Trauma, Memory and Confinement: (Re)presentations of Space in Dictatorial Cinema


In cinema the prison space is always represented as a dichotomy, although it goes further than the simple binary of incarcerated-free. While La voz dormida and La noche de los lápices begin with this foundational idea, they each alter it slightly. In the former, the subtlety lies in the interactions of the two spaces, while the latter instead creates a ternary consisting of the unofficial prison, the official prison, and the outside space. Similarly, the initial dichotomy of imprisoned and free is disrupted in El secreto de sus ojos, as the construction of a citizen-run prison shifts the power binary within the prison system, with the citizen taking the position of power that the state once occupied. Rather than the creation of a binary between two spaces, Los internados del miedo constructs binaries within the spaces themselves: the illustrated space and the interview space. The binary in “Memoria colectiva” exists within the space, like those in Los internados del miedo, however, the dichotomy stems from the prison space and the redefinition of that space as a monument.

There is a relationship that is established through cinematic representation of trauma, specifically in the cases of confinement, in which the film acts upon the space it is representing. The film carries the agency of how the spatial representation occurs. Each film creates and re-present spaces of confinement with the exception of “Memoria Colectiva.”  This film parts from this reasoning in that it reflects the re-presentation that has already taken place in the prison space– its inauguration as a space of memory. The agent in this documentary is the space itself. It is from this differentiation in film-making that we take our stance: the most just representation of space is that which gives narrative agency to the space itself, in addition to the people who suffered the trauma.

Spaces of trauma carry a narrative as do the people that occupied those spaces. In complete agreement with Sontag, this truth-telling that has developed in our society that gives visual evidence to the viewer, also invites them to act as witness. The voyeurism that develops in the act of film-watching unfortunately uses these spaces of trauma as plot devices and the people in them as props, therefore staging a story. Although some films are more respectful and masterful of their presentations of the films (i.e. La voz dormida, La noche de los lápices, and “Memoria Colectiva”) there are still many that fall short of the respect due to the victims (i.e. Los internados del miedo). Film cannot venture into the presentation of a story without deliberate choices being made in its representation. Essentially, all presentation is re-presentation with the most accurate re-presentations functioning as platforms instead of stages.