Following “Interkosmos,” his improbably original pic about an imaginary Soviet space program, American indie filmmaker Jim Finn continues to confound with “The Shining Trench of President Gonzalo,” an unclassifiable work that creates a slightly fictional world, occupied by female prisoners loyal to the titular Peruvian guerrilla leader. What purports to be a doc on these Maoist true believers is actually a cleverly conceived facsimile, as well as a devilish spoof of political fanaticism. Leading-edge fests and hip venues and cinematheques are likeliest takers, with mainstream buyers sure to be clueless.
Though clearly based on Peru’s Shining Path guerrilla movement, which was active in the countryside throughout the ’80s and into the ’90s, Finn’s pic replaces the term “path” with “trench,” suggesting an even more militant, kickass class of rebels. Finn’s camera supposedly visits Canto Grande prison in 1989 Peru to record the day-to-day activities, statements, meetings and manifestos of the Shining Trench women, and finds them to be thoroughly swept up in a fever for armed struggle, even though they have no hope of prison release.Viewers arriving late will wonder what they’ve stumbled into, for Finn’s simulation of an actual Maoist cadre is utterly convincing. The group hashes out methods of battle and medical care in the line of fire, ideological points of debate and theories of working-class dictatorship, and unabashedly embraces a particularly vicious version of Mao’s Cultural Revolution-era “scorched earth” policies, in which any vestige of bourgeois life is to be eradicated. The massive chunks of discussion are taken directly from actual texts by Mao and Shining Path prisoners, delivered by Finn’s ensemble with an off-the-cuff immediacy that’s downright startling.
Displacing the mood of permanent war are more relaxed episodes, in which the women knit, paint, make music and even perform “Macbeth” in, of all languages, the Dine tongue of the Navajo tribe. Long before the end of this too-brief featurette (just long enough to stand on its own, but also short enough to be comfortably billed with “Interkosmos”), dazzled auds will get a strong, heady whiff of what life ruled by Maoist fanatics would feel and sound like, and the bloody-minded absurdity underlying it all.
Perfs are astonishing in retrospect, and the physical creation of a prison space in New Mexico is pure filmmaking legerdemain. Pic’s onscreen title is in Spanish.