108 (Cuchillo de Palo): Bold Rule-Breaking


Midway through the unhurried documentary 108 (Cuchillo de Palo), Renate Costa Perdomo, who writes and directs, asks her father Pedro, her chief interview subject, “Don’t you wonder what I’m doing?” Costa is investigating the mysterious death, years earlier, of his brother Rodolfo, and many of her interviewees—Rodolfo’s friends and neighbors, as well as former Asunción, Paraguay, scenesters—display complete unselfconsciousness in their relationship with the camera, going about their lives even as Costa is filming them when they’re late for church or before they wake up. Pedro, speaking for many of them, responds, “I don’t usually ask myself.” Costa discovers a motive for her uncle’s murder when a dance teacher and a transvestite at a “Miss Paraguay” contest fill in the parts of Rodolfo’s background Costa’s family kept blank. The real questions come from the cover-up (or brush-over), both by the family and the government of Alfredo Stroessner, Paraguay’s longtime dictator and, in the 1950s, the imprisoner of 108 gay men. Costa’s grainy footage looks amateurish at times—at one point, she runs out of battery and the screen goes dark—but her rule-breaking is bold. She shoots long, unflinching takes of her father ensconced in the comfort of his daily routine, daring him to crack under the pressure of constant watching. But he never deviates from his genial religious conservatism and its party line: “There’s nothing I could do.” Still, Costa insists on making him, and his country, think.