Much-feted docu helmer Heddy Honigmann returns to her native Peru for "Oblivion," a nicely tuned multi-voiced meditation on the country's failure to provide for the common man.

Much-feted docu helmer Heddy Honigmann returns to her native Peru for “Oblivion,” a nicely tuned multi-voiced meditation on the country’s failure to provide for the common man. Choosing people who work near the halls of power, Honigmann lends a sympathetic ear to a weary populace living in a nation where politics is a byword for corruption. Though occasionally so enamoured with her subjects that she includes more footage than necessary, the docu still exhibits her usual expert eye full of wryly expressed quiet outrage. Docu fests will jump, and Euro smallscreen play is assured.

No solid knowledge of Peru’s abysmal political record is needed, as Honigmann subtly but firmly underlines the disconnection between presidential promises of good governance and the reality of a people left stranded by an unconcerned elite. Apart from the charm and warmth of most of her subjects, the docu’s strong suit is in the construction, using each new interview to then jump back to a swearing-in ceremony where oaths are revealed as mere hollow verbiage.

Her cafe philosophers are at the heart of the piece, people like bartender Jorge Kanashiro, serving up straight talk with a jigger of perspicacity and more than a dash of cynicism. All agree that the difficulties of the average Peruvian never reach the presidential palace. Perhaps most disturbing is the sense that everyone is simply resigned to the status quo, convinced that while there may be slight changes of fortune up or down, their powerlessness is forever.

Though Honigmann shows brief glimpses of the watering holes of the upper classes, she spends most of her time with people like David Gutierrez, a student trying to earn money by juggling on street corners, or Maria and her three little girls, who do cartwheels before stopped traffic. In referring to the “lovely” Maria, Honigmann appears to be less concerned with the woman’s parenting skills than most auds, who will surely question Maria’s statements and her Cheshire cat grin as her young girls work and play among traffic even though her eldest was killed in similar circumstances.

Fewer shots of the jugglers and boulevard gymnasts and more of people like the emotionally numb shoeshine boy Henry would help tighten up occasionally sagging elements. It’s disturbing, of course, to realize that the situation in Peru has probably gotten more entrenched since her 1994 docu “Metal & Melancholy,” which is presumably precisely her point.

Visuals are flawless, and understated editing builds the argument through a seamless but deliberate construction. Music, from Chopin to local composers, gently underscore tone without forcing emotions.

Oblivion

Netherlands-Germany

Production

A Cobos Films presentation of a Cobos Films (Netherlands)/IKON, ZDF (Germany) production, in cooperation with Arte. (International sales: Films Transit Intl., Montreal.) Produced by Carmen Cobos. Directed by Heddy Honigmann. Written by Honigmann, with Judith Vreriks, Sonia Goldenberg.

Crew

Camera (color), Adri Schover; editors, Danniel Danniel, Jessica de Koning; sound, Piotr van Dijk; associate producer, Judith Vreriks; assistant director, Ester Gould. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Latin Horizons), Sept. 18, 2008. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Jorge Kanashiro, Luis Cerna, Mauro Gomez, David Gutierrez, Adolfo Chavez, Lucia Ruiz, Dulovina Cordoba, Daniel Gutierrez Grados, Anibal Cotrina. (Spanish dialogue)
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