to fiction and from film to writing – he has written several collections of short stories – in a creative movement echoing that of Federico León who also happens to be a writer. There is no point trying to unravel who has done what here since the bicephalous nature of this work fades away to nothing before its cohesion and lack of concern with conventions, starting with a running time of 52 minutes which destines it to being broadcast on television or at multi-disciplinary festivals. It is a round-about way of returning to the stage.

Like Estrellas, Entrenamiento Elemental Para Actores challenges the reality it appears to show. The “elementary” acting class for children with its atypical teacher does not take place in a shanty town, like the one seen in Estrellas, but in a middle-class neighbourhood. He does not do a turnkey casting call, but poses the underlying issue of training towards theatrical or cinematographic expertise and its possible marketing. The fictional nature of the film is never stated. Instead everything makes you doubt it. The way it unfolds seems to be taken from life with its accidents, climaxes and voids. In their simplicity, the characters convey a certain nonchalance without real dramaturgical depth. As for the children, as always they give an impression of reality which is only reinforced when they encounter sorrow. Questions of pretences, questions of appearances and questions of truth merge together to affirm its documentary nature and undermine the idea of it being fiction, by targeting the teacher’s behaviour as if he were among us and not in a performance.

The questions concerning the teaching of drama – and teaching in general – also broach Buenos Aires theatre and Federico León’s plays and films. It is true that in Buenos Aires, drama schools are a subject in their own right. Even more of them have sprung up in recent years and chances are that more visits are being made here than to that other local speciality: the psychoanalyst’s consulting rooms. As well as being one of the world capitals of independent theatre, Buenos Aires is probably one of the drama school capitals. They range from simple fitness sessions and offering personal development to training in which the shadow cast by television, entertainment and serial-like dreams can be made out. But there are real places of training and acting, most often associated with the best theatres and the best independent theatre directors. Federico León is a teacher himself: offering highly portable teaching since he will be giving demonstrations of it in Brussels this year.

He himself trained in one of the most important schools historically, linked to Sportivo Teatral and run by the writer and director Ricardo Bartís. On this topic, he willingly recognises the biographical dimension of Entrenamiento Elemental Para Actores: “This film has a lot to do with my own training. It ridicules the training of actors in Argentina and, in the end, the figure of the teacher bears something of a resemblance to all my drama teachers. He is a teacher who jokes about having no students, who makes fun of what the parents see and who follows his tranquil path against the dominant tendencies of drama training which he considers harmful.” Other than Ricardo Bartís, whose teaching Federico León has understood so well by moving away from it to follow his own path, he spent quite a while alongside Robert Wilson without traces of it ever being evident. Whatever the prestige of the name, the practice of “tranquil path against dominant tendencies” also applies to the theatre of Federico León.

You cannot be a teacher without making the sacrifice of a teacher. It is up to him to make the first move while there is still time. In this sense, Sergio (performed by Fabián Arenillas), the teacher in Entrenamiento Elemental Para Actores, is an ideal teacher: completely dedicated to his teaching yet always a step removed. He also seems as if he is attending his own classes, as if he is attending his own life. He does not teach to go somewhere or send someone somewhere, he is not seeking to achieve an objective, but to sketch out a path worked out as he goes along, as he has encounters with the children or in the street. He has integrated the question of sacrifice. Sergio is not training towards a theatre or film career of any kind, but introduces life through acting. He provokes more than he gives “lessons on life”. What interests him with the child is resistance to the conventions of the adult world and to codes of a prefabricated childhood. The school becomes a means of not playing a role in life, a means of isolating theatre’s principles. It plays truant, is quick to gather in the gifts of the children’s gestures and ideas, integrating them into the creation. It re-establishes the personalised collection against the excessively established idea of mechanical harvest, the individual gesture against productivist egotism. It restores a hesitant humanity in the face of exercises by skilful animals. Beneath its documentary exterior, Entrenamiento Elemental Para Actores is something of a parable and pushes its mischievous elegance all the way to throwing out the keys to what could be the unambiguous meaning in its fiction.

Jean-Louis Perrier

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The Argentinian actor, director and film-maker Federico León (°1975) wrote and directed Cachetazo de Campo, Museo Miguel Angel Boezzio, Mi Quinientos Metros Sobre El Nivel De Jack, El Adolescente and Yo En El Futuro. In 2001 he wrote and directed his first film, Todo Juntos, in which he also played a role. Estrellas, created in collaboration with journalist Marcos Martinez, was one of the highlights of the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in 2006. He has won numerous awards, including the First Prize for Dramatic Writing of the Argentinian National Theatre Institute, the 2004 Konex Prize from the Konex Foundation and the national First Prize for Dramatic Writing 1996-1999 of the Argentinian government. His plays have been performed at venues and at festivals in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Scotland, Canada, Belgium, Spain, Brazil and Australia.

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