Last Images of the Shipwreck (1989)

Almost a biblical throwback to creation, Roberto clamours for that “apparition of one word” which could be the beginning of that great novel that would resuscitate him from “a death so safe, so correct.” As Roberto travels by train and observes his listless co-passengers, he wonders how many of them, would finally achieve “salvation” through a great invention or even a bank heist or were they all meekly moving towards the “slaughterhouse”, a chilling image of the inevitable, conveyed through the passengers’ heads covered in plastic hoods. The middle aged insurance agent, who is also an aspiring writer, Roberto suffers from writer’s block until he discovers Estela, who attempts to jump onto the path of a train before he saves her. Later she confesses to being a lady of the night and that the suicide attempt was a ploy to draw clients.

Roberto gets hooked on to her narrative and strikes a deal with her. She and her family would be the plot of his novel and in turn he would pay her for laying bare her life. But here’s a family, that is not just dysfunctional but on the brink of ruin. A father who has long abandoned the family, a mother who spends her time cutting out hostile relatives from family albums, a brother (Claudio) who strikes out words from his mental map, gradually moving towards silence, another brother (Jose)- a small time crook and the elder brother (Mario) trying to develop a plane on the terrace, as a means to break out of the drudgery.

However as Roberto wins the trust of the family and meets the brothers individually, he realizes to his utter despair that life is stagnating for them. They hold onto Roberto as their saviour. Being a writer, he could write fresh chapters for them and life would take a new turn. Soon Roberto finds himself writing episodes for Jose’s heists. But to what end? Is salvation as is envisioned by Roberto?

Last Images of the Shipwreck unspools like a poem, open to interpretations. While a student of political science may see it as an allegory for the failure of corporate nationalism in Argentina, others could see it as a comment on our postmodern times of detachment, alienation and aimlessness.

Most importantly Eliseo Subiela never clearly etches out these quaint characters or sticks to a well formed narrative. Surreal scenes of conversations with a fatigued Jesus or a bed in the middle of an inundating river add more depth and ambiguity to the narrative, the result of which is a brooding rumination of the times that we live in. Yet somewhere, some meaning still lurks. In what shape and form? To discover that, watch this little gem of a film by a visual poet.

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