Paraguayan Hammock (Paz Encina, 2006)
Guarani Title: Hamaca paraguaya
The first thing we see in Paz Encina's Paraguayan Hammock is a forest clearing. We hear incessant barking, insects making sounds, and a rooster crowing. An elderly married couple enters the clearing; the woman, fanning herself feverishly, sets up a hammock, as the man stands nearby. The man begins the conversation which would last up to the end of the feature. There's no emotional escalation in their conversation --- just tedious nagging by the woman, mundane dialogues by the man, and a whole lot of complaining about the dog that would never stop barking, the rain that would never start falling, and the son that wouldn't come back from the war.
We don't see much happening. First-time feature length filmmaker Encina belongs to that school of filmmaking wherein less is more; wherein the moments of non-action opens up to contemplation. Minutes pass by with the couple barely doing anything. When Encina decides to change locales (from the forest clearing to the middle of a sugar plantation), there's still nothing narratively substantial being inflicted. Encina's stationary camera is just there, silently capturing the substance of waiting. It's actually quite effective. Despite the few moments wherein the imagination would wildly rebel against the inadequacy of Encina's visual sparsity, there's a genuine grace in the day-to-day inactivity she captures.
If there's one thing that Encina does well, it is the act of capturing the passing of time. Her extremely long takes of the forest clearing allows us to observe the slight change in natural lighting; through the shades provided by the trees, we see the sun peeking or hiding as Encina cuts to the darkened sky, which presumably details an upcoming rainfall. She captures very well the time element in labor as when the man clears the sugarcanes, or the woman does the laundry in a nearby stream. Time passes in Paraguayan Hammock in staggered fluidity; there's no cinematic pulse or rhythm, just a spare yet very natural temporal movement.
Accompanying the spare visuals are the voice-overs. The voice-overs are not synchronized with what's happening visually, although there's an indirect or overlapping connection. The scenes outside the forest clearing with the solitary hammock, we overhear the individual conversations the man and woman have with first, their son who is on his way to fight in the war, and second, the village doctor and an army messenger respectively. The dialogue accompanying the forest clearing scene are classic conversation pieces of those who are waiting. The question Encina poses is what exactly are the elderly couple waiting for.
Through the early conversations, the reliable guess is that the elderly couple is eagerly awaiting their son's return. However, through the flashbacks and the succeeding eventualities, it can be inferred that the return of the soldier son is now merely an excuse to wait. The hammock, that paraphernalia that signifies the prolonged wait, has turned into the couple's object of their daily routine of waiting. For what? Under the guise of awaiting the spoils of an unnecessary war, they're just waiting for the rain to end years of drought or perhaps death, as alluded to in their final conversation wherein the man's voice weakens and the woman starts confessing about her fear of the darkness, as it is the same darkness that happens when she closes her eyes.
The rain is of course an end to the misery through a renewed hope. Death, on the other hand, is an end to the waiting; an end to everything. Encina's film can be representative of her nation's cinema, one that is ultimately hopeful. After all, Paraguayan Hammock was commissioned, along with works by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tsai Ming Liang, for Mozart's Visionary Cinema: New Crowned Hope, in celebration of the famous composer. The film ends with a black out; but with a very recognizable sound continuing, that of the rain, symbol of hope for a nation that according to this Encina's tremendous work is in a constant state of waiting.
This is my contribution to the Contemplative Cinema Blog-a-Thon at Unspoken Cinema.