The Guatemalan Handshake
English Title: The Guatemalan Handshake
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Todd Rohal
Runtime: 98 minutes
Volume: American - Independent
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