A frustratingly slow drama whose sole actors are a talky old farmer and his wife in a forest, "Paraguayan Hammock" risks rocking drowsy viewers to sleep as it leisurely explores time, memory and loss. Written and directed by debuting local helmer Paz Encina, it is the first 35mm all-Paraguay feature since the '70s. Its roots are clearly in the rigorous approach of new Argentine cinema, but it lacks the heart and soul of an apparently simple tale like Lisandro Alonso's electrifying "Los muertos," which it recalls. Here, the magic never kicks in. While the pic took home a Fipresci award from international crix, its post-festival life likely remains problematic beyond mini-niches.
This is the first of seven titles that have been commissioned by stage director Peter Sellars for the New Crowned Hope Festival and the Vienna Mozart Year 2006. The film's underlying theatricality and minimalism hint at what the rest of the series may look like. At the least, it exemplifies the project's interest in promoting far-flung world cultures.
Encina's reductionist approach is driven home in a 15 minute opening sequence which is basically a fixed frame of an old man and woman emerging from the forest in long shot, stretching a hammock between two trees, and sitting on it. Their non-stop bickering eventually reveals that the country is at war and they have not heard from their soldier son in a very long time.
The mother seems resigned to his being dead; the father insists on keeping hope alive. Their waiting for something to happen becomes the viewer's cross to bear as well.
Little else transpires in this short feature, which uses a bare minimum of sets and camera set-ups to underline the monotony and despair of the old couple's lives. Professional actors Ramon Del Rio and Georgina Genes effectively deliver the repetitive dialogue. As a distancing device, Encina lets us hear their conversation as a close-up voice-over even though the characters are shown in the distance in a long shot. The effect is disturbing.Guido Berenblum and Victor Tendler's meticulous sound recording deserves special mention, incorporating the sounds of nature into the couple's personal drama.
Camera (color), Willi Behnisch; editor, Miguel Schverdfinger; music, Oscar Cardoza Ocampo; art director, Carlo Spatuzza; sound (Dolby Digital), Guido Berenblum, Victor Tendler. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 17, 2006. Running time: 78 MIN.