In and Out of the Jungle: The Politics of Gael García Bernal

I’ll be presenting this paper at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference. March 22-26, 2016. Chicago, Illinois.


ABSTRACT: The career path of Gael García Bernal is inextricably linked to the alternative fortunes of Latin American cinema and questions of regional imaginary. In this paper I problematize the clichés attached to his fame by taking into account national, regional, and global sources in the light of transnational stardom theory. After the production crisis of the 1990s, Latin American cinema succeeded in regaining importance worldwide. Along with other scholars, Shaw and Shroeder addressed the revitalization of art cinema, the rebirth of film genres and identification techniques. However, even these insightful narratives marginalize the contribution of stars via performances, criticism and media promotion. While Bernal’s casting was pivotal for movies to receive international distribution and success at the box office, what do we make of his political commitment and his relationship with global cinematic industries? As a child star in Mexican telenovelas, Bernal masterfully explored issues of memory and identity by mobilizing affect and emotion. He later collaborated with the most talented directors of his generation (most notably Cuarón and Iñárritu) and played Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) and in a television series. Bernal was identified as an “alternative” star, who prefers to take on complex roles in challenging movies, engaging audiences in voyages of self-discovery that combine humor, humanism, and historic travelogues. However, he also appeared in Nike Football: Write the Future, the Levi’s commercial French Dictionary, and in several Hollywood comedies. The cultural politics of Bernal’s stardom, in which idealism, rebellion and commerce coexist, brings to mind Godard’s formula “children of Marx and Coca Cola.” This contradiction emerges in the recent international productions Even the Rain (2010) and No (2012), in which Bernal questions his popularity in self-reflexive ways. In these films, his characters denounce social injustice but, by working within the moving image industry, are very much entangled in neoliberalist politics. Social engagement appears as advertisement, but advertisement is also a form of social engagement. The result is vertiginous, to the point that his whole stardom is based on this vital tension. Bernal is currently involved with alternative forms of digital production and distribution, such as the Amazon Studios series Mozart in the Jungle (2014 – ). He has expanded his fame by pushing the boundaries of filmmaking and his way of thinking about global politics not in terms of militancy, but as a dialogical exchange.

Selected Bibliographic Sources

Landy, Marcia. Cinema and Counter-history. Bloomington: Indiana, 2015.

Meeuf, Russell and Raphael, Raphael. Transnational Stardom: International Celebrity in Film and Popular Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Shaw, Deborah. The Three Amigos: The transnational filmmaking of Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Alfonso Cuarón. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013.

Shroeder, Paul A. Latin American Cinema: A Comparative History. Oakland, University of California Press, 2016.

Soutar, Jethro. Gael García Bernal and the Latin America New Wave. London: Portico, 2008.

Filmography (in chronological order)

Amores Perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000)

Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)

Fidel (Showtime, 2002)

French Dictionary (Ivan Zacharias, 2003; commercial)

The Crime of Father Amaro (Carlos Carrera, 2002)

Bad Education (Pedro Almodóvar, 2004)

The Motorcycle Diaries (Walter Salles, 2004)

The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry, 2006)

The Past (Héctor Babenco, 2007)

Blindness (Fernando Meirelles, 2008)

Nike: Write the Future (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2010; commercial)

Letters to Juliet (Gary Winick, 2010)

A Little Bit of Heaven (Nicole Kassell, 2011)

Casa de Mi Padre (Matt Piedmont, 2012)



An Investigative Cinema (Book Project)

An Investigative Cinema: Politics and Modernization in Italian, French, and American Film. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.


