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Having spent the past decade making documentaries about Palestine, French director Dominique Dubosc returns to the South American origins of his creative life with Paraguay Remembered, a sporadically engaging but thoroughly enigmatic essay film about a man’s reflections about his life and loves in a foreign land which seems only slightly less strange than the place he left four decades ago. With its maker probably even less well-known in the film world than the titular country itself, Paraguay Remembered — shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio and nearly entirely in black-and-white — does pose a challenge for the uninitiated.
The film’s appearance in competition at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival — where it lined up alongside much more celebrated works such as Pedro Costa’s Horse Money and Patricio Guzman’s The Pearl Button — was just one of a handful of bookings it has received since its debut at Visions du Reel in April. Then again, Paraguay Remembered perhaps ranks as one of Dubosc’s more (if not most) personal films: this is a filmmaker who, before his 21st century contemplations on Middle Eastern politics, has forged a film career dedicated to organized labor movements in his native France.
Perhaps the original Spanish title, which translates roughly as “A Forgetful Memory,” illustrates better Dubosc’s intentions here: the film is about an intellectual-activist-artist hoping to come to terms with and then set down in stone those glorious days of youth — a time when he flourished away from the constraints at home and was living in a country of beauty and bloom.
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Dubosc arrived in Paraguay in 1966 to teach anthropology in a local university and left about three years later. During his stay there, he made two shorts — Le soleil l’a vu, about a poor peasant family, and Manojhara, about a leper colony — before he left first for Bolivia (where he made a short about local tin miners) and then back home to France (where he began making militant films about workers’ rights). While some of these personal milestones mark Dubosc’s journey this time round, Paraguay Remembered is more preoccupied with a remembrance of the filmmaker’s “naive self” who discovered personal freedom, creative impetus and even love in a country then ruled by Alfredo Stroessner, one of the most brutal military dictators of the era.
After a prologue in which Dubosc recalls the origins of his return to Paraguay — his two late-1960s shorts were being reintroduced to audiences in the country by filmmaker Hugo Gamarra Etcheverry, who heads the country’s leading (and perhaps only) cinematheque — the film proceeds as the filmmaker’s journey from the capital Asuncion to the far-flung village where he shot his Le soleil. He observes how some things have changed, such as the transformation of a former infamous torture center into a museum or the presence of glistering malls and chi-chi galleries. Then, he muses on things which have remained the same or become worse, such as the quietly seething social segregation along class or racial lines.
While Dubosc ponders these problems, at simultaneously re-evaluates his own past. He points out his own youthful self-contradictions when he refused to serve the in the French army — which he sees as an instrument of state violence, as shown in the atrocities committed in Algeria in the early 1960s — but he then agreed to take up a professorship in Paraguay and draw salary from a state meting out equally horrific abuse towards left-leaning dissidents.
And as Dubosc heads to the countryside, where he records a sculptor whom he knew from decades ago and wanders around rural hinterlands which seem to have remained in stasis, he recalls that ill-fated romance with an Argentinean woman: the end of his affair marks the end of his time in South America, the “ground zero” in which he experiments with art and life. Paraguay Remembered is awash with such moments of loss and melancholy, a soliloquy which reveals flashes of commentary about Paraguayan history and society, but is mostly too personal and wistful to gain traction with viewers grasping for meaning.
Venue: Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival
Production company: Kinofilm
Director, screenwriter, cinematographer: Dominique Dubosc
Producer: Danielle Gloag
Editors: Dominique Dubosc, Bernard Josse
Music: José Asuncion Flores, Perez Paralta
International Sales: Kinofilm
No rating; 89 minutes
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