Thursday, 25 February 2010

Paraguay - The Mission v Avatar

I couldn't find any Paraguayan-made films but, as I had never seen The Mission, this seemed like an opportune time to rent the DVD.

It was amazing seeing the Paraguayan jungle come to life, hearing the entrancing music of Morricone and watching some fantastic acting by De Niro, Jeremy Irons and Liam Neeson. I must admit the life of the Jesuits and the society of the 'reductions' seemed somewhat idealized and I guess, given the centuries that have passed, we may never know for sure, what the missions in Paraguay and Brazil were really like. The only remnants are those eerie ruined abbeys that one sees in photographs. Tellingly, one of the missions in the movie, San Miguel, is now in Brazil, so I knew that the Jesuit territory would be handed over to the Portuguese, long before the movie had ended.

I saw James Cameron's Avatar recently and, funnily enough, I found many parallels in the storylines of these two movies. Before I went to Avatar, I'd heard a lot about the movie. Most people told me that it was visually stunning, with amazing 3D effects, but that the story was boring. Having seen it, I agree the technical aspects were amazing, but I also quite enjoyed the story.  I mean, it wasn't brilliant, but I liked the message behind the film.

I think the Na'vi of Avatar, could easily have been based on the Guarani of Paraguay (or the Sioux of the Dakotas, or any of the tribes of the Amazon). When the bad guys come with their guns blazing and their machines tearing up the forest, blasting sacred trees and burning down the huts/teepees of the villagers, you can only watch in anguish as a civilsation steeped in centuries of harmony with the natural world, is crushed uncomprehending by a merciless foe and shot down in cold blood by those thirsty to squeeze a profit out of the forest/earth/native population.

A lot of time has passed since the Jesuits were forced out of South America and the jungles opened up to exploitation. The Mission is an interesting record of this period. I'm not sure whether or not Avatar is a lament for what we've lost, or a warning of things to come. Either way, the message is simple:

Tree-killers, bad. Tree-huggers, good.

Image credits

The image from the mission at Trinidad, Paraguay has been provided by flickruser Travel Aficionado using the Creative Commons License.
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