Nationality: Argentinian. Born: Buenos Aires, 5 May 1924, son of filmmaker Leopoldo Torres Rios. Family: Married writer Beatriz Guido. Career: Assistant to father, from 1939; with father, directed first feature, 1949; began working with Guido, 1957; founder of production company Producciones Angel, 1959; signed contract with Columbia to make El ojo de la cerradura , 1964. Awards: International Critics Prize, Cannes Festival, for Hands in the Trap , 1961. Died: 8 September 1978.
El muro ( The Wall ) (short)
El crimen de Oribe ( Oribe's Crime ) (co-d)
El hijo del crack ( Son of the "Star" ) (co-d); La Tigra ( The Tigress )
Días de odio ( Days of Hate )
Para vestir ( The Spinsters )
El protegido ( The Protégé ); Graciela
La casa del ángel ( End of Innocence ; The House of the Angel ) (+ co-sc with Beatriz Guido, based on Guido novel); Precursores de la pintura argentina (short) (Guido: sc); Los arboles de Buenos-Aires (short) (Guido: sc)
El secuestrador ( The Kidnapper ) (+ sc)
La cáida ( The Fall ) (+ co-sc with Guido); Fin de fiesta ( The Party Is Over ; The Blood Feast ) (Guido: sc)
Un guapo del 900 (+ co-pr)
La mano en la trampa ( The Hand in the Trap ) (Guido: sc); Piel de verano ( Summer Skin ) (+ pr, Guido: sc)
Setenta veces siete ( The Female: 70 Times 7 ) (Guido: sc); Homenaje a la hora de la siesta ( Homage at Siesta Time ) (Guido: sc); La terraza ( The Terrace ) (Guido: sc)
El ojo de la cerradura ( The Eavesdropper ) (Guido: sc)
Once upon a Tractor (for United Nations) (Guido: sc)
La chica del lunes ( Monday's Child ) (Guido: sc); Los traidores de San Angel ( The Traitors of San Angel ) (Guido: sc); Cavar un foso ( To Dig a Pit ) (Guido: sc)
Martin Fierro (Guido: sc)
El santo de la espada ( The Knight of the Sword ) (Guido: sc)
Güemes—La terra en armas (Guido: sc)
La maffia ( The Mafia ) (Guido: sc)
Los siete locos ( The Seven Madmen ) (Guido: sc)
Boquitas pintadas ( Painted Lips ) (Guido: sc)
Diario de la guerra del cerdo ( La guerra del cerdo ; Diary of the Pig War ) (Guido: sc); El pibe cabeza (Guido: sc)
Piedra libre (Guido: sc)
Los gauchos judíos ( Jewish Gauchos ) (co-pr)
Entre sajones y el arrabal , edited by Jorge Alvarez, Buenos Aires, 1967.
Interview, in Cuadernos de cine (Buenos Aires), October 1954.
Interview with Hector Grossi, in Mundo Argentino (Buenos Aires), February 1957.
Interview, in Tiempo de cine (Buenos Aires), October 1960.
"How to Make a New Wave," in Films and Filming (London), November 1962.
Interview with I. León Frías and R. Bedoya, in Hablemos de Cine (Lima), April 1979.
Martin, Jorge Abel, Los films de Leopoldo Torre Nilsson , Buenos Aires, 1980.
Barnard, Tim, Argentine Cinema , Toronto, 1986.
King, John, and Nissa Torrents, editors, Argentine Cinema: The Garden of Forking Paths , London, 1988.
Trajtenberg, Mario, "Torre-Nilsson and His Double," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1961.
Di Nubila, Domingo, "An Argentine Partnership," in Films and Filming (London), September 1961.
Botsford, Keith, "Leopoldo Torre-Nilsson: The Underside of the Coin," in Show (Hollywood), November 1962.
"Director of the Year," in International Film Guide 1967 , London, 1966.
Cozarinsky, E., "Torre-Nilsson Remembered," in Sight and Sound (London), no. 1, 1978–79.
Mahieu, A., "Revisión Crítica del cine Argentino," in Cine Cubana (Havana), vol. 104, 1984.
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Leopoldo Torre Nilsson's international reputation is based on a handful of films made in the late 1950s and at the very beginning of the 1960s, but his career as a director spanned three decades. In addition, through his father, the director Leopoldo Torre Rios, he had direct links with the pioneering days of Argentine cinema. Born in Buenos Aires of part Spanish-Catholic, part Swedish-Protestant ancestry, he began his involvement with cinema at the age of fifteen, when he became his father's assistant. In all, he worked as assistant director on sixteen of his father's films. He also scripted ten features in the 1940s before making his directing debut with a short film, El Muro , in 1947. His feature debut, El Crimen de Oribe , the first of two films co-directed with his father, already shows some signs of his future concerns: literary adaptation (the film was from a short story by Adolfo Bioy Casares) and stylistic experiment. The same is true of his first solo feature, Dias de Odio , adapted from "Emma Zunz," a story by Jorge Luis Borges.
Torre Nilsson himself regarded his first five films as an independent director as apprentice efforts, and certainly they achieved little commercial success in Argentina. He reached maturity as a director and far wider international audiences in 1957, when he began his collaboration with the novelist Beatriz Guido, whom he subsequently married. Complementary personalities, they proved a highly successful team, with Guido creating a claustrophobic world and sets of characters ideally suited to her husband's virtuoso camerawork and concern with symbolic detail. Three highly successful films starring the young Elsa Daniel exemplify the qualities of the pair. The House of the Angel provided an acid picture of upper middle-class life in Buenos Aires in the 1920s (a combination of puritanical religion and political corruption) but its central theme is the destruction of virginal innocence, for it features an adolescent heroine bound forever to the man who has half-seduced, half-raped her on the eve of a duel.
The director then evoked with great force and conviction the enclosed, Cocteau-esque world of The Fall , which combined the sexual tensions of a young governess with the amorality of the four wild children who become her charges. In 1961 Torre Nilsson adapted two further novels by his wife, both of which depicted a young woman at odds with her elders and caught in a trap of her own devising. In The Hand in the Trap , one of the director's most successful works, Elsa Daniel uncovers the secret of her aunt's withdrawal from the world and arranges a confrontation with the man who jilted her. But the cost of this curiosity is high, since she herself falls victim to the same seducer and realizes that she will live out her aunt's story all over again. Summer Skin , which shows the director at his brilliant visual best, is a further tale of lost innocence, with Graciela Borges playing a girl who sells herself as "companion" to her dying cousin. The film has an open-air setting of beach and summer resort, but like the previous films it portrays a morally corrupt society.
Even at this period of his greatest acclaim, Torre Nilsson achieved comparatively little success with films outside this narrow range, such as The Kidnapper , a study of poverty, or his films on history and politics, The Party Is Over and A Tough Guy of 1900. Torre Nilsson's subsequent attempts to widen the scope of his filmmaking received a mixed reception. Films in which he tried to combine his literary and historical concerns with the requirements of local commercial formulas received little international attention, but his constant struggle to maintain an independent voice made him an important figure within Argentina. He managed to continue working through the difficult years of censorship until two years before his death, when his last feature, Piedra libre (1976) was banned. But his reputation rests essentially on the handful of stylish depictions of corruption and loss of innocence which made such an impact on the art cinema and international festival circuits of the years around 1960.