Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Film: "Parabellum" (2015)

This is another odd film I saw in the Dublin Film Festival earlier this year. It has an Austrian director but appears to be set in a future Argentina. It is stylistically interesting in that it features almost no dialogue. It is not a silent film: there is sound and we do hear the human voice. But the scenes where people speak are mostly ones with instructors talking to students who remain mute. There are very few scenes in which Person A says something and Person B says something back.

How can this be? Well the film begins with a man doing a series of things that you realise are him bringing his everyday life to an end. He visits an old man in a home for the elderly. He sits in his apartment while an automated caller invites him to reconsider his decision to cancel his telephone line. He hands his cat in to a cat minder. There are snippets of news reports suggesting that things are going very wrong with the world (riots, natural disasters, social breakdown, etc.). Then the man goes off on a bus to a rural location and is blindfolded and brought on a boat through a river system to a combination holiday camp and training centre. He and the other new arrivals undergo a series of preparations… for what? It seems like a combination of general fitness training and self-defence, then learning to shoot and acquiring some handy survival skills. As they go about their business we see the odd fireball pass through the sky.

The detached tone and the cultishness of the setup reminded me of films by Yorgos Lanthimos, particularly Alps. I was also reminded of that Martha Marcy May Marlene film. The latter comparison seemed particularly apt when the film turns nasty, with the protagonist and a couple of his fellows going to a house in the country and killing all the people there (this portrayed in a detached manner, with most of the killings happening off screen).

The detachment and lack of dialogue in the film is its most appealing prospect but it also can be frustrating. The lack of exposition means it can be a bit unclear as to why things are happening, with the detached style of the acting making it harder to infer from them why they are doing things. In the end it seems like the community breaks down or maybe the protagonist cuts loose and heads off on his own. There is a stunning vista later on when he canoes towards a city that appears to be suffering very badly from a rain of fireballs. The film seemed to be on the point of a transition here but then it just ends.

Its odd nature may mark this out as the best film I saw in the film festival, though I think it may be one I like more in retrospect.

image source (Film Society Lincoln Center)

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