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Latin American comedy film series begins

BY HANNAH KRAMER | OCTOBER 07, 2010 7:20 AM

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This fall’s Proseminar in Cinema and Culture is based on laughs.

The class, taught by Ph.D. candidate Nilo Couret, investigates Latin American cultures through comedies of different eras and countries.

“[The class] makes students and community members think about how they appreciate other cultures,” he said. “It takes you out of this position of privilege.”

The Latin American comedies are shown at 7 p.m. every Thursday in 101 Becker Communication Studies Building through Dec. 9. The free screenings are open to the public. Comedies from Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Cuba, Colombia, Peru, and Argentina will be shown; the will include various comedic genres from many time periods.

The class gives its students access to Latin American films that would likely not be seen in the United States without this opportunity. Many of them are experimental and avant-garde comedies with starkly different types of humor from the standard U.S. fare.

“The class uses comedy as a way through which we can understand Latin American film and learn what translates into our culture as funny [opposed to] what might be culturally specific,” graduate student Annie Sullivan said.

A challenge for both the instructor and students in the proseminar is understanding humor outside of one’s own culture. Comedy is often culturally specific, and the class explores what makes certain things funny in some societies and not so humorous in others.

For example, Patrick Roberts, an undergraduate in the film-studies program, said a Brazilian film that the class recently viewed, *Bang Bang*, did not strike him as at all funny.

“It seemed as if a lot of the humor came unintentionally,” he said. “I guess I’m the kind of guy who needs an actual joke to think something is funny.”

A gap in understanding was one concern Couret had about teaching the seminar. To close that gap, he gives a short introduction to the cultural and historical context of the films before they are viewed, and he facilitates conversations about the film afterwards.

“When we think about international cinema or national cinema, there are a variety of different types, and I want them to think about their position and avoid generalizations or universal thinking and have a good time,” he said.

The choice of comedy as a way to heighten awareness of cultural differences is a fitting genre because it breaks down barriers and allows viewers unfamiliar with the culture to gain access to the films more easily.

“It’s a different kind of history from what you normally get with Latin American cinema,” Sullivan said. “You usually get political, artistic, and mainstream films, but [Couret] is constructing an alternate history using comedy as a way through which we understand Latin American film.”

Couret hopes his students will come away from the class with a clearer idea of accepting differences. He believes telling stories through comedy is a good way to appeal to diverse audiences and avoid universal statements about cultures.

“I think it is pretty interesting, because you can’t really put a label on the kind of people who like these films,” Roberts said. “These are films that none of us have heard of before and have brought all of these different people together.”


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