NEWS
San Telmo's Secret

by Saba Mohtasham

Photography by Ricky Morales

If you’re on your way to see a movie at Cine Club Buenos Aires Mon Amour, you probably just walked past it. It makes sense - there’s no sign, no way of knowing which one of the residential buildings it could be on this San Telmo street unless you already received the address. After one or two more tries, you’re in.

Now you’re walking down a narrow, dark hallway, wondering if you’re going to end up in a stranger’s living room asking to see “Soul Kitchen,” the latest comedy from German director Fatih Akin, only to be greeted with an expression of ridiculous confusion. You reach the end of the hallway, open the door and let out a sigh of relief, realizing you’ve successfully arrived.

This independent cinema remains one of the best-kept secrets in the city. Playing everything from underground Argentine films to European documentaries, Mon Amour is a cinephile’s dream – probably because it’s run by two cinephiles as well.

Guillermo Cisterna Mansilla can trace his love for films back to age six when his dad took him to a triple feature in Buenos Aires. So when he met fellow enthusiast Carlos Affur in their shared field of information technology, they decided to turn their passion for film into something more while keeping their day jobs. In December of 2007, they, along with three other friends who would soon leave the project for personal reasons, founded Mon Amour, named after French filmmaker Alain Resnais’s “Hiroshima Mon Amour".

San Telmo's Secret

Top: Mon Amour boasts one of the city’s most eclectic selection of films from the international art film scene, from left to right, Yorgos Lanthimos “Dogtooth”, Fatih Akin’s “Soul Kitchen” and Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank”; Bottom: Alain Renais’ “Hiroshima, Mon Amour”.

“This initiative stems from cinephilia, from a pleasure for film, from a passion,” Mansilla said. “It was an initiative designed to share that pleasure, that desire, that passion.”

And so they shared it right out of Mansilla’s apartment in Recoleta. One weekend every month, about 25 friends and friends of friends would gather in his living room and watch a film using his projector and large screen.

The plan to bring people together to watch and discuss a film they couldn’t find in commercial theaters was working – the only problem was not being able to accommodate everyone who was interested, not to mention Mansilla said it was becoming rather uncomfortable having so many people in his apartment every weekend.

“If this could work for a small group of people, why not try to reach more people?” Mansilla said.

They held the final showing in his home in October of 2008, and after a month of converting the new residence into a proper theater with a giant screen and 38 stadium-style seats, they were up and running in San Telmo, a neighborhood with a history of art lovers, ready to take on more people. One problem – they were actually losing customers.

“We didn’t take into account that we had changed neighborhoods,” Mansilla said. “The people who were used to going to Recoleta felt uncomfortable in San Telmo. We had to work a little harder to start building a following again.”

It didn’t take long to find that following, this time attracting a younger crowd as well.

“We’re happy to see new people find out through word of mouth,” Mansilla said. “That means it’s working.”

They rely on mouth-to-mouth publicity, because unless you come across their website or Facebook page, it’s almost impossible to find out about Mon Amour.

“Cineclubs are independent places, they don’t have the budget to publicize,” Mansilla said. “Unfortunately, there still isn’t a way for the not-so-curious viewer to easily find us.”

Not that they had a problem filling the seats. They quickly found themselves playing multiple times a day, four days a week, accommodating about 600 people every month.

San Telmo's Secret
San Telmo's Secret

Top: the renovated 38 seat theater; Bottom: Carlos Affur, co-founder of Cine Club Mon Amour.

With the increase in popularity, the theater focused on keeping its intimate touch. You still reserve through their website, and they give every customer their cell phone number so you can personally call them if you have to cancel.

It’s common to find a full house, with a group as eclectic as their film selection. You’ll see the members who come every weekend, those discovering it for the first time and foreigners passing through the city.

Getting their hands on those films proves to be one of the harder parts of the job. With help from passersby who bring them a copy of an international film, they make sure it doesn’t have a local distributor and sometimes have to place the subtitles themselves. They also always keep an eye out for local filmmakers, occasionally showing the work of film students from La Fuc.

“You have to support them and give them a place to be seen,” Mansilla said.

They gave Argentine director Marco Berger a place to be seen and were the first theater in the city to invite him to screen “Plan B,” his recent film about unexpected love. The film went on to play at the MALBA, still running after several successful months.

“We’re the kind of place that also invites directors to engage with viewers,” Mansilla said. “The MALBA’s playing ‘Plan B,’ but you’re not going to be able to talk to him there.” 

San Telmo's Secret

From the film “Plan B” by Marco Berger.

What also makes Mon Amour stand out from the other cine clubs in Buenos Aires, all joined under the umbrella of the Federación Argentina de Cineclubes, is that in January of 2009, they started offering classes in Recoleta.

“In Buenos Aires, there are more film schools focused on production than there are in Paris,” Mansilla said. “But for watching? No, there aren’t many places offering the types of courses and seminars found in Mon Amour.”

Taught by critics and film professors often from the University of Buenos Aires, the classes present topics you probably won’t find anywhere else, such as a course devoted entirely to the work of David Lynch. Whether you’re a film student or someone who has no background knowledge, the objective is the same.

“The focus of our courses has to do with learning how to really see the film and being able to discover a taste for the cinema that they didn’t have before,” Mansilla said. “It’s the most important part of Mon Amour.”

About to celebrate the third anniversary of Mon Amour this December, Mansilla and Affur continue to function on the same goal they had when working out of Mansilla’s living room.

“We’re training the viewer’s eye,” Mansilla said.

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