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BFI London Film Festival 2015: ‘Parabellum’ offers a minimalist take on the Apocalypse

Parabellum

Parabellum
Written by Ana Godoy, Esteban Prado and Lukas Valenta Rinner
Directed by Lukas Valenta Rinner
Argentina/Austria/Uruguay, 2015

Cinema is certainly no stranger to Armageddon scenarios. Whether it’s environmental collapse, zombie uprising, or alien infestation, these CGI-stuffed extravaganzas aren’t exactly known for their subtle charms. Parabellum, the debut film from Austrian director Lukas Valenta Rinner, proves that ending the world with a series of whimpers can be just as affecting as a set of big bangs.

Set in the near future, stoic Buenos Aires resident Hernán (Pablo Seijo) has had enough of the 24-hour news cycle of environmental disasters and economic failures. Hernán and a group of equally-nondescript citizens join a remote jungle enclave to prepare for the inevitable collapse. There, they learn a wide range of bizarre and deadly skills, such as making homemade explosives, identifying edible roots and fungi, crisis negotiations, and a healthy dose of firearms training. Hernán’s compatriots come from all over the economic spectrum, including housewives, tennis instructors, and stock analysts. It’s a makeshift army for the modern age.

Parabellum

Director Rinner takes a macro approach to the Apocalypse, focusing on society’s collective neuroses rather than focusing on the emotional and psychological makeup of individual characters. Parabellum holds a trembling mirror to Western anxiety about mass migrations and eroding environmental conditions, fed by the perpetual cycle of fear and paranoia from a mass media that’s desperate for constant content. The jungle cult, stripped of their individuality and adorned in matching white t-shirts and grey sweat pants, is eerily reminiscent of real-world doom cults of the past, such as California’s Heaven’s Gate colony or the Branch Davidians religious sect from Texas.

The audience is left to make their own interpretations about character motivations, as the sparse narrative provides precious little information about what drove them to such drastic lengths. Vaguely ominous harbingers, such as mass bird migrations or the crisscrossed jet streams of (possible) military aircraft, keep the audience guessing about the nature of the impending collapse. Rinner suggests various catastrophes might befall humanity, from a shambling zombie apocalypse to a modern-day update of a Lord Of The Flies isolationist nightmare, but he keeps the final outcome closely guarded until the film’s final moments.

Parabellum is an assured debut, filled with evocative locales and a palpable tension that captures modern-day paranoia. Rinner peppers his film with title cards that offer a silent Greek chorus on the unfolding drama, including one particular quotation that perfectly encapsulates this intriguing and unsettling film: “If you wish for peace, prepare for war.”


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