- Film and Democracy in Paraguay by Eva Karene Romero
Film and Democracy in Paraguay.
Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. xiii + 169 pp. Ills., notes, and index. $99.99 cloth (ISBN 9783319448138); $79.99 electronic (ISBN 9783319448145).
Paraguay’s film industry is small but has grown since Alfredo Stroessner’s dictatorship fell in 1989. Eva K. Romero’s book Film and Democracy in Paraguay makes the case that post-dictatorial Paraguayan films illuminate contemporary sociocultural, economic, and political circumstances, with emphasis on how historical traumatic events continue to shape today’s national reality. Although after Stroessner’s regime there has been artistic freedom to criticize the government, Romero paints a desolate picture of contemporary Paraguay through the lens of films produced in this new democratic era. The cinematic genres Romero has chosen — mainly documentaries and realistic social dramas — lend themselves to this sort of sociological film analysis.
Most of the social groups Romero examines seem trapped in their subaltern condition, both within film narratives and related realities. Romero, who is both an academic and a documentary filmmaker, draws parallels between these films’ protagonists and their counterparts in Paraguayan society to underscore injustices within the country. Adding another level of analysis, the author suggests that, in some films, victimized characters represent Paraguay as a whole, highlighting ways in which other countries have wronged or damaged Paraguay. For instance, the 2008 documentary Frankfurt (dir. Ramiro Gómez) relates the experience of watching the 2006 Soccer World Cup in rural Paraguay. Romero comments on the juxtaposition of a relatively poor and remote audience sharing such experience through televised broadcast with the fans attending the matches in Germany, including wealthy Paraguayans. Rural children play soccer perhaps with the aspiration of one day becoming internationally recognized soccer players. Making a less [End Page 228] obvious connection, Romero finds narrative significance in Paraguayans watching a match between their team and England’s, an athletic rivalry that parallels the tensions that may have fueled the War of the Triple Alliance from 1864 to 1870. Allegedly, Britain financed Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay’s military campaign, which nearly decimated Paraguay’s population and took a large expanse of Paraguayan territory. Whether Frankfurt’s director intended such a commentary is irrelevant; it is still interesting and necessary to explore such connections between past and present, particularly when they reflect old wounds that have yet to heal within Paraguayan society.
In fact, the traumatic legacy of militarism and warfare constitutes an important analytical thread throughout the book. In the lauded film Hamaca Paraguaya (dir. Paz Encina, 2006), an older campesino couple waits for their son to return from the Chaco War (1932–1935). Romero likens the film’s atmosphere of pending doom and endless waiting to that of a nearly inert, “feminized” nation that is still recovering — or may never recover — from losing most of its men during the War of the Triple Alliance. In the short films Karai Norte (dir. Marcelo Martinessi, 2009) and Noche Adentro (dir. Pablo Lamar, 2010), women face violent abuse, rape, and murder. While these films serve to denounce abuses of Paraguayan women, Romero also suggests that they constitute allegories of other nations ravaging Paraguay. Albeit with the consent of the Paraguayan ruling elite, Brazilians have contributed to the dismemberment of campesino villages and the felling of native forests while aggressively cropping soy in eastern Paraguay since the 1990s. Romero sees this as a continuation of Brazil’s territorial expansion into Paraguay, which began before the War of the Triple Alliance.
Considering a more literal reading of rape, Romero contends that Karai Norte and Noche Adentro have much reason to bring attention to the abuse of women in Paraguay. Women raised Paraguay after the War of the Triple Alliance killed nearly half of the country’s population. Romero references revisionist historic perspectives on the emergence of the Paraguayan mestizo race as linked to the rape of indigenous women by Spaniards — instead of the more pacific miscegenation tropes often taught in Paraguayan classrooms. Only relatively recently were women allowed to vote (since 1961) and to sue for divorce (since 1991). Paraguayan anti-abortion laws are extreme, forbidding women to terminate...