Book Display: El Gótico Tropical/The Tropical Gothic

A group of monsters was on the loose in the green countryside of Valle del Cauca, Colombia. In the latter years of the 1970s things in Colombia were changing. International industries moved into rural valleys that were previously tended only by small-scale farmers. Cities such as Cali were now connected with the international market and the flow of commodities and North American popular culture this market made accessible. Along with these changes, the 1970s and 1980s marked a period of heightened violence in Valle del Cauca, as part of Colombia’s armed conflict and the drug trade. This was a time of profound trauma and dislocation. 

Traumatic experiences are often difficult to talk about and remain so long after the traumatic event. In psychotherapy, such experiences are assimilated in language. Disorientation and terror find narrative form and are named in emotive adjectives. El gótico tropical, the tropical gothic, accomplishes a movement akin to that which happens in psychotherapy, addressing the collective traumas of a disoriented Valle del Cauca. Drawing on canonical elements of the European gothic such as monsters, isolated castles, and journeys into the wilderness, this genre renders unspeakable experiences in text and image.  

The Cali group was made up of writer and cinephile Andrés Caicedo and filmmakers Luis Ospina and Carlos Mayolo. This trio cultivated a rich film culture in Cali and created the works that would compose Colombia’s tropical gothic. The subject of Caicedo’s writing was generational dislocation. His character Maria, protagonist of his most famous novel ¡Que viva la música! (1977) expressed a reaction to a cultural rift, catalyzed by the diverse violences referenced previously, that opened between Caicedo’s generation and previous ones. She spurned political engagement, bourgeois life, and moral principles, embracing, rather, a life of existential abandon. Caicedo’s writing would prove an indispensable precursor to tropical gothic film. Scholars suggest that Caicedo was influenced by the work of Luis Buñuel and Alvaro Mutis. 

Films such as Carne de Tu Carne (1983) by Carlos Mayolo, and Pura Sangre (1982), directed by Luis Ospina, highlight the generational rifts addressed in Caicedo’s work explicitly. Yet more, they draw on the figure of the vampire, which Caicedo featured in his writing in unexpected moments. Carne de Tu Carne tells the story of two half-siblings who discover a secret of family incest that spanned generations. Fleeing to their uncle’s cabin atop a distant mountain, this discovery summons the ghosts of the family’s dead. Pura Sangre concerns an elite family whose patriarch is dying. In order to survive, he requires blood transfusions from teenagers and children. The plot unfolds as the family’s henchmen abduct and kill in pursuit of fresh blood. This story is based upon a series of child murders that happened in Cali across the 1960s and 1970s.

 If you are interested in the tropical gothic, come see our display in the Latin American and Caribbean collection. You’ll find films directed by members of the Cali group, the fiction of Andrés Caicedo, and scholarly publications that address their work critically.