directed by Anabel Rodríguez Ríos
by Walter Chaw My favourite part of Anabel Rodríguez Ríos's pretty documentary Once Upon a Time in Venezuela isn't the mad woman who has a shrine to Hugo Chavez and forces people to touch a giant, door-sized poster of him before entering her room, nor is it the two old men who cry while talking about the way things used to be in their little floating/stilts-bound town of Congo Mirador before playing pointed tunes on an old rat-box guitar. No, my favourite part of Once Upon a Time in Venezuela is how it's loosely structured around a doomed election that has no real bearing on this tiny place's inevitable disintegration. There's a lot to pull from this idea that the works of Man are but a speck of dust and all that--a mote in God's design, right? Some of the locals, especially one garish busybody, are also displeased with the quality of education their children are receiving while the world falls apart around them. It's fun to watch people without a future try to plan for the future. And then you realize the film is talking about us.
The struggles of the residents of Congo Mirador, then, with their cattle dying and their way of life constantly threatened by entropy and malaise (one scene of a lady getting her toe-hair carefully trimmed as she languishes in a hammock is keynote to this thread), takes on all the insubstantial weight of a Theater of the Absurd masterwork. But real people aren't a Bertholt Brecht dialectical tract, and making them into one is for me a questionable pursuit. I'm sure the intentions behind Once Upon a Time in Venezuela were pure, and there's undeniable craft in the way the little clapboard shacks are framed here against a sky full of silent lightning (every shot looks like an Eve Nethercott watercolour), but if it was intended as a tribute or a shrine to the people of Congo Mirador, I fear it doesn't play that way. Or if it does, it's not the kind of remembrance to be greatly desired. Programme: World Cinema Documentary Competition