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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Parabellum is an intriguing, but oddly detached, little movie from Argentina.

Argentina Now

The movie starts with an incredibly long establishing shot of a peaceful countryside. It’s a really long establishing shot. Really, really long. It’s long enough to almost be comical in this film, which could be described as a black-as-pitch dark comedy. Finally, the silence is broken by a mortar shell hitting the earth.

As the title suggests, the movie revolves around the preparation for war. As characters are introduced, thoughts run toward satires such as Brazil. A man is seen filling out forms. There are forms regarding the visitation and care for his father, who’s incapacitated in a hospital. There are forms to be filled out in regard to his cat’s care.

This fellow, as it turns out, is essentially signing away certain responsibilities so he can join a band of wannabe survivalists.

Going to their training compound involves a river boat ride in which the new recruits are all blindfolded. They are then given more forms — activity forms to sign up for classes such as botany; the use and benefits of camouflage; and homemade explosives. It’s called an Explorers Club, but the members have a much more sinister agenda.

The Book of Disasters

Parabellum’s detached vibe is a direct result of the handling of the material. The characters are given precious little dialogue so there’s very little verbal information to gather in terms of characters’ personalities and motivations. There’s no narrative explaining the premise and the actions as they unfold. Radio news reports tell of looting in stores; the mortar shell at the beginning indicates an invasion is moving forward.

From a certain point of view, that approach makes for an engaging experience as viewers try to piece together what’s going on. But there’s also a larger feeling of being held back from the situation and being left on the outside looking in on the behaviors and interpreting by context.

The movie is broken into segments, with each segment being introduced by a title card quoting from The Book of Disasters. One segment, for example, examines what happens when civilization is thrust into a disaster situation and thereby forced to show of what it’s really made.

And that’s when things turn really dark.

Heart of Darkness

Members of the Explorers Club invade a house and rob a family, but the mission goes awry when murder calls out the barbaric in this civilization.

As a result of the jarring brutality and selfishness, one troubled club member goes off on his own and commits suicide. Another drifts away and seeks a solo life under the radar. Others stay together in the group.

There’s a statement being made here and it is a compelling concept. By presenting such a detached experience via the movie, the notion of the detached individual comes to the fore and fits in with movie’s somber tone. But, as a moviegoing experience, Parabellum feels a little under prepared.