Silences between Moments of Waiting By Shahla Nahid

in 59th Cannes Film Festival

by Shahla Nahid

In order to fully appreciate all of the dimensions of Paz Encina’s Hamaca Paraguaya, it is necessary to briefly summarize historical events in Paraguay, the country in which the film’s story takes place.

The indigenous people of what is now Paraguay endured the Spanish conquest as of 1537. The Guaranis provided not only a very cheap labour force for the Spanish, but the Guarani women were used by the conquistadors to perpetuate themselves. A “Creole”-type mixed race was created, with Spanish hierarchy over the exploited indigenous population continuing after the seventeenth century.

After Paraguay’s independence from Spain, Paraguayan authorities closed all borders to avoid being annexed by neighbouring countries and developed a political autarchy. This autarchy could not prevent the war between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay), from 1864 to 1870, which devastated Paraguay, reducing its population by half and leaving 200,000 survivors–mostly women, children and elderly.

The country was also confronted with another problem: Its territory was sold to big English, Argentinean and Brazilian farming companies, provoking an endless exodus of landless peasants. War broke out again, this time with Bolivia between 1932 and 1935 over the disputed territory of Chaco, which was solely inhabited by indigenous people. Once again, peasants who had fought for Paraguay’s land returned home with nothing and were only permitted to work land belonging to others. From 1954 to 1989, Paraguay underwent the longest dictatorship in the history of Latin America.

The last Paraguayan film shot in 35 mm with a theatrical release was Cerro Cora, made in 1978. It was a film based on the Triple Alliance war and totally approved by the dictator Alfredo Stroessner’s administration. The dialogue of Hamaca Paraguaya is spoken in Guarani, the language of the indigenous people.

The film

We are in June 1935, in an isolated part of Paraguay. The camera opens on an almost dark and silent landscape. It’s autumn but the weather is still hot. Thunder is in the air but it doesn’t rain. A couple of poor, old peasants, Candida and Ramon, waiting for their son to return from his war duty, talk about ordinary things like the lack of rain and a dog which doesn’t want to stop barking.

The first sequence is long and the camera holds on the same angle, causing many viewers to either leave or fall asleep. But after fifteen minutes, the film’s gripping tension has won you over. The same tension is felt in the theatre. What will happen next? The endless waiting, suffering and deep distress begin to surge. The pauses in the dialogue – the silences – allow us to see an emotion that will never be mentioned. We don’t see characters speaking. Instead, we hear their voices. In the rare scene where the camera moves closer, we see the two main characters’ faces only partially. Other characters are not shown at all, but can be heard. Their words are mixed with the sounds of nature and the above-mentioned dog’s barking. These off-camera voices heighten the dramatic climate by calling on the active participation of the viewer’s imagination. The film is made up of eight sequential takes each lasting 10 to 15 minutes, one being used three times.

Encina, the 35-year-old Paraguayan director, keeps the viewer’s attention by contrasting the optimistic and pessimistic outlooks of the two main protagonists. The female character, a mother, feels the tragedy of the loss of her son, but the father wants to believe in a happy ending. The film’s most amazing aspect is that, without shedding a drop of blood and showing blown-up bodies and with a very minimalist and non-kinetic approach, Encina makes cinema’s most efficient anti-war manifesto.

Paz Encina, the film maker

She was born in Asuncion, Paraguay in 1971 and received her Masters degree in Cinematography in 2001. In 1997, she made La Sienta, a video-shot film for which she was awarded 2 nd prize at the Arte BA (Buenos Aires) Video Festival. In 1998, she shot a short 16mm film, Los Encantos del Jazmin. She made a short video-shot version of Hamaca Paraguaya in 2000, receiving a special award at the IVth International Film Schools Festival, the Genesis Prize for best Paraguayan video Film, and the first Prize at the IVth Young Artists salon. In the same year, Encina made her second 16mm short film, Supe que Estabas Triste, which won in 2001 the Genesis Best Sound and best Directing Prize in Asuncion. The long version of Hamaca Paraguaya received the FIPRESCI prize in the “Un Certain Regard” section of the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.