The kind of pic whose press kit tells far more than what’s onscreen, “Dust” is a compilation of tenuously connected scenes meant to convey the mental and social damage wrought by Guatemala’s armed conflicts, yet Julio Hernandez Cordon’s disconnected scenes and unfocused characters hold zero emotional weight. Guessing the relationships isn’t difficult, but the challenge of generating enthusiasm for what’s essentially an exercise in pseudo-poetic evocation will be nearly insurmountable. Major film fund sponsors (World Cinema Fund, Ibermedia, etc.) guarantee a limited worldwide fest tour.
More opaque than his “Marimbas From Hell,” Cordon’s third feature concerns Juan (Agustin Ortiz Perez), a husband and father whose own barely remembered father was a victim of Guatemala’s bloody internecine repression (auds interested in the subject will find Juan Manuel Sepulveda’s recent docu “Lessons for a War” far more affecting). Juan and his mother, Delfina (Maria Telon Soc), are the subjects of a docu being made by Ignacio (Eduardo Spiegeler) and Alejandra (Alejandra Estrada), a couple whose background and emotional life remain unprocessed.
Juan’s tried suicide several times (his wife is getting fed up), and perhaps he hopes the docu will help him better understand his trauma. According to the press materials, Delfina is still hopeful of finding her missing husband, though this isn’t conveyed in the film itself; rather, she seems to be pushing the memories away. When not threatening self-destruction, Juan abuses his neighbor and fouls the abandoned school bus of his neighbor’s son with dung.
Gradually, auds understand that the neighbor ratted on Juan’s father three decades earlier, leading to his disappearance. A final, disturbing scene is meant to convey the depths of Juan’s psychic damage and the pressures of facing it daily in a nation that’s largely buried the past, though even this violent act can’t sufficiently jolt viewers out of their indifference.
Cordon, not for the first time, seems just as indifferent to his auds. Occasionally recurring, nightmarish scenes of a stripped and bound man in the forest, accompanied by a high-pitched electric squeal, are presumably flashbacks of Juan’s father, yet there’s no power in these impressionistic images. Visuals will likely look best on smaller screens, as digital quality can tip toward the grubby; closeups and an almost casual handheld look aren’t able to capture the desired intensity.