Jul 13, 2008


In my recent trip to Venezuela, I conducted many interviews with people who work in telenovelas in both networks, RCTV and Venevisión. I also had the opportunity to visit the set of telenovela Torrente. I'm still digesting and analyzing my field notes and interview transcripts. In this blog entry, I comment on a contrast I found that is particularly enlightening. The contrast is between two telenovelas made in Venevisión: Torrente, currently on the air, and Vieja Yo?, which is already in its production phase and scheduled for broadcast very soon.

In the set of Torrente I found a group of, (mostly young), actors and director Claudio Callao. They're working as best as they possibly can with a script that is generally predictable, occasionally  contradictory and characterized by an exaggerated melodramatic tone. Network Venevisión, determined to produce telenovelas that sell well in the international market, offers us in Torrente a catalog of storylines we have seen so many times, we've memorized them. The production values, however, are much better than the script. I admired director Callao as I watched his struggle to produce a mise-en-scene with the realism and impact the script sorely lacks. I was also impressed with some of the actors who have been working their characters with dedication, taking them beyond the unclear outline barely depicted in the 40 pages that constitute each episode. I can't avoid asking myself: What is Torrente's thesis? Does it have a thesis? What do the writers want to say? 

The contrasting experience was my conversation with writer Mónica Montañés about her new telenovela La Vieja Esa (title that Venevisión discarded, favoring Vieja Yo?). This writer has a clear thesis behind the story she's going to tell. Many people think that writers just say "now I'm going to write the love story between a woman and a younger man." Well, not really. When a writer has a thesis, he or she has something to say. And that gives the story support, sustenance and consistency. It also draws clearly the characters. (Something that good actors appreciate and enjoy). When there's a thesis, the audience finds a truth immersed in the dream that every telenovela is. And that truth faces us and hooks us too. That's the difference between telenovelas like  Torrente and those that are conceptualized like Vieja Yo?

Some will undoubtedly say that Torrente will fare better than Vieja Yo? in the international market. We'll have to wait and see. But if that proves to be the case, there will be people who will interpret it as proof that the international audience is only interested in the same old story. Personally, I don't think so. I do think, however, that there are vested interests in selling only the same story over and over again. And that's different. 

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