My monograph traces the development of a previously unrecognized category I call “investigative cinema,” whose main characteristic lies in reconstructing actual events, political crises and conspiracies. Concerned with the intersection between politics and form, the films under consideration are rarely discussed by scholars, especially from a comparative perspective. Nor do they fall into commonly recognized film genres or fit auteur paradigms. Because they share a common approach to reality, they are often labeled “political;” however, they only partially share the revolutionary impulse of Soviet avant-gardes or the reform-minded optimism of early neorealism. In dealing with governmental power as manifested in a Kafkaesque legal system, impersonal bureaucracy, and the repressive forces of the army and police, these documentary-like films refrain from a simplistic reconstruction of historical events and are mainly concerned with producing what does not immediately appear on the surface of events. Consequently, they raise questions about the nature of the “truth” promoted by institutions, newspapers, archives, dossiers, television and new media reports, or digital audio and video files. By highlighting unanswered questions, they often leave us with a lack of clarity. In fact, while the plot conveys information, the questioning of documentation becomes the actual narrative. Recent studies by Kristin Ross, James Tweedie, Inez Hedges, Alan O’Leary, Laura Mulvey, Stephen Prince, Angelo Restivo, Dana Renga, and Marcia Landy have demonstrated the possibility of situating film in relation to the economic and geopolitical changes brought on by massive modernization and the violent forms of resistance to it. These involve the persistence of banditry and organized criminality, political assassinations, terrorism, and the use of torture and rendition. Following this debate, I examine the centrality of investigative cinema in relation to the historical conjunctures of the “economic miracle” in Italy, the simultaneous decolonization and reordering of culture in France, the waves of globalization and neoliberalism in post-dictatorial Latin America, and the post-Watergate, and post-9/11 climate in US society. Against this background of economic transformation and modernization, the history of investigative cinema is exemplified by the films Salvatore Giuliano, Battle of Algiers, The Parallax View, and Zero Dark Thirty among others, as well as TV series such as Gomorrah and Homeland. I also engage with the most representative actors of investigative cinema, Gian Maria Volonté and Gael García Bernal. My research traces the emergence of a constellation of pressing concerns in contemporary critical theory: namely, the national space, post-colonialism, transnational stardom, and above all the impact of television and digital media on cinema in both the European and American contexts.


Selected Filmography (in chronological order)

Salvatore Giuliano (Francesco Rosi, 1961)

The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962)

Hands over the City (Francesco Rosi, 1963)

Muriel, or the Time of Return (Alain Resnais, 1963)

Love Meetings (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964)

Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)

Dillinger is Dead (Marco Ferreri, 1968)

Investigation on a Citizen Above Suspicion (Elio Petri, 1970)

Gimme Shelter (Albert and David Maysles, 1970)

The Mattei Affair (Francesco Rosi, 1972)

The Parallax View (Alan J. Pakula, 1974)

Three Days of a Condor (Sydney Pollack, 1975)

All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976)

Todo Modo (Elio Petri, 1976)

The Moro Affair (Giuseppe Ferrara, 1987)

JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991)

Who Killed Pasolini? (Marco Tullio Giordana, 1995)

One Hundred Steps (Marco Tullio Giordana, 2000)

Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, 2000)

City of God (Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002)

Syriana (George Clooney, 2005)

In the Valley of Elah (Paul Haggis, 2007)

Rendition (Gavin Hood, 2007)

Battle in Seattle (Stuart Townsend, 2008)

Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, 2008)

Il Divo: The Spectacular Life of Giulio Andreotti (Paolo Sorrentino, 2008)

Sleep Dealer (Alex Rivera, 2008)

Standard Operating Procedure (Errol Morris, 2008)

The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)

Even the Rain (Icíar Bollaín, 2010)

Fair Game (Doug Liman, 2010)

Diaz – Don’t Clean Up This Blood (Daniele Vicari, 2012)

No (Pablo Larraín, 2012)

Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy (Marco Tullio Giordana, 2012)

Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2013)

American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2014)

Citizen Four (Laura Poitras, 2014)

Eye in the Sky (Gavin Hood, 2015)

Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015)

Homeland (Showtime, 2011-)

Snowden (Oliver Stone, 2016)


CFP: Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema — Dossier for Film Matters 8.3


 This call is to solicit essays – from undergraduate scholars – for a Film Matters dossier on recent (post-1989) science fiction cinema, to be published in issue 8.3 (winter 2017).  We are looking for papers that engage with the following questions concerning the science fiction genre.


While criticizing the present, science fiction explores and stages alternative worlds and ways of organizing society. How does science fiction address the nature of the sociopolitical tensions that confront us, the possible consequences and possible solutions? How can we envision the world differently by imagining enhanced or post-apocalyptic futures? What does this cinematic genre tell us about ourselves and the age of technological renaissance in which we live? How has it been impacted by the proliferation of special effects? Conversely, what is the heritage of its foundational masterpieces and why are they more relevant than ever today?


We are also interested in exploring how contemporary science fiction successfully hybridized with other film genres such as the western, martial arts movies, melodrama, comedy, horror, and film noir. The scope of the dossier ranges from filmmakers in the late 20th century to contemporary imaginings of digital cinema and virtual simulations. Not simply an exploration of science fiction as a genre, this is an invitation to explore what kinds of cultural work science fiction cinema performs and how it has contributed to larger debates about media theory.


