Acclaimed director Celina Murga confirms her position as one of Latin America’s most resonant filmmakers with an elegant documentary set in her old secondary school in the Argentine city of Parana.
After two acclaimed features, Ana and the Others and A Week Alone, seen at the LFF in 2003 and 2008 respectively, Celina Murga turns to non-fiction, proffering a smart, beautifully crafted documentary set in the state (known as ‘normal’) school she attended in the city of Parana. Her inquisitive eye follows the headteacher, teachers, administrative staff and students going about their daily business. From the mundane – an early morning inspection of the toilets – to the political ruminations of the students standing for the school council, Murga demonstrates a wonderful ability to move across the different strata that make up the school’s ecology. There is no high drama here, but the small dramas that make up the students’ encounters, the teachers’ travails and the bureaucratic labyrinth that is the school’s administration are expertly observed by a camera that refuses to intrude invasively into the working environment of the school.
The Escuela Normal – the school I chose to document – was the first ever ‘standardised’ school in Argentina mandated by President Sarmiento in 1871. At that time, immigrants were coming to Argentina from all over and it was important to ‘normalise’ the mix of cultures. ‘Normal’ refers to norms, or standards, that Sarmiento wanted to establish through education to determine what it meant to be Argentine. Last year, Argentina was celebrating its 200th birthday, and I think it’s important to reflect on what we aspired to back then, compared to the situation today. On a more personal note, it’s also where I was educated. I focus on students who are in their last or second-last year of high school – between the ages of 16 and 18. They are finishing school – it’s a critical stage of life for them. They are aware of their future. They know that they’ll soon have to make important decisions about their lives, and it’s a bit daunting. The students I observed were motivated and engaged. School elections were going on and the efforts they put into campaigning and improving school life were impressive. I was really pleased to encounter passionate students who have concrete ideas and the motivation to see them through.
Born in Paraná, Argentina, in 1973, she studied film direction at the Universidad del Cine, and in 2003 directed her first feature, Ana y los otros, which was acclaimed in Argentina and internationally, being elected as Best Latin-American Film of the Year by FIPRESCI International. In 2008, Una semana solos followed the same path, being awarded several festival prizes. In 2009 she was selected by Martin Scorsese to take part of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, spending a year under his mentorship. She is currently in the final stage of development of La tercera orilla, to be produced by Tresmilmundos Cine and Martin Scorsese.
1996 Frío afuera [s]
1999 Interior-Noche [s; co-d]
2002 Una tarde feliz [s]
2003 Ana y los otros (Ana and the Others)
2007 Una semana solos (A Week Alone)
2010 Pavón [s]
2012 Escuela normal (Normal School) [doc]