Rotterdam 2022: Where the friend’s home was

5 February, 2022

Rotterdam is a different kind of festival. If it’s better or worse than its sisters in the A-class category matters much too less, since such events shouldn’t limit themselves to being mere proofs of the current status, but it should also wish to reveal its future image.  We must ask for festivals to prove their prescience, not their strategies. And the way in which I see the given future of cinema is in harmony with the jury’s decision to award Paraguayan filmmaker Paz Encina for her latest feature, EAMI.

Not that it would be a masterpiece; since it isn’t. My enthusiasm is rather that of a scientific researcher, for whom something small, imperfect and somewhat hard to grasp is the first sign of a new path. In the realm of the arts, everything starts from the greatest of masterpieces and goes down to the smallest of details. So what I’m proposing is a switch. 

With all the fairness that one is capable of, Encina’s film is not just a simple, factual accusation towards one of the many moral negligences of the recent past. Something else is being accused  in its form, and that is our sensibility – one that has been worn down so much that cinema, finding us in the throes of an overdose of adrenaline, finds itself compelled to tell stories about the wind, to record the sound of a grasshopper and to frame the batting of an eyelid. It wasn’t that long ago when I used to disparagingly say that someone is watching paint dry; nowadays, that sounds more desirable than ever. 

It can be that our inner insensitivity might be interwoven with our social one. In its lyrical and misty structure, EAMI exposes the tragedy of some native Paraguayans that have never given much thought to such separations. Nature as their culture, to displace them means to empty them as you would do with a glass of water. In particular, the word Eami seems to mean forests and mountains; banished, the girl bearing the same name arrives to our desolate plains, those bearing names of flowers while growing in the plains of asphalt.

It’s a foreign film. And the filmmaker doesn’t dabble in self-evident and generic expositions, just as she doesn’t try to translate emptiness by means of a so-called worldly, immediate state of affairs. With an on-and-off narration as told by a series of poetic testimonies, going back and forth, scattered across organic landscapes – meaning ones that are alive, pointing at the discreet liveliness of nature – and a tender closeness towards the faces and bodies of the young girl and her family, we are estranged from the actual unfolding of events. But if the film also seems foreign at a level of ideas, meaning incomprehensible, that is because we are not used to attributing meaning to the consequences of our welfare; the natural gesture would be for us to start shivering from the very moment that we see the first red sparks of fire.

On the other hand, it’s clear that Eami is searching for her friend. Starting off from such a Kiarostami-esque premise, Encina lends herself to a type of exploration that is much rather an interior one, one of closenesses rather than of surroundings. As I’m not the one who should speak on matters of ethnography, I can only assume that the tribe which the filmmaker refers to, atteste by a fragment from a video shot in the nineties, was truly used to cultivating a mythology regarding animals. In the very beginning, the main voice, that of the protagonist, recounts the story of the genesis of sorts of her world – how she herself, was born as a bird with the body of a human. Later on, the filmmaker is careful to let this belief grow, lending the sound of fluttering wings to the girl’s steps. To say that these people are confusing themselves with animals sounds wrong; but it happens so due to the various flawed interpretations of Darwinism and civilisation. The joining of these two causes, that of the humans and of the animals, is, beyond its weightless sensibility, a manner of bringing back the totality of ecology as both a science and and a purpose into discussion; it’s something surprising for a film that is otherwise proving itself to be doubtful of logocentrism. 

Scattered amongst various topics and directorial techniques, the new sensibility that has taken shape in this film, as well, is quite fragile, for the moment. We are still struggling to separate right from wrong in the media. In the online realm, as Rotterdam opted to show its roster, such a film gets easily lost. Of course, I am well aware that there could have been no other possible decision, but I mean something else by this – that the beginning of this change in paradigm will either happen in the cinema, or not at all.

 



Film critic and journalist. He is an editor at AARC and writes the ”Screens” features for Art Magazine. He collaborates with many publications and film festivals as a freelancer and he is strangely attached to John Ford's movies. At Films in Frame, he writes "Footnotes" - a monthly editorial published on a Thursday.