What would it take to make a person pack up their life and head blindfolded into the middle of the jungle for a rigorous and faintly absurd survival camp? It’s an initially interesting question in Lukas Valenta Rinner’s Argentina set debut, one that it soon becomes clear Parabellum has no worthwhile answer for. If this is the end of days, you’d be hard pressed to care.
That some kind of trouble is a-brewing is at least evident. The opening shot pans slowly down from the sky across an unchanging treeline and into a nearby field. Accompanied by a percussive build-up of dread, something plummets down, exploding in the ground. Thus we are welcomed to Rinner’s world.
Back in the city, middle aged Hernan (Pablo Seijo), a thin, gangly man, is closing out his urban life. He rehomes pets, visits a relative and then leaves with a ragtag collection of fellow survivalists. They’re off to a training camp where the curriculum consists of botany, politics, homemade explosives and a lot of physical training. It’s mildly amusing to watch these unlikely adventurers jogging around sticks, working across obstacle courses and practicing defensive blows.
In stark contrast to the stripped down nature of their training, downtime is spent in what amounts to a luxury resort. Each person stays in a large cabin and has access to sun loungers and a Jacuzzi. Staying alive has never been so relaxing. So relaxing, Rinner’s monotone film soon starts to lapse into torpor.Little attempt is made to explain what’s going on in the outside world. An early radio broadcast reveals natural disasters and mass rioting. Items continue to fall from the sky, no one batting an eyelid. They’re usually too busy drifting down rivers in a boat or standing guard over nature, shots Rinner falls back on far too often.
Parabellum could be described as minimalist, but it would be more accurate to call it empty. No effort is made to build out even one of the characters. They remain anonymous husks trudging through the undergrowth towards an unknown goal. Half-hearted forays into social commentary lead nowhere either. Quotes from a fictional Book of Disasters appear regularly, moving from survival to active aggression. Near the end, a lazy act of violence, possibly political but with no discernible end, is thrown in.
It’s not until the closing shot that the wider world emerges back into view. Rinner sees Parabellum as an attack on our increasingly global capitalist society. Perhaps Hernan and his colleagues are a symptom of this affluent malaise, drifting off to their expensive pursuits as the world goes to hell, or perhaps they’re the vanguard for the future freeing themselves from our self-inflicted problems. Either answer probably reads too much into a shell of a film.