Rosana Matecki’s inventive and impassioned “Story of a Day” is a striking paean to the lives of the rural poor. Rather than a variation on a wretched-of-the-earth perspective, the pic views both the daily rituals and special events in various Venezuelan farming communities as a kind of dance or poem, with dashes of celebration, mystery, surrealism and comedy. This flagrantly noncommercial film is set to become a talking-point item at fests worldwide, and reps a breakthrough for Venezuela’s widely dismissed national cinema.
Through a series of short docs made over the past decade and focused on indigenous people, Matecki has been quietly building toward her first feature, which discards much that’s de rigeur in standard documaking (lengthy explanatory onscreen text, dramatic music, individual storylines), allowing the viewer to ponder a complex multiethnic world (set in the villages of Carrizales, San Jose, La Guardia, Manzanillo, Manuare and Nazareth) via graceful lensing, lengthy shots that often contain lots of activity and a soundtrack heavy on natural sound, sung music, electronic sampling and little if any dialogue.
The start of “Day” is just that, as a couple who runs a chicken farm gets going for the day’s hard work. The share of duties seems to lean toward the woman of the household, introducing a subtle running joke in the film that women in these communities get things done, while the men (with a few exceptions) lag behind. An open-air market gets prepped for the day, with a whirlwind of activity — from kids running around to a goat readied for slaughter — that’s worthy of a Breughel painting.
Without pressing obvious buttons, Matecki makes her points quite well about the ebbs and flows of life as she and editor Lucas Villegas invisibly cut among funerals, family gatherings, weddings, birthday parties and a mating dance rite. She captures some stunning moments, some of which will make viewers rub their eyes in disbelief: One, involving the exhumation of a decaying corpse from a casket, illustrates the locals’ intimacy with death and the physical, even while other rites suggest a mysticism far more ancient than Christianity. A long-held shot of late-night drunken revelries brings things back from the profound to the antic.
Final impression is of a rarely viewed world as if captured in a multipanel painting, in which the eye is allowed free range to look in any direction. This requires immense control of technical and filmmaking resources, which Matecki impressively demonstrates, while inserting such impish touches as occasional sampling of natural sounds, creating an otherworldly soundtrack that tweaks what’s onscreen. Cinematographers John Marquez and Emil Guevara create rich, dense images that emphasize the changing light at each step of the day, then deep into the evening. Credits on the print viewed at the Guadalajara fest were entirely in English.