The Guatemalan Handshake

English Title: The Guatemalan Handshake

Country of Origin: USA

Director: Todd Rohal

Runtime: 98 minutes

Language: English

Year: 2006

Volume: American - Independent

A mysterious power failure in a small mountain town coincides with the disappearance of one of its most eccentric young residents. Mystery piles upon mystery as his family and friends search for him, fail, and ultimately try to forget about him, an undertaking that results in many unexpected, and in some cases bizarre, effects on the town's already peculiar community.

The film’s tagline is “A feast for the senses, a chal­lenge for the brain” and that about sums it up. Todd Rohal has cre­ated what must be con­sidered the first “mumble­core” comedy.

Watching a film is usu­ally a dif­ferent type of exper­i­ence than reading a book. Generally, we used to watch films in large semi-public rooms with friends and a crowd of strangers. It was a shared exper­i­ence and the vibe of the audi­ence could influ­ence how we felt about the film later. Reading a book, on the other hand, is a sol­itary pur­suit. We can com­pare exper­i­ences later with others who have read the book, but it usu­ally doesn’t colour our impres­sions too much. Now that we have DVD, watching a film can be more like reading a book. And in the case of The Guatemalan Handshake, that’s a very good thing indeed. I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t watch this with your friends, although I think that is what I’m saying. This is the sort of film you might want to form your own opinion of before sharing it.

A plot sum­mary won’t help much. Donald Turnupseed (Will Oldham) van­ishes after a mys­ter­ious power failure and the rest of the film fol­lows his friends and family around, including his preg­nant girl­friend, his father (who seems to miss his unique orange elec­tric car more than his son), and his best friend, 10-year old Turkeylegs, who serves as our nar­rator. There are ref­er­ences to demoli­tion derby, turtles, boy scouts, roller skating, and lactose intol­er­ance. We meet a man with 18 daugh­ters all from dif­ferent mothers, and a woman who attends her own funeral. It’s all utterly sur­real, often silly, but with a haunting under­tone of mel­an­choly. I laughed a lot, was gobsmacked more than once with abso­lutely gor­geous visuals and music, and have been thinking about this goofy-on-the-surface film for days. It’s no sur­prise that the essay in the DVD booklet (available from Benten Films) was written by David Gordon Green, whose gor­geous and soulful George Washington kept pop­ping into my head as the film progressed.

Director Todd Rohal is worth watching.

Author of this review: James McNally