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Day 1: Silences and Burials of Dictatorships

Guapo’Y (Dir.: Sofia Paola Thorne / Paraguai, Argentina e Qatar, 2023)

Otro Sol (Dir.: Francisco Rodríguez Teare / Chile, França e Bélgica, 2023)

by Pedro Henrique Ferreira

          The opening of the Competitive Exhibition 'Territories' at the 17th Mostra CineBH seems to confront us with the reality that any broader political image of Latin America today inexorably involves the fact that almost all countries suffered from hardline dictatorships, more or less violent, longer or shorter, in the second half of the 20th century. Even more significant is the fact that these dictatorships, which were established on the basis of US economic power in practically the entire continent, have not had all their intricacies revealed and debated. Our vergangenheitsbewältigung has not yet taken place in relation to them. Much of what the armies of these countries did remains obscure, their archives closed and the victims' accounts silenced or discredited; it is also not uncommon for some of the political agents of the present to have some kind of connection with the torturers of the past, and for some of the social structures of the time to still exist today. In very antipodal keys, both Guapo'Y and Otro Sol seem to be striving to find a poetic way of dealing with a traumatic and silenced past, but one that leaves its mark on the bodies of those who have suffered from it.


      This dedication to bringing to light the physical traces of violence, seeing it as a form of collective/national 'healing', is present right from the opening image of the documentary Guapo'Y: a woman covers the nakedness of her back with medicinal roots. Sofia Paola Thorne's debut feature-film centers around Celsa, a guerrilla woman who, during Stroessner's long dictatorial rule in Paraguay between '58 and '89, spent a significant part of her life incarcerated in a prison. The documentary's device starts from the spatial restriction of this woman's home, in a hovel in the middle of a more remote rural region, around a kind of forest in the middle of nature that contrasts radically with the official and city-world of progressive Paraguay. Thorne's camera alternates mainly between two kinds of shots: first, images of her daily and domestic chores, dedicating a good part of its time to her manual actions in cultivating, harvesting and preparing medicinal herbs; then, interviews and more stripped-down conversations (sometimes she's not alone, but with friends/relatives) in which the protagonist's clipped voice recalls the many episodes of her time as a prisoner. Both are articulated in a gaze that is not so much prosaic and spontaneous as melancholic and devastating, symbolizing the sequels left by the regime on the bodies of those who were its victims. On the other hand, if her voice reveals a Paraguay of amnesia, which swept her crimes under the carpet, the images of healing seem to metaphorize an elixir that the storage of Celsa's oral record, as much as the reference that traditional medicine makes to Guarani culture, could represent for the country.


          In this sense, Guapo'Y operates through the appearance of some ambivalent signs. The stories of the protagonist's past - the violent murder of her husband and the physical and mental torture of prisoners, which are overshadowed by softer memories of the birth of her daughter or the community gatherings around the tree that gives the work its title - are sometimes invaded by voices from the present on radio and TV, where ministers and other members of the current government relativize Stroessner's horrendous deeds. In addition, the lack of imagery to illustrate the oral accounts of Celsa and her guerrilla companion is powerful in that it contributes to a discourse on the lack of materiality and concrete evidence, the erasure of a memorial heritage that seems to be the central theme of the feature film. What remains are letters, a clandestine tape recorded by the guerrillas in the prison, and other scarce resources that attract more attention because of their emptiness than because of their presence. It's as if this testimony were nothing more than a great gap in the nation's trajectory. The official Paraguayan point-of-view is not so different from what the last shot of the film shows us: the absence of the Guapo'Y in the current prison, the huge tree that used to stand there and around which the guerrillas used to gather, and which has now been uprooted. 


          What weakens Guapo'Y a little is its somewhat ready-made desire to emphasize the trauma in the light of a suffering and melancholic aspect, which makes it seem as if the documentary is a bit set up for this; even where it glimpses other things latent there and lets them pass without giving them much latitude (the friendship in the experience of resistance, the affection exchanged in this community, everything alive that persists there today and yesterday despite the trauma). In this sense, even the metaphors of medicine and ritualistic nature become closed in their meanings, reiterated with such emphasis that they border on literalness and become tiresome, and at certain moments, Celsa's accounts sound somewhat conditioned to a thesis that the film already has beforehand, echoed along with a sombre and omnipresent soundtrack. But even this weakness doesn't ruin our enjoyment. What gives Guapo'Y its strength are its moving stories and the touching physical dignity of its protagonist that Sofia Paola Thorne's camera manages to extract very well, Celsa's faltering speech and everything that seems to promise us a Paraguay that is more Guaraní and less Spanish, a Latin America that is more indigenous than European.


