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Killing visuality in Solveig Nordlund's Comédia Infantil

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The starting point for this paper is the use made of the real Teatro Avenida in Maputo as a setting in the 1998 film, Comédia Infantil, directed by Solveig Nordlund. Given that theatre in cinema effectively points to the evolving historical relationship between theatrical and cinematic perspectives, I argue that the purpose served by theatre here is to decentre the objectifying power of the spectator's gaze in western cinematic convention, thus allowing a greater emphasis to be placed on non-visual cultures and oral narrative aesthetics. Where Nordlund deploys a noticeably oral narrative aesthetic to structure temporality, subjectivity and intersubjective exchange in this film, her work resonates strongly with the priorities established by African cinema as defined by Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike. I go on to draw specifically on the writings of Slavoj Žižek on 'symbolic suicide' in cinema, as well as Alenka Zupančič's work on stage murders in Hitchcockian cinema, to argue that the apparent murder of the film's central character, the street child Nélio, is constructed as what Žižek terms a 'symbolic suicide', referring to a 'withdrawal from symbolic reality which is to be opposed strictly to the suicide "in reality"' such that 'the symbolic suicide aims to exclude the subject from the very intersubjective circuit' (Žižek 1992: 44). The effect of Nélio's self-exclusion from the intersubjective circuit, coupled as it is with the emergence of his listener José as an oral story teller, is to undermine the linear temporality of the voyeuristic gaze famously established by Laura Mulvey as the point of western viewer identification, and specifically associated here with the spectacular violence of a chronically militarized Mozambican culture progressively destroying itself. The result is a self-reflective estrangement of conventional western cinematic vision, particularly of the spectator's self-identifying gaze, consciously placed in apposition in this film to the oral culture of the orphaned African street boys who persistently gather outside the theatre and at its physical margins, but are ultimately made to connote the nation's future.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2011

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