Film critic Eva Karene Romero delivered a riveting talk Thursday on Ramiro Gomez’s 2008 independent documentary, Frankfurt.
Gomez utilized a fly on the wall approach in his documentary, passively observing his film’s subjects. Frankfurt observes the lives of a few campesinos, peasant farmers, living the in the rural areas of Paraguay during the 2006 World Cup. The film’s dialogue is entirely Guarani aside from the snippets of the World Cup commentators speaking in Spanish.
I did not enjoy this documentary very much. For an hour and fifteen minutes, I sat and watched campesinos watching their national soccer team play and lose against other national teams. When Frankfurt ended, my first reaction was, “That’s it?” Having read the synopsis of the documentary, I knew that Gomez intended to highlight the role of soccer in Paraguayan nationalism. Despite this knowledge, I still could not make the connection. However, after Romero’s talk on Thursday night, I had some second thoughts.
Romero was born in Paraguay and lived there until she was 18. She later moved to the United States and is now a professor of Spanish at the University of Arizona as well as the arts editor for the Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies. On top of this, Romero is a film critic. She has analyzed nearly every Paraguayan movie that has been released following the emergence of the Paraguayan film industry in the early 21st century.
Romero began her talk by discussing her method of analyzing film. According to her, it is important to look past the director’s intention and carefully examine a film’s content. Often, a director’s intention and the critic’s analysis take two different routes. In the case of Frankfurt, Romero ignores Gomez’s intention and looks carefully at the subtleties of the documentary. What was especially remarkable about this talk was how much Romero saw in so little. After all, Frankfurt at its core was just people watching their national soccer team on TV. The first thing she discussed regarding the film was its portrayal of women and how it relates to the Paraguayan attitude towards women. In Frankfurt, women are seen either watching the World Cup while doing domestic housework or they are on TV dressed in skintight clothing with a Paraguayan flag draped over their shoulders. Romero highlighted this, explaining how this indirect representation of women in the documentary closely follows the depiction of women in Paraguayan society.
Women watching the World Cup in Frankfurt are doing housework while the men watching do nothing. This is not a coincidence, according to Romero. She went on to describe how Paraguay is a male-dominated society and that the traditional role of women is that of a caretaker. The machismo ideology still dominant is perpetuated by both men and women. Romero gave an example, explaining how, because of this system, a mother-in-law will castigate her husband’s wife if she does not completely fulfill the role of a caretaker. Women in Paraguay are also objectified, and this can easily be seen by looking at the women who appear on TV throughout the film. Romero also explained how women in Paraguay also have the role of promoting nationalism. This is where Paraguay’s history comes into play. In the late 19th century, Paraguay waged a war against Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil known as the War of the Triple Alliance. In this war, the majority of the Paraguayan adult male population was killed, according to several estimates. After the war, Paraguayan women were viewed as integral in keeping Paraguay alive. The surviving women birthed the next generation of Paraguayans, and, to this day, Paraguayan women are still seen as fundamental to the strength of Paraguay.
Romero also discussed the film industry of Paraguay. This, too, is deeply connected to Paraguay’s political history, she explained, as Paraguay was under a dictatorship for much of the 20th century. Because of this, the film industry was controlled by the government and all of the films made during this time were essentially nationalistic propaganda. It was not until the early 21st century that Paraguay’s film industry started to flourish. Despite this, Romero still sees issues with it. She described how the industry was controlled by a “counter elite,” or a group of affluent Paraguayans who were against the totalitarian government of the past. This counter elite knows that campesinos comprise a large percentage of the country, and they can easily vote in a new totalitarian regime. Because of this, these directors make films depicting these campesinos in attempt to pander to them. At the same time, the Paraguayan directors who want to make films that are not documentaries depicting campesinos are out of luck. Because of the lack of funding, these directors need to go to funding organizations who deny them the ability to make anything other than documentaries because as Romero said, “Hollywood does Hollywood; Paraguay can’t do Hollywood.”
Romero’s talk provided a completely new perspective on Frankfurt. Beyond that, Romero shined a light on a country that does not get much media attention. The discussion was dense, full of interesting connections and perspectives.