These days, it’s common for independent cinema to deliberately play enigmatic in an effort to assert superiority over the audience. That, sadly, seems to ring true in the case of Parabellum as well. This Argentinian-Austrian pseudo-disaster drama opens with an intriguing pan across an empty field as the sun rises. From there, the audience is left to piece together the story of a moustachioed government or administrative employee who quits his job and signs up at a holiday camp which trains people to survive the end of the world. This is all established in the first ten minutes, and with just a scant couple of lines of exposition. From that point forward, a small group of mostly nameless camp attendees learn, and eventually use, the skills they will need to survive.
Parabellum’s script is economical to the extreme. Not only is the movie surprisingly brief, at just over 70 minutes, but for most of that time the dialogue is limited to single-word responses. Consequently, it can be difficult to make an emotional connection with these characters, or determine for certain what they’re doing at any time and why. Whether the viewer considers that this simplicity leaves the film “open to interpretation” or “aimless”, it’s undeniable that Parabellum’s unnerving silence can make it somewhat inaccessible. On the other hand, that only makes the film’s ability to show, not tell, even more valuable, and there are several poignant shots throughout of characters caught in self-reflection.
The real star of this film, however, is the setting. Through the natural lighting, the precise shot composition and a good eye for the most eerie of landmarks, the director transforms Argentina’s Tigre delta from a featureless swamp into an evocative post-apocalyptic wilderness. Effectively contrasted with the greys and browns of the city, the delta becomes something utterly alien. Steady, unmoving frames are contrasted with more rough and handheld camerawork to illustrate a sense of freedom, making the final, sweeping shot all the more jarring as the audience is reminded that “civilisation” is still out there.
It’s ultimately clear that, while Parabellum may lack a clearly defined narrative past a certain point, and can often seem indecipherable, it still demonstrates real skill in its cinematography and use of setting. If nothing else, this film deftly immerses the viewer in a locale which is under-appreciated in Hollywood.
Parabellum does not have a UK release date yet.
Watch the trailer for Parabellum here: