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April 21, 2008

The Guatemalan Handshake

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Todd Rohal - 2006
Benten Films Region 1 DVD

I hope whomever gives out prizes will remember The Guatemalan Handshake for best DVD packaging. The illustrations by James Braithwaite have a homey charm that held my attention in a way that the slapped together photoshop jobs from the big boys never will.

The two sports that are featured in The Guatemalan Handshake serve as fitting metaphors for life, especially when faced with limited possibilities. In the roller rink, the object is to keep on going forward, in a circle around the rink, or fall down. In the demolition derby, the goal is to be able to crash into another car until it no longer can move, while keeping your own car in motion. The winner is the last mobile car. Both of these sports involve repetition of movement to the point of monotony, kind of like the jobs most people have, and to a certain extent, like real life.

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Thinking about the film just a little bit more after one viewing, what The Guatemalan Handshake may resemble is not any other films, but a smaller, less rambling version of a story by Kurt Vonnegut. One of the key events, a power outage in the small town is just apocalyptic enough to cause the mysterious disappearance of one of the residents. Even the names of the characters are reminiscent of those found in Vonnegut, such as Donald Turnipseed and Edith Firecracker. The concept of time, which goes forwards, backwards, and occasionally loops around, is a literary device Vonnegut explored most famously in Slaughterhouse Five.

Where The Guatemalan Handshake is best is when Todd Rohal is simply observing his characters, particularly the young girl known as Turkeylegs. The truth is that Katy Haywood's legs don't seem that much thinner than those of any ten year old girl. Even when some of the small town eccentrics have an overload of quirkiness, one smiles at scenes of Haywood, observing a sunset in a field, falling asleep on her oversized cowboy hat, practicing baton twirling, or swinging on a rope over a small lake. The film ends literally with fireworks, but it is the quiet moments with Haywood that I'll cherish.

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Posted by peter at April 21, 2008 12:01 AM

Comments

This sounds great! Finally, someone has realized the cinematic possibilities of Dillburg, Pennsylvania.

Posted by: Richard Harland Smith at April 26, 2008 12:03 PM