A Film a Week - In Praise of Love / U slavu ljubavi

 previously published on Cineuropa

A village squeezed between the hills, the woods and the desert in the region of Western Sierra Madre in Mexico is the focus of Tamara Drakulić’s attention in her latest film, In Praise of Love. After her excursion into fiction filmmaking with Wind (2016), she is back to her preferred style of poetic documentary meditation, not too dissimilar to her earlier globe-trotting works like The Swing (2012) and Ocean (2014). In Praise of Love premiered at this year’s edition of the Sarajevo Film Festival in the documentary competition and further festival exposure can be expected.

The film starts in a strictly observational fashion, with long, static medium-to-long shots of the village, its crumbling houses and the nature surrounding it. Within this setting, we see people doing their daily work: the elders are tending to the animals, while the children and teenagers attend school. The villagers also have their fun and festivities, as seen in the opening shot of a horse-racing event.

Several minutes in, Drakulić introduces the film’s narrator, a beekeeper named Beto, who from then on serves as our guide through the secluded world of the village. His voice sometimes off-screen against the uniquely coloured landscape — lensed with a sense of lyricism by Igor Đorđević — and other times seen talking directly to the camera with a half-drank beer bottle next to him, Beto provides some of the historical and mythological context of the place. He isn’t always completely coherent, as his stories often intertwine reality and folklore beliefs, but he still manages to get his point across.

Once home to miners digging up gold, silver, antimony and mercury from the nearby hills, the village was then considered prosperous. But after the revolutionary upheaval in the first half of the 20th century and the nationalisation of the mines, most inhabitants left (as illustrated by the footage of the ruins of former haciendas). The locals who stayed, most of them of Huichol native origins, turned back to agriculture, but economic trends are not exactly favourable and the process of depopulation has steadily continued ever since.

The world of the adults is juxtaposed to that of the teens who are rehearsing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the ruins, in the fields and even in the church. Their rehearsals add another form of lyricism and romanticism to the film, complementary to Beto’s narration and to the visuals, serving as a kind of meditation on the beauty of nature and of the simple life.

By combining different documentary approaches, from the observational to the more conventional — including intertitles providing contemporary context, such as the one the film ends on — Tamara Drakulić manages to tell the story of the village in a sincere and inspired way. Working as her own editor, she establishes a clear sense of rhythm and the deliberately slow pace serves the film well. With her newest film, Drakulić certainly praises love, in its different forms.

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