No One Here Gets Out Alive... nor Dead

Sergio Huidobro of the 2016 Berlinale Talent Press reviews Joaquin del Paso's debut feature PANAMERICAN MACHINERY.


One can say that young Mexican filmmaker Joaquin del Paso knows what a dark comedy is. There’s a brief scene in his debut feature PANAMERICAN MACHINERY (Maquinaria Panamericana, Mexico, 2016) that proves that. In a murky one-company-building, a phone rings over and over again. A secretary transfers the call to her neighboring worker, without asking. Then three or four times again, from one desk to another, within the same shot. In the meanwhile, viewers laugh increasingly but then, a mournful weep as a result of the call makes a sudden silence over both the ringing and the laughing.

Located inside a defunct machinery import business in Mexico City, the film describes a group of underpaid workers’ reaction upon finding their boss dead in his office. They descend into a kind of communist tribalism, hiding his corpse until they find some proof of hidden money in his accounting books, so they can save and own the business. Despite some sparks of brilliant visual humor like the one described, this dramatic comedy that premiered in the Berlinale Forum sometimes feels like one of the aged machines alluded to in the title.

Born in Mexico City and graduated from the prestigious Lodz Film School, del Paso fails when it comes to making a farce out of the dusty industrial environments or the lives wasted in it. The film has a healthy sense of irony, but if we read its plot as a metaphor of an economy broken by corruption, we hardly notice either if it’s motivated by social criticism or purly mocking. It takes advantage of its naïve non-professional cast (despite some fortunate casting choices) like a mediocre bureaucrat who turns into a kind of self-motivational populist leader.

It feels natural for the film to premiere in Berlin, as five of its crew members are Berlinale Talents alumni: del Paso, three producers and two members of the editing team. Unfortunately, the resulting film is an example of an outstanding idea getting an unfinished development or creative choices made out of lack of funding, despite an often good sense of mise-en-scene and sensitive timing when it comes to mixing drama and laughs.