This week, as part of the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s (IFFR) 51st edition, we had the chance to watch EAMI (2022), directed by Paz Encina. Encina is a Paraguayan director and she is known for her movie titled Hamaca Paraguaya (2006). The movie was set in 1935 and it won the FIPRESCI award of the Cannes Film Festival that year. This time, she takes us into the depths of the forests of Northern Paraguayan Chaco and shows us how invaders (coñone which means “the insensitive”) ruined indigenous people’s lives and homes. Eami means “forest”, but it also means “world”. Since the forest is their only world, it means a lot that eami both means world and forest. It is also the name of the girl that we see the world through her eyes because this girl was the forest and the world for her mother. Eami (Anel Picanerai) adds: “Everybody is someone’s forest and world”. This was one of the most striking things that she expressed throughout the movie.
Eami is only 5 years old, but she carries the whole weight of her sorrow: her house is ruined, friends are lost, parents are dead and her life as she knows it completely ended. She is out there, trying to escape for her life. But she thinks about whether she will be able to heal her wounds or not. She tries to find her friend Aocojái endlessly, but later she admits with a heartbreaking maturity that he is dead too. The Paraguayan Chaco has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world and it’s the second-largest forest in South America. The ruin unfortunately continues today. There are of course more than one indigenous community living there and in EAMI we only see one of them. In this movie, we see only the story of Ayoreo Totobiegosode people through Eami’s eyes and soul. The story is actually told by the “bird-god” (Asoja) as if Eami has the powers of Asoja temporarily, just to be able to see the situation thoroughly and to make the necessary decision of leaving the forest.
Thanks to Asoja, Eami and us, the audience can see everything from an omniscient God’s-eye view. We are able to see the deforestation, the wind speaks with us, we unceasingly look for our lost friends and families, but we find nothing but misery. EAMI is like a magical journey, but at the same time it’s like a documentary presenting us the facts. On the other hand, facts are expressed in a very subtle way and with the innocence of a 5-year-old girl.
Being the bird-god and being able to walk through the forest is definitely a transcending experience but of course, we wish we could have this experience at a time when the local people can live there in harmony, on their own. Although the forest is ruined, Eami states that it has a memory, and it forgets nothing. By showing that, EAMI tries to create a sense of memory in which these people’s sorrows and lives are cherished and honored. By creating this memory that will never die (because movies don’t ever die, they always keep living in the memories of those who watched them), Encina makes sure that the memory of the forest will and cannot be ruined.
A Magical Journey Towards a Different Perception of Life
It is even hard for us city-people to leave our towns and get used to some other capital city. We cannot imagine how hard it might be for those local people to be thrown out of their usual environment. They live purely in touch with nature. They heal with and through nature. They love to feel the wind and rain on their skin. They don’t wear any clothes because they don’t need to. They walk with snakes, tigers and talk with birds and these people are considered barbarians in the eyes of coñone. The insensitive make them wear some clothes but when they see the rain, one of them immediately takes off her clothes. This scene was very intense and saddening at the same time.
There is also a settler, a white woman and she is called “the boss lady” by the invaders. She spends her time at home and every time she hears something horrific, she closes the window to be able to keep the “wind”, the soul of the forest away, meaning that she closes her eyes to the violence that takes place. However, these sequences could have been a little bit more profound and impressive. When these scenes are compared to the magical atmosphere of the scenes with Eami, we can see that they are not able to convey their meaning that effectively. However, the movie is very successful in terms of expressing massive violence without showing any violence at all. We hear some shouting, and we see a pure red atmosphere, but when we think about it, the only thing we see is a small girl that wanders through the forest.
From time to time, we see the coñone and the captured ones, but we never see someone’s death or beating. The whole act (deforesting for profit and the dismissal of indigenous people) is so violent in itself that the movie doesn’t need to show any “violent” act. In her interview with Variety, director Encina states that this community’s language is different from ours, so they also perceive time differently. Both Encina and the movie’s editor Jordana Berg did a great job in terms of conveying the difference between their and our perceptions. Thanks to everybody who put an effort into this movie, we have a chance to be a small part of this unique perception for a short amount of time.