Out of the Wings

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Cinema utoppia (c.1985), Ramón Griffero

English title: Cinema Utopia
Date written: c. 1985
First production date: 1985
Keywords: history > modernity, violence > torture, identity > sexuality, power > use and abuse, art > theatre > metatheatre, love > relationships, love > desire, cinema

In Cinema Utopia the world on screen is more real than the world in the cinema auditorium, as an eccentric group of 1940s spectators watch the tragic story of an exile in 1980s Paris unfold on film.


Cinema-Utoppia is set in a cinema, El Valencia, in the age before television, when it was common to attend performances of a serialized soap opera every week.  The regulars at this cinema – a Down’s syndrome woman, a ‘Senora,’ an alcoholic, a lonely spinster, and a man who is always accompanied by his rabbit are all solitary people looking for fantasy, escape, company. The other characters, the usher, has lived there all his life and is totally absorbed in the world of the cinema, and his fantasy companions are the figures from the films, with whom he dances and converses.

The film the characters are watching is a serial about exile in Paris, the tragic existence of a lonely, isolated young man, Sebastián, an antihero with no future and only remembrance of a past love, which never loses its vividness, despite separation, loss, death. He lives in a squalid apartment for which he cannot pay and which he can keep as long as he indulges the landlord’s sadomasochist fantasies. He is a drug addict, and a friend has become a drug dealer and a male prostitute as a means of economic survival. His best friend, Esteban, with whom he has a homosexual relationship, is repelled by most of the underlife he sees around him, and it is he who survives while Sebastian destroys himself.

The serial evolves around Sebastian’s growing dependence on drugs and on his attempts to resist the alienation from his past, but these are future, for the past, primarily in the shape of the dram image of his lover, lost in a distant and irretrievable time, returns to haunts him in an endless torment. In each episode his despair is deeper, his attachment to this life weaker, and finally the only solution is self-destruction.

At the moment Sebastian’s suicide becomes inevitable, the fates of the two dramatic communities become intertwined. A sailor, who had entered the cinema hoping to watch pornography, leaves when he finds the serial does not provide the scenes he had been looking for; different aspects of the spectator’s’ worlds begin to disintegrate: the rabbit dies, it becomes clear that a relationship between two of the characters was no more than a fling; the usher leaves his fantasy world briefly when he breaks down, wondering why it is always the good and the simple who suffer most. But, this time at least, he is saved from his insight by the appearance of a dancing couple from his fantasy world. In the final scene, it is only Mariana, The Down’s syndrome woman, and the usher who are left in the innocence of the cinema watching the last episode of the extraordinary serial. Meanwhile, the other characters have become voyeurs at the death of Sebastian. The fiction of the serial is thus finally turned into non-fiction, and somehow the story had influenced the destruction of the world in the cinema stalls.’

Boyle, Catherine. 1994.  Chilean Theater,1973-1985: Marginality, Power, Selfhood, p.171. Rutherford,New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press

Critical response

Ramón Griffero was awarded the Art Critics’ Prize for his theatre work. Cinema Utopia is regarded as a key work in the renovation of Chilean theatre in the 1980s.

  • Griffero, Ramón. 1992. Cinema utoppia. In Teatro chileno contemporáneo, ed. Moisés Pérez Coterillo. Madrid, Fondo de Cultura Económica

Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 31 May 2012.

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