Parabellum (2015)

2015 #150
Lukas Valenta Rinner | 75 mins | streaming | 2.35:1 | Argentina, Austria & Uruguay / Spanish

Screened at the London Film Festival earlier this month, then made available on MUBI in the UK (where you can, if you want, watch it until midnight on 11th November), the latter lured me in by describing it as “a meticulous and immersive portrait of the end of the world, where the apocalypse is out of frame. Who said sci-fi required big budgets? Clever, and chilling.” Intrigued? Don’t be.

Parabellum (which apparently translates as “Congratulation”, though that doesn’t seem to mean anything here) is the kind of movie where nothing much happens. Well, things do happen, but co-writer/director Lukas Valenta Rinner has chosen to tell the story in such a way that it feels like nothing happens. A bunch of people gather at a remote survivalist training camp in Argentina, where they’re taught things like camouflage, hand-to-hand combat, and shooting. We don’t see them talk to each other; we only see snippets of their lessons; no one explains why they’re there, what’s going on in the wider world to have inspired them to come, or anything else.

After over half an hour of this, we see what appears to be a comet, but may be a missile or something, fall in the background of a shot. Is this the end of the world, then? Suddenly, the instructors don’t seem to be around anymore, and half-a-dozen of the trainees set off by boat to… well, I’m not sure what their goal is, but they break into someone’s house and kill him, and later they migrate to a bigger boat and continue travelling; and then one of them commits suicide, and eventually the guy we’ve ‘followed’ from the start sets off in a small boat towards a distant city, where numerous comet-missiles are raining down non-stop.

That’s the whole movie, more or less. I haven’t spoiled it for you because you’re not going to watch it because why would you? There is no discernible story or meaning; there is no characterisation; there is nothing but imagery and snippets of moments that signify nothing. It is a movie that has deliberately left out any explanations. Apparently the director has said it’s all a criticism of global capitalism, or something. Even with that extra-filmic information, it’s still difficult to ascertain much meaning. This isn’t realism — this isn’t avoiding “hello, person who is my brother” dialogue — this is obtuseness for obtuseness’ sake.

Alfred Hitchcock once said that “movies are real life with the boring parts cut out.” Valenta Rinner’s movie is the opposite of this in every respect: it isn’t real life, which is fine, but he only left the boring parts in, which isn’t.

1 out of 5

Parabellum is, as noted, part of MUBI’s UK selection until midnight on 11th November.

It featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2015, which can be read in full here.

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7 thoughts on “Parabellum (2015)

    • To be precise, there are 16 of ’em, which is under 1.5% of my reviews.

      To over-intellectualise a bit, I’m sure there are many reasons for that: I’m quite a ‘kind’ reviewer on the whole, I think; there’s no point knowingly watching (most) dreadful films; and I try to start watching with more-or-less the assumption that everything deserves at least a 3, unless it goes wrong / excels itself. Plus, because I hardly gave any single stars in my first year or two, I’ve wound up being more ‘precious’ about them than even about giving full marks. A film has to be really bad, or somehow actively irritate me, to sink so low in my estimation.

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      • I often wonder about ‘bad’ films. Surely no-one sets out to make a bad movie but I watch them and always wonder the how and why. Do the actors and crew know from the start its a stinker but just think “well its a paycheck gotta pay the bills and Spielberg aint calling”, or do they all start with the best of intentions only for it to all wrong? I almost think that after over a hundred years making films they should all be good, as if film makers would have it sussed by now. And yet promising films, even blockbusters like Prometheus, get spoiled by dodgy/unfinished scripts. Or films like the recent Fantastic Four reboot, an unneccesary and ill-judged reboot from the very start, somehow get made (yet Dredd 2 does not). I can only think any artistic judgement is always outweighed by the financial one (the aim to make money). Its fascinating really and something I dwell on regularly (usually when I see a bad movie!). The damnedest thing is, we can usually tell a bad movie before even watching it, so how come ‘professionals’ can’t see it while making it and try ‘fixing’ it? And if they don’t/can’t, how ‘professional’ are they? Someone should write a book “50 Bad Films And What Went Wrong” it’d be fascinating.

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        • You know, there are so many things that can go wrong, it’s almost more of a wonder so many films are any good!

          I think an awful lot of the problems with Hollywood movies comes down to studio execs seeing what makes money then trying to emulate it, and misunderstanding what people actually want/enjoy. That’s how we’ve wound up so far down the CGI-obsessed everything-costs-$150m+ blockbuster path — they’ve copied the (easier to emulate) effects, rather than the appealing characters or adventurous storylines from the best examples’ screenplays.

          That said, some people genuinely enjoy things like the Transformers sequels (or convince themselves they do, anyway), and keep paying to see them (increasingly so in the global market, even when box office receipts are falling back in the US). You can’t really blame the studio moneymen for chasing that — it’s their job, after all. Though I do wonder: if they left half-decent writers & directors to their own devices, rather than interfering and micromanaging, the films would probably be just as successful financially (because they’d still have the lashings of CGI, etc, to put in the trailer), but maybe they’d manage to make better movies along with it.

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        • One thing that I’ve been most impressed with in Ridley Scott’s films is how frugal they have been considering how big they are in scope. They seem to float around the $100 million mark, which is remarkable really. Taking inflation into account I think its about what Blade Runner cost back in 1982. I appreciate the balance between epic-ness and realistic/cost-effective budgeting. Doesn’t mean the films are particularly good, mind but at least they are well produced with reasonable restraint. Bear in mind Tomorrowland cost about $170 million somehow…

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        • It’s remarkable that Disney keep spending a tonne on films that do gross a fortune but, because they cost so much, don’t make that much back and so look like a flop. It’s becoming quite a pattern for them. I can only imagine the way the equally-expensive Marvel and Pirates films do manage to recoup their costs has twisted execs’ perspective.

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