Are there unfilmable books? | Opinion

A scene from 'Zama', adapted by Lucrecia Martel.
A scene from ‘Zama’, adapted by Lucrecia Martel.

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“Grab the money and run” is a phrase that has become fashionable, against all odds, dear reader, among Latin American writers. And it is that the world of cinema, largely as a result of the irruption of the big platforms, almost always associated with local production houses, has spent several years buying almost all the books that pass through their hands.

Thirsty for stories to tell —one of the biggest contradictions is that scripts are urgently needed, but it has not been able or has not been interested in generating the necessary conditions for screenwriters and their work to develop—, the film industry has decided to engulf the various literatures of our continent, without stopping to think if that story for which they have just paid more or less money has the possibility of becoming an audiovisual piece or not.

The problem is not what it seems

It is clear to me that, in the hands of a first-rate filmmaker or screenwriter — I repeat, I said screenwriter, not a writer suddenly turned screenwriter, who sometimes seems that if you write, you can write anything — almost any book can end up becoming a work that, at least, lives up to its original: just look at what the Argentine Lucrecia Martel did with Staybut it is also clear that there are companies destined to fail, a failure, moreover, that can become cyclical: just look at all the attempts that have been made to bring to the screen under the volcanothe immense book by Malcolm Lowry that, among other things, makes it clear that our literature and our tradition have not only been written in Spanish.

The example of under the volcanoin fact, it is perfect for this Newsletterthat evidently he does not see as a problem, that he does not seek to criticize, then, the fact that the cinema or the series are looking for stories in literature, nor that we writers have found, suddenly, an unexpected influx of money and almost always more generous than those of the publishing world —”grab the money and run, this could end at any moment”—, because in one of the innumerable attempts that have been made to film it, the production house that had the rights, desperate before the failure of the screenwriters he had been hiring one after another, he decided to turn to a writer to see if that would achieve his goal. The writer they hired was Guillermo Cabrera Infante, who, after accepting the job and giving himself absolutely to it, so much so that, as he himself recounted in various interviews, he ended up mimicking the consul, that is, drunk and mad, he would have accept, two and a half years later, that under the volcano should not be filmed.

No, not all books are under the volcanoSure. And of course, in addition to highly complex companies —I think, now, in addition to Stayin the movie the royal lemon tree—, there are novels that by their nature can translate magnificently to that other language that is the audiovisual —only in the last and the next few months, films based on a lot of works written by writers of my generation have arrived or will arrive on screens: rescue distanceby Samantha Schweblin Hurricane seasonby Fernanda Melchor, Human Resourcesby Antonio Ortuño empty housesby Brenda Navarro The Adventures of China Ironby Gabriela Cabezon Camara, I’m not going to ask anyone to believe meby Juan Pablo Villalobos or The Uruguayanby Pedro Mairal.

The problem is true madness

It is clear, I hope, that opposing or criticizing the dialogue and mutual enrichment to which cinema and literature are doomed would be idiotic, just as it would be idiotic to want to say, in advance, what project should or should not be attempted. What I think should be said, for what I write, well, this Newsletterit is because that dialogue and that enrichment —from which the cinema, for example, took the ellipsis and from which literature, for example, took the change of plane in the point of view— are only possible from naturalness, that is, from creative obsession.

From the creative obsession and not, therefore, from the production obsession, which not only goes against one of the pillars of cinema, that is, the script and the scriptwriters —that they worry about this in the world of cinema —, but also goes against literature, in a perpendicular but fearsome way: more and more —before even grabbing the money and running— people write thinking in advance whether that book that does not yet exist will be filmable or not — he is cumming, then, even before he grabs.

And this, evidently, cannot but bring with it a trail of impoverishment for our literatures and for our traditions, since, in terms of form, it means, among other matters, the erosion of the narrator, the cancellation of the interior worlds and the annihilation of the word as a material, as something more than an image.

No, of course there are no unfilmable books, but surely there will be no literature, if it starts solely and exclusively from the premise that it is filmable.

Coordinates (unlikely)

Somehow, one that I still haven’t quite figured out even for myself, this NewsletterIn addition to responding, of course, to a current issue, it is also a consequence of Marcelo Cohen’s way of seeing the world and inhabiting it and of the characters in Green cry and other films of the Panoramic Deltabook that adds to the fabulous the street of the cinemasboth published by Editorial Sigilo.

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