Dir/scr: Paz Encina. Fr-Arg-Hol-Par-Sp. 2006. 78mins.
With a Cannesappearance (in Un Certain Regard) that makes it the first Paraguayan film to screenin the official selection of a major festival - and the only Paraguayan featureshot on 35mm in the last 30 years - HamacaParaguaya will delight those self-flagellatingcineastes who believe, like the albino monk in The Da Vinci Code, that "pain is good".
Actually,some of the pain in this film comes close to being good. Formally rigorous,composed of a series of fixed-camera long shots that last for up to fifteenminutes, Hamaca has an elegiac,melancholic beauty that builds alongside its dawn-to-dusk parabola. But in theend, the severe demands it makes on its audience are not repaid by any reallevel of intellectual or emotional engagement. It's like Chekhov in the junglerewritten by Beckett and filmed by Tarkovsky - onlyslower.
Afestival film, Encina's debut feature may cross overinto the extreme arthouse fringes. As therisk-limiting bouquet of producers and backers suggests, Hamaca is a resolutely un-commercial prospect, even by indie standards.
Thefirst take, which lasts 16 minutes, introduces a jungle clearing that theaudience will learn to know intimately. An elderly couple gradually emergesfrom the penumbra. The wife, Candida (Georgina Genes), strings up a hammockbetween two trees; then she and her husband, Ramon (Ramon del Rio) sit in it,discussing the heat, the possibility of rain, the barking dog in thebackground.
Theybicker gently, as old spouses will. We feel that they are circling around apainful subject, and slowly this absent centre emerges: it's their son Maximo, who departed for some unnamed war some timepreviously, and has not returned. It's difficult to tell whether they'reactually talking to each other (the camera is just too far away) or whether thedialogue is all in their heads.
Thelatter interpretation is suggested by later scenes - in Ramon's sugar canepatch, or by the stream where Candida washes the clothes - where the dialogueis a remembered one, consisting of their respective conversations with Maximo as he prepared to leave for the front.
Thunderrumbles (the only short takes are insets of grey sky, pale imitations of the dramaticsky shots in van Sant's Elephant) and the dog, which turns out to belong to Maximo, goes on barking - or stops, something which seemsto worry Candida just as much. Gradually the war gets a name, and the mysteryof Maximo is revealed.
Butonly those with some knowledge of Paraguayan history will deduce that theaction is set in the 1930s, rather than in some timeless present.
ACannes Atelier Du Festival 2005 graduate, Hamaca Paraguayais also the first done-and-dusted product of the seven commissioned by Peter Sellars' Mozart-linked New Crowned Hope festival. It hasformal similarities with the work of another film-maker in this group of seven,Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady), with more distantdebts to Bela Tarr and Ozu. There is something of the latter's telling observationof minutiae in the mutedly moving scene where the mother learns the truth abouther son; and the gruff intimacy of husband and wife is nicely painted in.
Butas the light dims once more to dusk and the end approaches the beginning,there's a sense that the director, like the camera, remains too formallydetached from her characters' emotions.
Lita Stantic Producciones
Ramon Del Rio