Add Paz Encina to that group of filmmakers that includes Carlos Reygadas, Pedro Costa and Lisandro Alonso—underdogs of the Latin American New Wave who are all prone to ascribing the feel of a museum piece to their purviews of Latin American experience. These filmmakers, some more volatile and interesting than others, believe that the severity of their art should be analogous to the severity of the lives they depict on screen, kowtowing to “art is suffering” dilettantes as scrupulously as Paul Greengrass’s Jason Bourne pictures are geared toward more hyperactive, populist appetites. To me, Greengrass’s style is as transparent, one-note and insufferable as Costa’s, but if one can appreciate Greengrass’s aesthetic mode as being intelligently synched to Bourne’s memory loss, therefore justified, it’s only fair to praise Reygadas, Costa, Alonso and Encina’s propensity for long takes and inert long shots for cannily jiving with the lives of their characters.
Like Silent Light, Reygadas’s gorgeously vacuous collection of precious moments from the life of a Mennonite farmer and his family living in Mexico, Paraguayan Hammock begins and ends on a very similar note, evoking day and night, and as such life and death. Here it is a shot of a farmer and his wife, Ramón (Ramón Del Rio) and Candida (Georgina Genes), both in their august years, lounging on a hammock that has seen better days, speaking about the son that has gone to war and wondering if he’ll return, worrying about superstition, rain, heat, light and the demands of the pooch that, like their son, is never seen on screen but is, like their hammock, both a bane and symbol of their fleeting existence.
Encina’s script is a beautifully written and considered immersion into the humdrum of campesino life, reminiscent of the psychological minutia Reinaldo Arenas brought to the first two novels of his Pentagonia, Singing from the Well and The Palace of the White Skunks, in which adults are always obsessing about food, weather, tradition, country and the gods above. Both Arenas and Encina thrive on repetition, but Encina is not a phatasmagoric artist: More sobering than Arenas, she tells Paraguayan Hammock not from the wild and crazed point of view of a child tormented by—and in awe of—the adult world just beyond his reach but from the less nuanced and objective vantage point of an outsider.
The filmmaker’s stylistic choices can be impressive. Composed of only a dozen or so shots, not a single one synched to the dialogue that seems to waft into frame from Ramón and Candida’s past, or perhaps a realm of fantasy or daydream, the film is as much about what is seen as what is not, and in its strongest stretches, Ramón and Candida respectively go about their daily grind while they converse with their son prior to his departure for war. In this way, Paraguayan Hammock feels haunted, not unlike Alonso’s La Libertad and his equally fine Los Muertos, but Encina resists the close-up, and like the inexpressiveness she demands from Del Rio and Genes, her idea-driven artistry belies the quiet integrity and poetry of the script, keeping audiences at a rather clinical distance from the lives of her characters.