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.

La Antena (2007)

aka The Aerial

2009 #10
Esteban Sapir | 95 mins | TV | PG

La AntenaLa Antena is a Silent Film. And by that I mean there is no dialogue, though there is music, and it’s in black and white with low-budget (looking, at least) effects, though it was made in the 21st Century — but it is entirely in the style of those films made in the era before sound was technically possible. It could sit comfortably alongside ‘real’ silent films to the extent that the uninitiated might reasonably be fooled into believing it was one.

In some respects this is neither here nor there, though it will undoubtedly put some viewers off. For those with a more open mind or who are fans of silent movies, however, it’s a joy. This is mainly because it’s incredibly imaginative, especially with its visuals, which are often pleasantly barmy. The setting is a dystopian future (or alternate reality) where people can no longer speak (thus justifying the silent film styling), and this world is wonderfully realised without a hint of realism or awkward attempts to explain why things are the way they are. These days it’s a rare filmmaker who doesn’t feel the need to explain everything and make it fit in relation to our world, but Sapir is one of the few who trusts us to accept what’s going on — much as the great silent film directors did.

Sadly it isn’t flawless. Some elements of the plot get forgotten as things roll on (what happened to Mr TV’s son, for example?), perhaps a victim of the 50 minutes of cuts they chose to make for pace. Most of the symbolism is also fairly heavy handed, though one could argue that’s in keeping with the style, and at least means it’s all nicely noticeable. Even then a few bits are unavoidably leaden — particularly, the use of the swastika and Star of David felt uncomfortably irreverent to me.

Ratings-wise, La Antena is borderline — the sort of film I give four stars to now but then beats most five-star films to a high place on my year-end top ten (like The Prestige or Hellboy II or the five others that have done it). In which case it seems only fair to run the risk of awarding it full marks.

5 out of 5

Oscar-winning modern silent movie The Artist is on BBC Two tonight, Saturday 24th January 2015, at 10pm, and is reviewed here.