Journal of Romance Studies

Killing visuality in Solveig Nordlund’s Comédia Infantil

Journal of Romance Studies (2011), 11, (3), 43–52.

Abstract

The starting point for this paper is the use made of the real Teatro Avenida in Maputo as a setting in the 1998 film, Comédia Infantil, directed by Solveig Nordlund. Given that theatre in cinema effectively points to the evolving historical relationship between theatrical and cinematic perspectives, I argue that the purpose served by theatre here is to decentre the objectifying power of the spectator’s gaze in western cinematic convention, thus allowing a greater emphasis to be placed on non-visual cultures and oral narrative aesthetics. Where Nordlund deploys a noticeably oral narrative aesthetic to structure temporality, subjectivity and intersubjective exchange in this film, her work resonates strongly with the priorities established by African cinema as defined by Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike. I go on to draw specifically on the writings of Slavoj Žižek on ‘symbolic suicide’ in cinema, as well as Alenka Zupančič’s work on stage murders in Hitchcockian cinema, to argue that the apparent murder of the film’s central character, the street child Nélio, is constructed as what Žižek terms a ‘symbolic suicide’, referring to a ‘withdrawal from symbolic reality which is to be opposed strictly to the suicide “in reality”’ such that ‘the symbolic suicide aims to exclude the subject from the very intersubjective circuit’ (Žižek 1992: 44). The effect of Nélio’s self-exclusion from the intersubjective circuit, coupled as it is with the emergence of his listener José as an oral story teller, is to undermine the linear temporality of the voyeuristic gaze famously established by Laura Mulvey as the point of western viewer identification, and specifically associated here with the spectacular violence of a chronically militarized Mozambican culture progressively destroying itself. The result is a self-reflective estrangement of conventional western cinematic vision, particularly of the spectator’s self-identifying gaze, consciously placed in apposition in this film to the oral culture of the orphaned African street boys who persistently gather outside the theatre and at its physical margins, but are ultimately made to connote the nation’s future.

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Grilo, João Mário (1996–7) ‘Uma nova ideia’, in O cinema vai ao teatro, (Lisbon: Cinemateca Portuguesa/Museu Nacional doTeatro), pp. 41–2. Uma nova ideia O cinema vai ao teatro 41 2 Google Scholar

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Mankell, Henning (1998) Comédia infantil (São Paulo: Marco Zero). Comédia infantil Google Scholar

Mankell, Henning (2006) ‘Chronicle of a death foretold’, The Independent – Books (7 April), http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/henning-mankell-chronicleof-a-death-foretold-473050.html (accessed 26 March 2011). Google Scholar

Mankell, Henning (2007) Chronicler of the Winds, trans. Tina Nunnally (London: Vintage Books). Chronicler of the Winds Google Scholar

Mulvey, Laura (1993) [1975] ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’, in Contemporary Film Theory, ed. Anthony Easthope (London: Longman Group), 111–24. Visual pleasure and narrative cinema 111 24 Google Scholar

Nordlund, Solveig (2000) ‘Interview’, in Cineastas Portuguesas, 1874–1956, ed. António Cunha et al. (Lisbon: Cinemateca Portuguesa/ANIM – ICAM), pp 146–65. Interview Cineastas Portuguesas, 1874–1956 146 65 Google Scholar

Nordstrom, Carolyn (1997) A Different Kind of War Story (Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997). A Different Kind of War Story Google Scholar

Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank (1994) Black African Cinema (Berkeley: University of California Press). Black African Cinema Google Scholar

Wilson, K. B. (1992) ‘Cults of Violence and Counter-Violence in Mozambique’, Journal of Southern African Studies 18.3, 527–82. Cults of Violence and Counter-Violence in Mozambique Journal of Southern African Studies 18.3 527 82 Google Scholar

Žižek, Slavoj (1992) Enjoy your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out (New York: Routledge). Enjoy your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out Google Scholar

Zupančič, Alenka (1992) ‘A perfect place to die: theatre in Hitchcock’s films’, in Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan but were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock, ed. Slavoj Žižek (London: Verso), 73–105. A perfect place to die: theatre in Hitchcock’s films Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan but were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock 73 105 Google Scholar

Diawara, Manthia (1992) African Cinema: Politics and Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). African Cinema: Politics and Culture Google Scholar

Grilo, João Mário (1996–7) ‘Uma nova ideia’, in O cinema vai ao teatro, (Lisbon: Cinemateca Portuguesa/Museu Nacional doTeatro), pp. 41–2. Uma nova ideia O cinema vai ao teatro 41 2 Google Scholar

Lacan, Jacques (1979) The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (Harmondsworth: Penguin). The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis Google Scholar

Mankell, Henning (1998) Comédia infantil (São Paulo: Marco Zero). Comédia infantil Google Scholar

Mankell, Henning (2006) ‘Chronicle of a death foretold’, The Independent – Books (7 April), http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/henning-mankell-chronicleof-a-death-foretold-473050.html (accessed 26 March 2011). Google Scholar

Mankell, Henning (2007) Chronicler of the Winds, trans. Tina Nunnally (London: Vintage Books). Chronicler of the Winds Google Scholar

Mulvey, Laura (1993) [1975] ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’, in Contemporary Film Theory, ed. Anthony Easthope (London: Longman Group), 111–24. Visual pleasure and narrative cinema 111 24 Google Scholar

Nordlund, Solveig (2000) ‘Interview’, in Cineastas Portuguesas, 1874–1956, ed. António Cunha et al. (Lisbon: Cinemateca Portuguesa/ANIM – ICAM), pp 146–65. Interview Cineastas Portuguesas, 1874–1956 146 65 Google Scholar

Nordstrom, Carolyn (1997) A Different Kind of War Story (Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997). A Different Kind of War Story Google Scholar

Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank (1994) Black African Cinema (Berkeley: University of California Press). Black African Cinema Google Scholar

Wilson, K. B. (1992) ‘Cults of Violence and Counter-Violence in Mozambique’, Journal of Southern African Studies 18.3, 527–82. Cults of Violence and Counter-Violence in Mozambique Journal of Southern African Studies 18.3 527 82 Google Scholar

Žižek, Slavoj (1992) Enjoy your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out (New York: Routledge). Enjoy your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out Google Scholar

Zupančič, Alenka (1992) ‘A perfect place to die: theatre in Hitchcock’s films’, in Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan but were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock, ed. Slavoj Žižek (London: Verso), 73–105. A perfect place to die: theatre in Hitchcock’s films Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan but were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock 73 105 Google Scholar

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Owen, Hilary