ECUADOR: Behind You (A tus espaldas, 2011)

Como las películas Ecuatorianas critican los problemas socioeconómicos del país

by Noemi Delorey

Warning: Video essay includes images of domestic violence and drug consumption.

Important: Please read the statement before watching the video essay above.

Nota: Este ensayo también tiene una versión en español.

Oftentimes, when there is a specific focus on one country’s film industry within a video essay and there is an effort to forge a connection between the artistic medium and the country’s national identity, there can be a misinterpretation of the complex culture and identity of the country. To take the country that is discussed in this video essay, Ecuador is one of the most overlooked nations in the international film scene. Many of its national films “can only be found through alternative film channels: pirated copies” as well as on online platforms (Áleman 101). Although the films Áleman discusses are “psychotronic”, it is also applicable to many other nationally produced films. Nevertheless it’s interesting that Ecuador is one of the most culturally and socially diverse nations; thus, making it an incredible candidate for the international film platform.

It was initially my intention to create this video essay to discuss Ecuador’s presence in international politics as well as in the world cinema scene. However, as I began deconstructing the films that I wanted to focus on, (A Tus Espaldas by Tito Jara (2011) and Ratas, Ratones, Rateros by Sebastián Cordero (1999), I realised that I would rather focus on how Ecuador’s film industry critiques societal issues in order to give voice to the nations internal issues in an academic and international space.

This is particularly troubling as one of the main purposes of a video essay is to identify a concept from a film that represents that country’s national identity. However, as mentioned in Coryat and Zweig’s article, “New Ecuadorian cinema: Small, glocal and plurinational”, Ecuador has an “ethno-racial diversity and strong regional accents… there is not one cinema enunciative of an entire nation” (Coryat, Zweig 10). This brings up the question, how do I discuss a nation’s identity if it is so diverse it doesn’t have one entity fully binding it together?

The two films are specific to Quito not only because they were both filmed and produced by Quiteños, however, due to the use of local slang, clothing style, and visual imagery they’re eerily representative of Ecuador’s capital. Nonetheless, the two films tackle similar concepts, such as socio-economic disparity that transcend the province borders of the country. Both A Tus Espaldas and Ratas, Ratones, Rateros discuss the struggle of growing up in “el Sur de Quito” and having your financial background shadow you throughout life. Moreover, the films address how one’s economic status affects the decisions that one make throughout life. This notion is also pursued in the video essay by visually displaying the ways in which the characters interact with one another.

To continue with a similar notion, the socio-economic distinction is seen in both movies, but it is more evidently portrayed in Rata, Ratones, Rateros. Two sides of a large family are depicted. One side is in the low socio-economic range and the remaining side is wealthy beyond belief. Nonetheless, in both films, this distinction is also displayed through ethnicity. For many, this might be a much more nuanced depiction of economic disparity, however, the privilege of economic success is intertwined with race and heritage. The use of light-skinned, mestizo and indigenous Ecuadorians in both films demonstrates how the economic issues in the country directly affect and are intertwined with the societal structure of the nation.

All that being said, it can be (and it is being) argued that a uniting factor in Ecuador is the historic socio-economic troubles the nation has endured. However, Ecuador is more than just its socio-economic troubles. Its ethnic-, bio-, racial, linguistic diversity is what makes Ecuador so united. This additionally speaks volumes to “el público Ecuatoriano [siendo] decepcionado” [the Ecuadorian public being disappointed] with national film (Yépez, Cine Ecuatoriano: Pasado, Presente y Futuro 5:00-5:04). This disillusionment might be a consequence of the multitude of identities that are hard to capture on camera.

However, this essay also demonstrates that a character is much more than just a 2-D person, they are representative of a multitude of communities in the nation. Therefore, counteracting the idea that Ecuadorian film is disillusioning because of its plurinationality. Greta, a woman shown in the essay, is an icon of ”national identity… [and] provides a historical point of reference and continuity for the nation.” (Iommi 62). As she attempts to rebel from her cultural roles and falls back into the influence of men’s expectations. This unity of a larger community can be seen in all characters in the video essay.

The video essay uses the content of each of the films to critique the socio-economic disparity that has long plagued the 24 provinces of Ecuador. This, however, is not a critique of the country’s people or culture, but instead, its historical and political corruption that has led to the long-lasting socio-economic crisis. Furthermore, the main argument the keyframing makes is: how the socio-economic disparity in Ecuador is seen in other social problems such as racial and gender inequality, domestic abuse, drug abuse, and violence. The essay attempts to pursue this argument by putting the two films side by side and showcasing parallel scenes. These scenes slowly transition from setting up the two extreme socio-economic classes to how they interact. It is also my intention to demonstrate the ways that economic status has an impact on one’s behaviour and the lengths one has to go to in order to climb up the ladder to find happiness and comfort.

Moreover, It’s important to mention that this video essay is exclusively in Spanish. It is important that this video essay is accessible to Ecuadorian and other speaking audiences as there is little academic analysis on Ecuador’s film industry; however, the more prominent reason is to not take away the core messages from the dialogue. When translating dialogue that is heavily influenced by slang, the meaning and significance are distorted. Considering that Ecuadorian film is often discussed academically and is neglected by World Cinema, it can be said that It would do more harm than good translating.

Works Cited

Alemán, Gabriela. “An International Conspiracy.” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, vol. 13, no 1, Mar. 2004, pp. 97-113.

Coryat, Diana, and Zweig, Noah. “New Ecuadorian Cinema: Small, Glocal and Plurinational.”International journal of media and cultural politics 13.3 (2017): 265–285. Web.

Guzmán, David, director. Cine Ecuatoriano: Pasado, Presente y Futuro. YouTube, Universidad San Francisco De Quito, USFQ, 9 Dec. 2014.

Lucrecia García Iommi, 2019, Women as Icons in Post-Trauma Societies: “Disappearing” Women in Argentine National Cinema, New Political Science, 41:1, 55-79

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