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Cannes 2006

The Heart in the Right Place
By Altaf Mazid

Among the films of the main competition and un certain regards two films seem to be totally different from all the others primarily in terms of their visual presentation. Juventude Em Marcha (Colossal Youth) directed by the Portuguese veteran Pedro Costa, and , the first feature director Paz Encina's Hamaca Paraguya (Paraguay Swings).

Portuguese veteran Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth is about a worker named Ventura, who lives in Lisbon's suburban slums. One day, his wife Clotilde abandons him. As a result of this sudden act, the jolted Ventura feels lost, and roams aimlessly around his neighborhood. The couple had been staying in a decaying home for 34 years, but they had recently arranged to move to new, affordable accommodations. Here, he meets numerous young people whom he perceives as his own children, and they, in turn, as their papa. First-time feature director Paz Encina's Paraguayan Hammock depicts the daily life of an elderly peasant couple in a remote village in Paraguay. Ramon and Candida, with contrasting mind-sets, wait for their only son to return from the June 1935 war. While the father is positive about the homecoming, the mother takes for granted that her son has died long ago.

Juventude Em Marcha.
Juventude Em Marcha

The films share some striking similarities. First of all, the object of loss: In Colossal Youth, it is a wife, and in Paraguayan Hammock, a son. Two human beings, albeit of different nature, are gone, leaving behind loved ones to their whispered wails and cries for their return. The films' settings, where the losses are felt, also strike a similar chord one a slum, and the other a country glen and farm. Old Ventura simply looks around for his wife in the surroundings of both of their homes, new and old. For him, the geography of his location is of no use, since his only concern is his wife. The old couple in Paraguay is also waiting for the much-awaited good news about their only son. They are also oblivious to the geographical setting where they live and wait, since it is of no use in their present state of affairs. However, Costa and Encina pay close attention. The directors have chosen similarly unique styles of storytelling, based on setting and subject, which makes their works different.

Both films are heavily loaded with fixed frames of long-to-tedious duration and with little or no camera movement. In Colossal Youth, Ventura and the other characters engage in extensive conversations. The dialogues in most of the sequences have no fixed structure and internal rhythm that might connect them with the central theme of fidelity. Paraguayan Hammock is also full of never-ending dialogues. But in this film, we find that the words of the old couple are in close conformity with the subject of waiting for the son's return. In this way, the loneliness, sorrow, and the endless wait for Ventura and for Ramon and Candida get further extended to the conclusion of each film, with nothing happening in between. These characteristics make the films heavy, but absolutely true to the hearts of Pedro Costa and Paz Encina. They have evolved their styles from their deepest personal understanding of the political, social and cultural surroundings of their countries. In a way, they appear to have denied the audience a traditional entertainment. Instead, the audience is asked to accept films with unusual visual compositions. Even given the extreme diversity of today's world, these kinds of auteur films have become extremely rare.

Altaf Mazid
© FIPRESCI 2006

Altaf Mazid is a free-lance film critic based in Guwahati, India, and works as a programmer of little-known films from Far-East India.

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