by David Katz
- Paraguayan director Paz Encina creates a haunting parable on the displacement of indigenous groups in the Gran Chaco of South America
There’s a late-career short by Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami called Seagull Eggs, depicting just those things sitting vulnerably on a beachside rock, lapped by aggressive waves. It’s hard not to think of Kiarostami’s unique choice of image when taking in the opening shot of this film, showing a collection of bird eggs nestled in a more secure fashion, on the shore of a mossy lake. And then they just sit there, for even longer, whilst the natural light illuminating them shifts in a kind of time lapse, and the sound of a murmured female voice-over is so feather-delicate that its intonation makes a larger impression than the words themselves.
This is a representative example of the style Paz Encina employs in EAMI [+see also:
film profile], her second officially fictional feature; whilst there’s a cast list in the ending credits, it’s best described as a docu-fiction, with re-enactments stemming from aural testimonies overlaid in voice-over. Focusing on the displacement of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode, an indigenous tribe who made their home in the Paraguayan part of the Gran Chaco lowland, it forgoes any didacticism in favour of impressionistic sights and sounds, a film language so true to its subjects that the majority of audiences will be mystified, and absolutely not bored, by what unfolds. The film premiered last week in the Tiger Competition at this year’s virtual IFFR.
It took this reviewer one whole viewing, and a partial rewatch, to fully parse the narrative structure, and especially the vocabulary that Encina’s characters use. EAMI is filtered through the point of view of a five-year-old girl, also named Eami, who is accorded an omniscient sense of her people’s travails and customs, passing across the span of time – it is challenging, after all, to intuit when in history the primary narrative strand occurs. In the Totobiegosode tradition, she also represents the Asojá – unhelpfully not clarified or defined in any explanatory text – the bird-god-woman deity whose song “helped nature come to be”. In addition to Eami being an orphan whose parents were killed as white settlers came, she has a transcendent significance: her goal being to reunite with the Aocojái, a male companion, and help deliver her people from evil, now incarnated in the colonial forces bent on using their land for stockbreeding.
Because of the film’s weightless drift, and the cinematography’s tendency to focus on off-kilter natural imagery (like the aforementioned birds’ eggs) whilst the abstruse yet poetic narration carries on about an unseen topic, the viewer is likely to leave the story confused about the resonance of every detail, yet convinced they’ve seen something deeply felt, and obviously urgent to its subjects. It resists the pedagogy of many films on similar postcolonial subject matter, and lets the significance of what unfolds slowly dawn on the viewer: simply, what it must be like to have both your present circumstances and history erased, and how to still reap hope.
EAMI is a co-production between Paraguay, Germany, Argentina, the Netherlands, France, the USA and Mexico, staged by Black Forest Film, Revolver Amsterdam, MPM Film (Movies Partners in Motion Film), Eaux Vives Productions, Silencio Cine, Gamán Cine, Louverture Films, Piano, Barraca Producciones, Grupo LVT, Sagax Entertainment, Splendor Omnia and Sabaté Films.
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