HISTORY / PARAGUAY: Act of Remembering Stroessner Dictatorship: Paz Encina’s ‘Memory Exercises’ Documentary

The film traces back the story of Agustín Goiburú, a radical dissident of the Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay, through his children’s memories. 
 Photo (c) Open City Docs 2017The film traces back the story of Agustín Goiburú, a radical dissident of the Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay, through his children’s memories. Photo (c) Open City Docs 2017

By Maureen Gueunet; cross-posted from Open City Documentaries –  This year’s Open City Documentary Festival will present the UK premiere of Paz Encina’s new feature film, the documentary Memory Exercises.

The film traces back the story of Agustín Goiburú, a radical dissident of the Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay, through his children’s memories. Goiburu lived on the Argentine banks of the Parana river, which delineates the border between the two countries, and which is in the heart of the guarani-speaking region, a language referred to in the film.

The Parana river allows Encina to create strong and evocative imagery that accompany the slow paced and calm souvenirs in voice-over. The recollections start with early memories and continue until the moment Goiburu disappeared, while news from today also appear as remains of some anti-regime militants, also disappeared, are currently being found and identified.

Past Dictatorship in the Present

Photo (c) RT 2015

The Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay lasted from 1954 to 1989, making it the longest dictatorship on the South American continent. Photo (c) RT 2015

From the essayistic documentaries of Patricio Guzman, in which analogies are drawn between the natural elements and the repercussions of the Pinochet dictatorship, to the more personal and family based Adriana’s Pact or 108, Cuchillo de Palo (the latter also dealing with the Stroessner dictatorship), a desire to look back on the troubling contemporary histories of their countries has emerged in Latin America directors.

A flourish of works have chosen to look at more intimate stories to explore the consequences of the brutality of these countries’ authoritarian regimes have had on personal lives.

The Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay lasted from 1954 to 1989, making it the longest dictatorship on the South American continent. In similar ways to the works mentioned above, Memory Exercises looks closely at the resistance and politics of family members through the prism of memories, rather than establishing a clear account of their life and activities, which all have in common this uncommon death, a “disappearance”.

Out of the Mouth of Babes

Goiburu lived on the Argentine banks of the Parana river, which delineates the border between the two countries, and which is in the heart of the guarani-speaking region, a language referred to in the film. Photo (c) Open City Docs 2017

Juxtaposed to the voices of the three children, interwoven skilfully with variations in volume and tone, are their own grand children, seen playing and laughing together absent-mindedly. But we are also presented with documents testifying the presence of Goiburú as a father or citizen, in the form of pictures or identity papers. Other images include details of empty rooms in an abandoned house, observed with scrutiny with distant sounds of a mother calling for her children, creating poetic images that infuse the film with a sense of a lack, of an absence; an emptiness that punctuates the lives of Goiburú’s family.

These visual contemplations create a dialogue between generations and triggers reflections on the impact of wider political actions on the private sphere. This is made somewhat more evident when seen through the eyes of children, where a combination of understanding and ignorance participates to the nature of the memories, which are delivered in a calm and thoughtful manner.

This film sits alongside other titles in the programme dealing with memories of exile and persecution, such as Lost Land, screening as part of this year’s focus on filmmaker Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd, and our opening night film, the graciously poignant Taste of Cement.

Memory Exercises screens on Wednesday 6th September at 20:30 at Picturehouse Central. Tickets available here