Arts and Letters 100: Trauma and Memory in Spanish and Latin American Cinema

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Arts and Letters 100: Trauma and Memory in Spanish and Latin American Cinema 

Fall 2011, THH 213

Professor Julián Daniel Gutiérrez-Albilla

Office Hours: Mondays and Wednesdays 9:15 am to 9:45 am AND from 12:45 pm to 1:45 pm AND by appointment

THH 156, (213) 740-1258


This course focuses on the ethics and politics of trauma and memory by looking at some examples of Latin American and Spanish cinema since the 1970s to the present. We explore the way that these literary and cinematic texts function as a mode of witnessing the traumatic past, mediating between subjective and collective experiences at a local, national or trans-national level. The course will ask: how do these cinematic texts reflect and respond to complex and contradictory political and social concerns with remembering the victims of war and/or state terror and those silenced, persecuted, executed, forced to migrate or to exile, anonymously buried in common graves, or rendered invisible within public history and social memory? How do these cinematic texts articulate the way that state terror impinges on concrete and intangible realities, as Suely Rolnik suggests? Is trauma a helpful theoretical concept to think about how the effects of state terror, whether in Chile, Argentina or Spain, impact on the present, or to reflect on the experiences of victims of war or state terror, or are we reducing and distilling complex, multilayered and contentious historical, social and cultural processes to the category of trauma? What are the affective, emotional and critical implications in effective witnessing practices? How does cinema represent horror and traumatic experiences without running the risk of objectifying the other and the horrific? Can historical memory be interpreted as symptomatic of the way in which the public use of history could be reduced to its commemorative dimension, or does cinema function as a thoughtful cultural practice that brings together subjective and collective memories and discourses as constitutive forces for a rethinking of the fragments of history? These questions will be considered by looking at the films indicated below. The course allows students to become familiar with current theoretical debates on memory and trauma in the US and on the ethics and politics of memory and amnesia in Spain and Latin America. 

Films to watch in class: We will divide the films by country (Chile, Argentina and Spain) and will arrange them chronologically


  • Missing by Costa-Gavras (1982)

  • Death and the Maiden by Roman Polanski (1994)

  • Chile the Obstinate Memory by Patricio Guzman (1997)

  • Machuca by Andres Wood (2004)


  • The Official Story by Luiz Puenzo (1985)

  • The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo by Lourdes Portillo (1985)

  • The Blonds by Albertina Carri (2003)

  • Chronicle of an Escape by Adrian Caetano (2006)


  • The Spirit of the Beehive by Victor Erice (1973)

  • The Devil’s Backbone by Guillermo del Toro (2001)

  • Carpenter’s Pencil by Anton Reixa (2003)

  • Bad Education by Pedro Almodovar (2004)

  • Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro (2006)

In addition, I will upload onto BLACKBOARD any required reading for each topic a week before we cover that specific topic

Course requirements

Four short papers (1000-1250 words each) 50%

Presentation on a film 10%

Midterm exam 10%

Final exam 20%

Class attendance and participation 10%

Class Schedule: Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 am to 11:50 am THH 213

Week 1: Monday August 22: Introduction to the Politics of Trauma and Memory in Latin American and Spanish Cinema and Wednesday August 24: CHILE: Screening of Missing.

Week 2: Monday August 29: Discussion of Missing and Wednesday August 31: Screening of Death and the Maiden.

Week 3: Monday September 5: Labor Day and Wednesday September 7: Discussion of Death and the Maiden.

Week 4: Monday September 12: Screening of Chile: The Obstinate Memory and Wednesday September 14: Discussion of Chile: The Obstinate Memory (PAPER 1 DUE).

Week 5: Monday September 19: Screening of Machuca and Wednesday September 21: Discussion of Machuca.

Week 6: Monday September 26: ARGENTINA: Screening of The Official Story and Wednesday September 28: Discussion of The Official Story.

Week 7: Monday October 3: Screening of The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and Wednesday October 5: Discussion of The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.

Week 8: Monday October 10: Screening of The Blonds and Wednesday October 12: Discussion of The Blonds (PAPER 2 DUE).

Week 9: Monday October 17: Revision for Midterm exam and Wednesday October 19: Midterm exam.

Week 10: Monday October 24: Screening of Chronicle of an Escape and Wednesday October 26: Discussion of Chronicle of an Escape.

Week 11: Monday October 31: SPAIN: Screening of The Spirit of the Beehive and Wednesday November 2: Discussion of The Spirit of the Beehive.

Week 12: Monday November 7: Screening of The Devil’s Backbone and Wednesday November 9: Discussion of The Devil’s Backbone (PAPER 3 DUE).

Week 13: Monday November 14: Screening of Carpenter’s Pencil and Wednesday November 16: Discussion of Carpenter’s Pencil.

Week 14: Monday November 21: Screening of Bad Education and Wednesday November 23: Discussion of Bad Education.

Week 15: Monday November 28: Screening of Pan’s Labyrinth and Wednesday November 30: Discussion of Pan’s Labyrinth (PAPER 4 DUE).

Final Exam: Monday December 12 from 8 am to 10 am. There will be a revision session for our final exam before December 12.

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