Please submit your work to Fabrizio Cilento ( by December 1, 2016.


Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:


  • The Heritage of Science Fiction Classics, B, and Cult Movies
  • Technology, Design, and Special Effects
  • Stars and Stardom in Contemporary Science Fiction
  • Science Fiction Crossovers (hybridization with other film genres such as the western, martial arts movies, melodrama, comedy, fantasy, horror, and film noir)
  • Utopias and Dystopias
  • Prequels, Sequels, and Remakes
  • Star Wars and Star Trek films
  • Global and Postcolonial Science Fiction
  • Social Science Fiction
  • Good Aliens/Bad Aliens
  • Monster Movies
  • Most Adapted Science Fiction Writers (Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Robert Henlein, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick and others)
  • Low Budget and Indie Science Fiction
  • Science Fiction in the Digital Age
  • Virtual Simulations



Ideally, papers – including reviews of recent science fiction films, reviews of recent scholarly books on the science fiction genre, or interviews with relevant scholars in the field – should:


  • Explore the recent developments of science fiction cinema.


  • Explain key movements in science fiction, such as technological utopianism, cyberpunk, steampunk, retrofuturism, and afrofuturism.


  • Trace the roots of contemporary media theories such as cyborg feminism and trans/post-humanism, back through science fiction films.


  • Develop a critical account of how ideas about media and technology have been shaped by the discourses associated with science fiction.




Evening Rituals: Marco Ferreri’s Dillinger is Dead (Conference)


“Evening Rituals: Marco Ferreri’s Dillinger is Dead.” Presented at Intersections: Crossing Italian Borders in Music, Art, Literature, Theater, and Cinema. June 2-5, 2016. Kent State University, Gonzaga University, and California State University Programs. Florence, Italy.


ABSTRACT: Focusing on Dillinger is Dead, this study explores how the geopolitical changes brought by the economic miracle and the early RAI television images impacted the so-called “battle of sexes” of the 1960s. Constructed around a few uncut sequences, the film depicts an uxoricide by a corporate employee in cold blood. Throughout the display of a rich intertextuality, the film reverses Vincendeau’s formula of “autistic masculinity” at work in many Hollywood film noir and French New Wave works, choosing instead to show the progressive feminization of its protagonist. In doing so, director Ferreri adopts an anti-narrative regime and a phenomenology of gratuitous acts, arm wrestling with television’s real time. For this reason, I argue that the movie’s allegorical subtext is that of a luxury apartment haunted by the ghost of duration.


KEYWORDS: Conspiracy films, television, masculinity, film noir, Gilles Deleuze.

The Aesthetics of the Procedural in Post-9/11 Cinema

My new article “The Aesthetics of the Procedural in Post-9/11 Cinema” will be available in the next issue of Cinema Journal 55.3 (2016). Section “In Focus: Post 9/11 Media Studies.” Ed. Anna Froula. University of Texas Press.

Article presented at the War on Terror Cinema Session. Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference. March 30-April 3, 2016. Atlanta, Georgia. Presiding: Shakti Jaising.


The convergence of the 9/11 attacks with the rapid technological changes of the new millennium (when the indexicality of the image is challenged by the wide diffusion of digital technology) created a withering of the epistemological certainties regarding history and photography-based media. In addition, the Iraq war generated a series of controversies over privacy and surveillance, rendition, civil rights and prisoner abuses. These events, depicted and sensationalized by all types of mass communication, influenced Hollywood cinema whose production suddenly appeared obsolete, forcing it to adapt with new aesthetic and narrative strategies. US directors engage in the representation of the War on Terror by embracing the aesthetic of the ultra-professional procedural subgenre in films such as Rendition (Gavin Hood, 2007), In the Vally of Elah (Paul Haggis, 2007), Standard Operating Procedure (Errol Morris, 2008), The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008), Fair Game (Doug Liman, 2010), Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2013) and American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2014), among others. This study evidences some common features through which this heterogeneous group of works portrayed the sociopolitical issues mentioned above. Post-9/11 cinema emphasizes how the liberal capitalist system elevates the process itself to a dominant value independent of any particular goal and of any positive sociopolitical value or ideal of justice, but its open narrative possesses a unique capacity to undermine the proceduralist ideology in which the movies were conceived by completely immersing us in its extreme consequences.


