The first 35mm all-Paraguayan feature film in three decades, Paz Encina’s Paraguayan Hammock could have been made a century ago—albeit in black and white, with a pair of actors behind the screen presenting the movie’s asynchronous dialogue.
Commissioned as part of the New Crowned Hope Festival (a celebration of Mozart’s 250th birthday), Encina’s first feature has barely a handful of setups. It opens with a lengthy, static long shot in which an elderly peasant couple (Ramon Del Rio and Georgina Genes) emerge from the woods to hang their hammock in a clearing. “What is wrong with you?” one asks. Their words—like all of the movie’s dialogue—are obviously post-dubbed and delivered in the indigenous Guaraní language. Encina occasionally cuts to the sky (“Is it going to rain?”) and mixes the couple’s rote bickering with the sounds of distant thunder and a barking dog. From their conversation, it gradually becomes apparent that their son is a soldier fighting in a war.
The day goes on. The couple perform their separate chores as each remembers or imagines a conversation with the absent boy. Their words could be thoughts—or stones. Encina’s rudimentary, rock-hard ultra-literalism is founded on concrete metaphor. The porch where the old man converses with an invisible messenger (“The war is over—we defeated the Bolivians”) is a natural stage set; the eponymous hammock, suspended between two trees, suggests the bridge between life and death. And, with their repetitive conversation, the protagonists suggest a pair of Beckett characters. Inevitably, the movie comes full circle: As day ends, the old couple returns to their hammock—once more seen in long shot. In the fading light, they expand their three topics of conversation (the dog, the weather, their son) to acknowledge death and even each other. Then the old man lights a lamp, and the two shuffle off back into the woods. Encino holds the blank screen for a minute or two, ending with the sound of rain.
A few weeks ago, I received a letter from a Jungian psychiatrist, who took me to task for failing to enter into the world of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. But for me, a movie is an object in the world and not a virtual reality—and even if I do “enter” one, it’s with an appreciation of that world as a construction. In this sense, Paraguayan Hammock is an exemplary film object. It’s impossible to watch Encino’s movie without grasping how it was made, although this isn’t to say that its simplicity precludes emotion or even suspense. On the contrary.
Paraguayan Hammock is like a piece of music that improves with familiarity. Encino’s modest exercise in “imperfect cinema” is close to universal but, as indifferent to the audience as the tree stump on which the old man rests his lantern, it will never be for every taste.