Cinematheque's annual partnership with UW-Madison's department of Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies (LACIS) will kick off its four-week Friday series in March with a 35mm repertory presentation of Fernando Ayala's classic Argentine feature, Los Tallos Amargos (The Bitter Stems), originally released in 1956. Based on Adolfo Jasca's novel, this unsung '50s noir emerges as a sort of riff on Edgar Allen Poe's Tell-Tale Heart with a complex, achronological structure that would also fit right in with Cinematheque's current 1940s "Reinventing Hollywood" series at the Chazen.
Navigating labyrinthine flashbacks and voiceover narrations, this thrilling tale closely follows an insecure Buenos Aires journalist, Alfredo Gaspar (Carlos Cores), who's coerced into joining up with a crooked Hungarian expatriate, Liudas (Vassili Lambrinos), to form an illegitimate journalism correspondence course. Beyond the mounting tensions and paranoia between the two men as their plot thickens and inevitably collapses, the truest (and most complementary) draw here is the gorgeously stark contrasts in the scope of Ricardo Younis' cinematography. Masterful use of light and shadow reveal a distinctively strange intimacy in its character framing that coexists with the askew and imposing psychological dimension of the world. The shifting spaces of Los Tallos Amargos would appear to be an inspiration for Orson Welles when he adapted Kafka's The Trial.—Grant Phipps