The Moro Affair in the Movies of Gian Maria Volonté

My book chapter on “The Moro Affair in the Movies of Gian Maria Volonté” is available in The Moro Affair: Memories and Narrations.  Massa: Transeuropa, 2016. Eds. Ugo Perolino and Leonardo Casalino. The book is available here.

I also presented it at the 45th Annual Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NEMLA) on April 3-6, 2014. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and  delivered an invited talk at the Università “G. D’Annunzio” Chieti-Pescara on December 15, 2015.


ABSTRACT: This essay furnishes an original way of thinking about the Moro affair through a consideration of the most representative actor of Italian civil cinema, Gian Maria Volonté. Volonté was the leading character in a series of film by directors Petri, Rosi, Montaldo, Pontecorvo and Ferrara, whose main characteristic lies in reconstructing historical events, mainly political crises and conspiracies. Volonté acquired international fame playing key real-life figures of Italian postwar economy and politics whose beliefs were antithetical to those of his left-wing persona (e.g.; Enrico Mattei). Most notably, he played the President of the Christian Democrats Aldo Moro in Todo Modo (1976) and The Moro Affair (1986). The movies appeared two years before and eight years after Moro’s assassination by the Red Brigades. In this study, I argue that the actor touched his artistic climax by delivering two mimetic but antithetical portrayals of Moro (one caricatured and the other extremely realistic). Thus, I approach the two texts together as a unique text of Volonté’s, in which Moro becomes first distanced and then embraced. Volonté did not simply represent as close as physically possible Moro, who was already represented in television newsreel and newspapers articles, and thus very well known to his audiences. Instead, he replaced him in the collective imaginary, eliminating every trace of familiarity. What does Volonté help us understand about acting, his characters, and the sociopolitical scenario of his time? How did he embody, but also alter, characteristics associated with questions of Moro’s identity, value, and attitude? I answer these questions by evidencing how the climax and decay of Volonté’s stardom is inextricably linked to questions of national imaginary.

The Interview as Self-Criticism: On Pasolini’s Metatelevisual & Extracinematographic Performativity (Book Chapter)


Book chapter in Pier Paolo Pasolini: American Perspectives. Ed. Fulvio Orsitto and Federico Pacchioni. Pesaro: Metauro, 2015.


Pasolini’s irrevocable, moralistic condemnation of television seems to provide the perfect case against it. Like most European scholars writing about popular culture in the 1960s, the director seems both to take television very seriously and react with anguish to what he sees. What exactly is it about television culture that Pasolini fears so much? And, more importantly, what are the implications of his continual appearances (interviews, talk shows, promotions of his movies) to speak against a medium he apparently hates? In order to find the key to this complex relation we need to put aside for a moment the works written by the director about television, and instead look at how Pasolini appears on television. This approach reveals a hidden pars construens, a precocious and sophisticated understanding of the small screen dynamics. Thus, Pasolini’s epiphanies on the small screen constitute a sort of fascinating parallel media existence that precedes and at time coexists with that of the implacable columnist. I conclude by suggesting a reading of the documentary Love Meetings (1964) as a work that critically examines the logics of television, which even now offers valuable lessons to would-be practitioners of a transformed medium.


What Julian Smith hates (and loves) about Facebook: social media parody as self-promotion




Through a case study of Julian Smith, this essay investigates what makes YouTube comedians/entrepreneurs successful. In order to understand the channel juliansmith87 and its connections to social media platforms, I adopt two strategies: focusing on a specific video from the channel called 25 Things I Hate About Facebook; and discussing the channel on a macro-level, looking at it from inception to current state. While 25 Things has not achieved the success of other videos by Smith, it created a formula characterized by a self-reflexive approach to digital media and a high production value. Why are so many users following Smith’s work? How did these videos go viral? How did he manage to beat the competition of other users aiming to reach the same visibility? How does he take advantage of our current digital environment and convergence culture? Generally presented in a three to five minute format, Smith’s videos are professionally produced with updated digital cameras and editing software and then shared online via media marketing strategies. Smith proves that YouTube is both a site for personal use (summarized by its tagline “Broadcast Yourself”) and a platform for the shared artistic visions of comedy entrepreneurs. The study concludes with an initial map of some comedy content creators that possess characteristics similar to those of juliansmith87, evaluating their role in the modernization of digital humor.

Keywords: Julian Smith, YouTube, Facebook, Humor, Performance

NOTE: The paper has been presented at the Humor in the Digital Age Session at South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference.

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