The Guatemalan Handshake (2006, Director: Todd Rohal): The film’s tagline is “A feast for the senses, a challenge for the brain” and that about sums it up. Todd Rohal has created what must be considered the first “mumblecore” comedy and Benten Films has given it their usual loving and reverential treatment in this packed 2-disc DVD release.
Watching a film is usually a different type of experience than reading a book. Generally, we used to watch films in large semi-public rooms with friends and a crowd of strangers. It was a shared experience and the vibe of the audience could influence how we felt about the film later. Reading a book, on the other hand, is a solitary pursuit. We can compare experiences later with others who have read the book, but it usually doesn’t colour our impressions too much. Now that we have DVD, watching a film can be more like reading a book. And in the case of The Guatemalan Handshake, that’s a very good thing indeed. I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t watch this with your friends, although I think that is what I’m saying. This is the sort of film you might want to form your own opinion of before sharing it.
A plot summary won’t help much. Donald Turnupseed (Will Oldham) vanishes after a mysterious power failure and the rest of the film follows his friends and family around, including his pregnant girlfriend, his father (who seems to miss his unique orange electric car more than his son), and his best friend, 10-year old Turkeylegs, who serves as our narrator. There are references to demolition derby, turtles, boy scouts, roller skating, and lactose intolerance. We meet a man with 18 daughters all from different mothers, and a woman who attends her own funeral. It’s all utterly surreal, often silly, but with a haunting undertone of melancholy. I laughed a lot, was gobsmacked more than once with absolutely gorgeous visuals and music, and have been thinking about this goofy-on-the-surface film for days. It’s no surprise that the essay in the DVD booklet was written by David Gordon Green, whose gorgeous and soulful George Washington kept popping into my head as the film progressed.
Director Todd Rohal is worth watching.
UPDATE: Now that I’ve formed my opinion by watching the film alone, I’m looking forward to seeing it in a theatre with other people. Generation DIY is bringing it to Toronto on June 22 at precisely 3:15pm, when it will be screening at the Bloor Cinema.