Torre Nilsson, Leopoldo (1924–1978)

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Torre Nilsson, Leopoldo (1924–1978)

Born in Buenos Aires on May 15, 1924, director Leopoldo Torre Nilsson (nickname "Babsy") was renowned as one of the leading participants in the first wave of New Argentine Cinema. The new cinema "movement" emerged in Argentina in the 1950s, sparked in part by the interest of spectators in more socially engaged and internationally aware topics, and in part by the interaction with European postwar vanguard movements (such as Italian neo-realism). These forces inspired the move away from industrial, actor-driven, studio-produced film (particularly the Hollywood model), and toward independently produced cinema with "auteurist" tendencies: films with narrative and aesthetic complexity, and increased technical proficiency.

Nilsson's father was director Leopoldo Torre Ríos, who worked during the classical period (the 1930s and 1940s) of Argentine cinema, giving Torre Nilsson an entrée into the movie industry. In the 1940s he worked as an assistant to his father and also scripted a number of his films, and in the 1950s studied cinema in Europe, thus gaining both practical experience and formal education in filmmaking. While he did have European training, and in fact was criticized by his New Cinema peers for making films that were bourgeois and European in orientation (as distinct from their own more politically oriented films representing the experience of the Argentine lower classes), Torre Nilsson was committed to developing an authentically Argentinean form of cinematic expression representing specifically Argentine experience.

Torre Nilsson was married to writer Beatriz Guido, and many of his films were based on her novels and short stories, as well as being co-scripted by her. La casa del ángel (1957), his ninth film and their first collaboration, was based on one of Guido's novels, and was the first Argentine film to win international acclaim; this was the film that catapulted Torre Nilsson to fame and initiated the period of his most well-known and highly praised work, from 1957 to 1962. Speaking of La casa del ángel, the novelist and critic Ernesto Schoo observes, "local spectators soon discovered that a film that spoke of our social myths, of our prejudices and our fears, of the roots of many ancient wrongs could also be made here. Without hypocrisy, without fear, without emphatic moral lessons, without paternalistic speeches" [author translation]. Whereas Guido's stories tend to focus on the loss of innocence and the moral corruption of the privileged classes, Torre Nilsson's films are characterized by innovative camera work and stylistic experimentation.

Torre Nilsson continued making films until his death on September 8, 1978. His subject matter went well beyond the Argentine bourgeoisie and old aristocracy, while still focusing on Argentine culture and experience. A number of his films, particularly from the late 1960s on, were either adaptations of the works of Argentine authors or stories grounded in historical experience. Among them are Martín Fierro (1968), a Western based on the nineteenth-century national epic poem; El Santo de la espada (1970), adapted from the Ricardo Rojas (1882–1957) novel on José de San Martín, the liberator of Argentina, Chile, and Peru; Los siete locos (1973), based on novels by Roberto Arlt; Boquitas pintadas (1974) from the novel by Manuel Puig; and the films La maffia (1972) and El pibe cabeza (1975) about gangsters in 1920s and 1930s Argentina. These films did not receive the acclaim of those he made in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Nevertheless his commitment to independence and originality has had a notable impact on younger generations of Argentine filmmakers.

See alsoCinema: From the Silent Film to 1990; Cinema Novo; Guido, Beatriz.


Esplugas, Celia. "Power and Gender: Film Feminism in Boquitas pintadas." CiberLetras 3 (August 2000). Available from

Schoo, Ernesto. "Los magos del gótico criollo." La Nación (Buenos Aires), March 13, 2002, Suplemento Cultura. Available from

Willcham, Marcelo. "Literatura y cine argentinos: Autoritarismo y testimonio en Beatriz Guido y Leopoldo Torre Nilsson." Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: The Humanities and Social Sciences 58, no. 6 (1997): 2233-2234.

Selected Filmography

La casa del ángel (1957); Palme d'Or nomination, Cannes Film Festival, 1957

La caida (1959); Best Film, Argentinean Film Critics Association, 1960; Golden Bear nomination, Berlin Film Festival, 1959

Fin de fiesta (1960); Golden Bear nomination, Berlin, 1960

La mano en la trampa (1961); Prix de la Critique Internationale/F.I.P.R.E.S.C.I. Prize, Palme d'Or nomination, Cannes, 1961

Setenta veces siete (1962); Palme d'Or nomination, Cannes, 1962

La terraza (1963); Golden Bear nomination, Berlin, 1963

El ojo de la cerradura (1964); Best Film, Argentinean Film Critics Association, 1967

La chica del lunes (1967); Palme d'Or, Cannes, 1967

Martín Fierro (1968); Best Film, Argentinean Film Critics Association, 1969

La maffia (1972); Best Film, Argentinean Film Critics Association, 1973

Los siete locos (1973); Silver Bear, Golden Bear nomination, Berlin, 1973

Boquitas pintadas (1974); Concha de oro, Special Jury Prize, San Sebastián International Film Festival, 1974

                                   Caryn C. Connelly