Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, Cinema Issue (2016)
La Ciudad Frente al Río (The City in Front of the River) is an Argentinian, ten-minute long film directed by Italian Surrealist Enrico Gras in 1949. The film was part of the promotional material for Bajo Belgrano, a modern housing plan sponsored by the Buenos Aires City Hall under the auspice of populist president Juan Perón. As part of this promotion, German photographer Grete Stern designed a brochure with images from the film and text by the Study for the Plan of Buenos Aires (Estudio del Plan de Buenos Aires, hereafter EPBA). I compare the film and brochure to contemporaneous work by Stern: a series of photomontages illustrating a women’s advice column. The column mined its readers’ dreams for insights into their unconscious, and advised them on proper behavior. Following a similar method, the film found Buenos Aires’ unconscious in the chaos of city life, and revealed what I have termed as "pastoral modernity" as the cure. Masked behind a veneer of revolutionary modernity, the message of these works was that of a nostalgic return to the past—an invitation to sleep, and to dream. Complicating this message, subtle hints in both the film and the photomontages point to the artists’ awareness of the totalizing vision they were collaborating with.