Dominique Dubosc's poetic, moving memory piece about South American politics, love, art, torture and death
A moviemaker (Dominique Dubosc, shown above) returns, after 40 years, to the Paraguayan city -- Asunción -- in which he spent what turns out to be a most important and formative time, and the result is PARAGUAY REMEMBERED (Memoria desmemoriada) one of the more beautiful, poetic, sad and moving chronicles to time past, love lost and history's most enduring struggle. That struggle is first seen early on, as our filmmaker visits an art show in the city, MalaVision, in which he views a group of haunted/haunting photographs and notices, as he tells us, "a naive painting meant to represent the guerilla that the rich see everywhere -- like they did Communism." What volumes that small sentence speaks to the unending battle here in the USA, in South America, everywhere, between progressive forces and entrenched wealth/power.
M. Dubosc's lovely, moving and quietly angry documentary is getting a very necessary run at New York's Anthology Film Archives this week (co-presented by Cinema Tropical), beginning Friday, February 24 -click here to view screening dates times -- along with other of his work.
Seeing this 89 minute documentary makes me wonder why the filmmaker is not better known. Forty years ago General Alfredo Stroessner was in power in Paraguay, and the little country was experiencing similar horrors to those we may know more about that occurred under military dictatorships in Argentina and Chile. Dubosc managed to emerge from Paraguay with life and limb intact, but, clearly, what happened there to him, his friends, co-workers and in particular a paramour, have left an indelible mark on the man.
Written with exquisite attention to detail, meaning and even cadence, the movie's narration is poetic and beautiful, and spoken in French, which is certainly among if not the world's most beautiful language. When, midway, the movie 's narration changes to Spanish via another voice, the result seems jarring. Featuring mostly black-and-white cinematography which is often breath-taking in its composition, as well as its lights, darks and glorious greys, the movie is a visual treat. (The oddly inserted and only very occasional color photography simply underscores how much better is that elegant black and white.)
We hear about Stroessner and see one of the airplanes used to toss into the sea the sleeping bodies of literally thousands between the years of 1976 and 1983 -- carried out, as Dubosc tells us, "in the name of Western, Christian, neo-liberal civilization." We meet and view his friend, Hernan, below, and learn via a charming anecdote how the man became a successful sculptor.
So have things gotten better in present-day Paraguay? This looks questionable, as we see a more recent and quite violent expulsion of landless peasants. All this is a very personal look at everything from Paraguay's politics and history to anecdotal evidence, along with archival photos coupled to present-day narration and cinematography.
When Dubosc first came to this country, it was to make a film about a typical peasant/farmer family and its experiences. Finally, toward the end of Paraguay Remembered, we watch that family now as they and their offspring view that old documentary, and smile, sometimes laugh at what they see. We see parts of that film, too, even as we also learn that the current family of General Stroessner is pushing to have the man's ashes returned to the country for a commemoration complete with political speeches. Hmmm...
We also learn that a certain U.S. President, Lord of the Drones, met with Paraguay's then-President, and all was well. Hmmm, again. Finally, we get a tiny history of the relationship between Dubosc and the woman he loved and cared about while in Paraguay, and whom he betrayed, at least emotionally, if not perhaps in other ways. This is a memorable, intriguing, unsettling documentary: part memory piece, part guilt trip, part poetry -all of it unusual and special. Click here for further information on AFA and all screening dates and times. (The filmmaker himself will appear in person on Friday, February 24, for the film's AFA premiere.)