         The path taken by Otro Sol is quite different. At first, it hides from the plot the relationship it has with the erasure of dictatorial memory and colonial relations implicit in the choice of its subject: Alberto Cándia, a Chilean looter who allegedly stole decorative gold pieces from Cádiz Cathedral in Andalusia. In dealing with this international lanza, he mobilizes three oppressive mythologies (or rather, excavates stories, as the film metaphorizes) that cross each other: that of the Pinochet dictatorship which, in an attempt to impose control and establish a monopoly on cocaine trafficking in Chile, institutionalized the practice of torturing common thieves and produced a large immigration of fugitives; some of these, like Alberto Cándia, would become world-renowned in the art of theft because of their execution of large-scale robberies (such as the one at Cádiz Cathedral) which contributed to the legend that Chileans are the best thieves in the world; finally, by stealing the gold from a Spanish church that was built in the 18th century and is the direct result of colonial exploitation, Alberto acts in absentia as a sort of anti-colonial 'Robin Hood', bringing back to bury in his native lands what was stolen from him by the imperialist conquerors. However, if these things are really implicit in the choice of his subject, they only remain in the blind background of the film, like its other, 'speculative negative of the real'. None of these issues really come to light.


          The plot of Otro Sol is based on the court files involving Alberto Cándia and the 1978 Cathedral robbery, and the narrative is based on them. But the dramaturgy of Fransico Rodríguez Teare's debut feature film, which is more recognized in the visual arts than in cinema, doesn't just 're-enact' the crime in the present time of the Atacama Desert through actors and non-actors (the mise-en-scéne tactics of Straub/Huillet, Albert Serra, and many others); young people dressed in today's fashion pretending to be thieves from the 1970s, with due historical contempt. It mixes the finding of memory with the documentary accounts and stories of other ex-fugitives who still inhabit the ruins, beaches and desert - their lives and their real or invented crimes (we'll never know, and it doesn't matter) - in a polyphonic dynamic so profound and centrifugal that what results is a surreal and clumsy labyrinth, where it's best not to try to orient yourself by the nearest line of escape to the next step in the plot, but to hitch a ride on this back and forth of profound invention. In this sense, Otro Sol is not a fictional documentary, or a movie that blurs the lines between the real and the invented. It simply couldn't be, because it has never recognized the boundaries between any of this as more than a mirage.


        To the extent that everything there becomes an artifice of invention, an altarpiece of possible formal coexistences or a stage for the creativity of the scene, this documented real, the past both of the judicial archives and the hearsay accounts that pile up, are nothing more than a source of inspiration. The game is to reinvent the mythology of a sinful and fugitive Chile with some young and old people trapped in the middle of the desert, a Latin America recognized by the atavistic and brutal sign that is unfolded by colonial and dictatorial violence. All this without any formalism or baroque tone, but rather through a shaky camera probing the grandeur of the desert, the pristine beaches and noisy storms behind the hills, or the abandoned ruins that have become the makeshift, third-world habitat of the forty thieves who know little about what they are doing there, sometimes recalling the entire topology of Eduardo Williams' films. There is no seriousness, but rather an air of irreverence and youth, the search for a repeated freshness in the construction of images and performance where the actors constantly disembody or reincarnate different characters according to the dramaturgical needs of the moment. It's a method of insolent profanity bordering on banter, where the great historical crime can easily become two young men running around with a folding suitcase and stopping to play bless the Lord before leaving our sight. It's a movie where you start from nothing so that everything takes over little by little, in every possible direction that opens up.


         Anyone looking for a more conventional and serious plot and approach to the documentary object will find it nothing more than a big, unraveling mess. A more monolithic look risks missing the political power that underlies Otro Sol and makes it a great film, its anarchic air and ode to the marginal, the clumsy homage paid to a Latin America that perhaps unintentionally is revolutionary and tries to find its own stolen gold, evade the colonizer by being the stubble of the world and perhaps (but only perhaps) killing itself before fulfilling its historical task. 

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