115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

How Film as Text and Visual Narrative Is Read: The Impact of Magical Realist Texts on Hispanic Film

Sharon Sieber, Idaho State University

Because of film narrative’s ability to simultaneously portray and represent, certain films are especially interesting for study in the ways they resonate within a current society’s definition of realism, and as they relate to political realities; films influence written narrative, and texts change as they are adapted to film narrative.


When we examine the cultural conventions which have developed around the concept of realism in the Western world, we see an emerging standard which is allied ever more closely to scientific explanations of reality, widely accepted as the official view. Such views have determined and structured, to a large extent, the modern way in which we read reality, but because ‘seeing is believing,’ magical realism in film operates under a different set of physical constraints and principles regarding the willing suspension of disbelief. If we examine the many realisms that manifest in different cultural milieux, times and geographies, we see that the concept of verisimilitude is always replaced or deconstructed by a new hierarchy of verisimilitude, as it resonates with a particular reader/viewer-ship in a definite place in space and time, and with viewers skilled in certain kinds of reading or interpretation with regard to understanding and assimilating contemporary visual images. All of the critical apparatus that springs up around a bold new literary movement is by its very nature passé and after the fact, a retrospective and to some extent, revisionist view. Curiously enough, something that many Latin American works of magical realist fiction have in common is the suggestion of another medium of the arts imposing on the novel, which has an impact on the representation of motion and emotion. Because of film narrative’s ability to simultaneously portray and represent, certain films are especially interesting for study with regard to the ways in which they resonate for a current society’s definition for realism, perhaps especially as they relate to political realities; here I look at the ways in which a film such as Pan’s Labyrinth or El espinazo del diablo influences written narrative and Like Water for Chocolate changes as it is adapted to film narrative.  Films not based on novels are conceived somewhat differently, as for example, Man Facing Southeast, is a difficult film to categorize in terms of genre.  I am also interested in examining the above films and comparing them with such classical magical realist literary texts as One Hundred Years of Solitude, Pedro Páramo and Men of Maize in terms of their impact on the definition of magical realism, and their impact on shaping the visual perception of this literary phenomenon.  Even films which are meant to be realistic such as El secreto de sus ojos and Mar adentro have clearly been influenced by the literary version of magical realism.  Space and time are immediately apparent as ways to portray the mystical paradox of the term magical realism. While we may argue the genesis and proprietary rights to magical realism, we immediately recognize that magic cuts across national and linguistic boundaries, gender, age and social class and mores, boundaries of life and death, communicating the territories of this world and the next, and is regarded as belonging as a birthright to all peoples. I discuss how these elements are delicately balanced in magical realist film and literature, and how the imagination is pursued in a way that more closely represents a society’s conception of verisimilitude, particularly through its representation of space and time.

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