When Your World Is Falling Apart

in 31st Guadalajara International Film Festival

by Geri Krebs

Panamerican Machinery (Maquinaria Panamericana), the first feature film by the young Mexican director Joaquín del Paso, is a strong black comedy about a society that existed in the early 1990s.

It is Friday morning at Panamerican Machinery Inc., a company located in the Mexican capital near the international airport, a company that for sixty years has specialized in selling and repairing machines for construction and destruction. The employees are already winding down for the weekend by putting their energy into games, rituals and routines.

Working here does not primarily mean being productive, but rather spending time together, chatting, joking and keeping the company spirit alive. In the middle of this peaceful monotony, Don Alejandro, the boss, is found dead at the back of the warehouse; and Don Chucho, the representative of the company, has to declare the bankruptcy of Panamerican Machinery Inc. For the last several years Don Alejandro had been paying the employees’ wages out of his own pocket.  And so the workers and employees will be faced with ruin and will have to leave the company that very  same day. But they refuse to do so and decide to lock themeselves into the company grounds, where they had spent so much of their lives.

“We can’t tell anyone that our boss is dead”, says Don Chucho to the employees and workers, who are reunited outdoors on the company grounds. He explains: “We now have to freeze time”. And a frozen-in-time atmosphere is what predominates amidst scenery typical of black humor: Enormous mountains of paper archives create a Kafkaesque mood; music – from classical music to Muzak and frenetic Electro-Cumbia–comes from cassette tape decks; computers are giant, monstrous machines with small monitors, and for sending or receiving an e-mail an employee must wait until the telephone connection with the characteristic “ring ring” sound works. The faces in this less surrealistic than intimate movie never show any reactions – in spite of the disasters that are happening all around the protagonists. In this respect, Joaquín del Paso’s debut feature somehow reminds one of the films by Aki Kaurismäki, although the young Mexican director (who, as a student, had specialized in photography) and his cameraman Fredrik Olsson – with all their aesthetic merits – do not have such a highly developed static imagery as the great Finnish director. Panamerican Machinery is splendidly shot the old fashioned way—in 35mm. The film’s influences and references can be found in Latin American black comedies such as, for example, The Survivors (Los sobrevivientes) by the Cuban director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea or The Snail’s Strategy (La estrategia del caracol) by the Colombian director Sergio Cabrera.

Joaquin del Paso was born in Mexico City in 1986. Both his father and grandfather had worked in a machine manufacturing company. At the age of twenty Joaquín del Paso left Mexico and studied at the film schools in San Antonio de los Baños (Cuba) and Lodz (Poland). He lived six years in Poland, learned Polish and is married to a Polish wife. Panamerican Machinery is co-produced by Mexico and Poland. “When I lived in Poland, from 2008 to 2013, I had the impression that Mexico and Poland were going opposing ways”, explains the director in an interview at the Guadalajara Film Festival. He continues: “While Poland was developing from a beaurocratic socialist past to a prospering member of the European Union, Mexico in these years was going from bad to worse. Whenever I came to visit my homeland the situation had become even more dramatic”.

Edited by Dennis West