Thursday, March 19, 2015

ND/NF ’15: Parabellum

When the end of the world comes, it will hit Buenos Aires just as hard as New York—maybe even worse, because we are more accustomed to grand scale emergencies. As social order starts to break down, they might start to miss the military junta. A group of schlubby middle class survivalists do not intend to wait that long. They will enroll in a post-apocalyptic training camp—just in the nick of end times. Prepare yourself for an aesthetically severe Armageddon in Lukas Valenta Rinner’s Parabellum (trailer here), which screens during this year’s New Directors/New Films.

Alarmed by the constant reports of civil strife, Hernan Oviedo the unassuming office drone is going off the grid. After cutting his utilities, he heads off for his preparedness boot camp. He is a scrawny cat, but he is still fitter than some of his more obese colleagues. Nevertheless, they have come to learn skills that will soon be necessary, like camouflage, explosives, hand-to-hand combat, and marksmanship. Rinner observes them going about their drills with a tone of quiet mockery, but his motley characters will have the last laugh before they even get to the third act. It seems their preparations are not simply physical. They are also ready to become ruthless predators for the sake of survival.

It is hard to believe a film about a cult-like paramilitary organization running wild during the apocalypse could be so quiet and narratively diffuse. Granted, plottish kinds of things do happen, but Rinner de-emphasizes them, often relegating them to the distant corner of the screen, where they are easily overlooked. He certainly shows no interest whatsoever in his characters’ personalities and interior lives, but he loves his wide shots.

Pablo Seijo totally nails Oviedo’s world-weariness and existential disillusionment, doing the best that he can in what is far from an actor’s showcase. To put it in perspective, Rinner is far more likely to shoot his cast from behind rather than face forward, by at least a ratio of two-to-one in favor of the backs of their heads. That is immediately distancing and it gets rather dull over time.

Ironically, Parabellum initially appears to ridicule its paranoid characters, but largely vindicates their paranoia at a relatively early stage. Roundabout or even openly experimental approaches to apocalyptic subject matter can yield fruit, but it seems they are better suited to short films, like Andreas Bolm’s The Revenants. In truth, Parabellum is a tough slog with a miserly payoff. Recommended for the small handful of admirers for conceptual filmmakers like João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata, it screens this coming Monday (3/23) at MoMA and Tuesday (3/24) at the Walter Reade, as part of the 2015 ND/NF.