(Joaquín del Paso, 2016)
Panamerican Machinery screens at the AMC River East on Friday, October 21 at 6:00PM, Saturday, October 22 at 1:00PM, and Monday, October 24 at 1:15PM. For additional ticketing information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.
One of the most intriguing discoveries of the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival comes from Mexican director Joaquín del Paso and his film Panamerican Machinery. A logline suggestion that it’s a blue-collar riff on Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel isn’t that far off, as the eponymous factory setting becomes the isolating venue for a comically macabre dissection on human behavior.
Panamerican Machinery, a manufacturing site for construction equipment, is initially introduced through a series of banal exchanges, capturing workplace politics with a kind of casual awareness of its own redundancies and silly internal logic. Office workers amuse themselves with photocopying the sort-of motivational posters of the 1970s (of the “Hang in There” kitty variety) while warehouse workers go through the motions of their rudimentary and childish cataloging system. It’s a functioning industry, but one that an outside observer can’t help but poke fun at.
Things begin to take shape as the company owner is found dead in his office, prompting the news that the company is bankrupt. Undeterred and motivated, the workers barricade themselves on site, dead-set on trying to figure out a way to keep the company afloat. It’s a surreal case study of the Kübler-Ross model of grief (a character even sits the workers down for a demonstration on the study), where workers steadily decline into savage and sinister behavior as their livelihood is threatened.
Paso, in his debut feature, displays an acute visual sensibility and a remarkable sense of sound: a worker is tasked with testing the gas piping of the facility, whereby he takes a pipe and rattles the lining. The ding and echo of the clash reverberates with such intensity, in an eerie gesture that’s reminiscent of something you might hear out of a David Lynch film. His screenplay, in collaboration with Lucy Pawlak, is perhaps the least impressive quality of the picture – the characters are so often vaguely outlined with no discerning quality to distinguish one from the other. But as a collective study of Buñuelean and Lychian playfulness, this is a notable debut.