Panamerican Machinery, the Mexican black comedy, tells a bittersweet tale of life in Mexico City. Its tone, style and narrative are both reminiscent of the familiar, yet new and alien. The film opens with a gorgeous sequence of a banal daily routine in the Mexico City factory, with workers stamping timecards, organising sales brochures, and printing cute pictures of cats, amongst many other things. The whole event takes place with a curious backing track; the theme from Desert Island Discs plays through speakers across the factory whilst a worker overlays inspiring messages. As these daily rituals wind down into full scale work, one employee discovers that the boss of MAPSA has died and left the company bankrupt. Fearing for their jobs and pensions, the staff devise a plot to try and save the business; a scheme which leads to locking themselves in, creating the perfect opportunity to explore the relationships of an ensemble cast.
The film does not take this opportunity to become a heavy feature, laced with various discussions of philosophy and deep, dark secrets tearing a group asunder. It does something much more enjoyable; it allows small tensions and histories within the cohort to emerge, sometimes colouring the action, other times simply giving us an insight into the lives of this microsociety to whom we become rapidly endeared. A particularly beautiful element of Panamerican Machinery is the ways in which objects that once were used for work become used for pleasure, ones used for construction are transmuted into tools of destruction. Whether it is creating a punch, in which perfume is far from the most toxic ingredient, clambering into the bright yellow machines to destroy a car, or simply grabbing any tools to hand to make music, the workers remould their world according to their needs.
“It’s a movie that will feel simultaneously as though you’ve seen it before and never encountered anything like it.”
The most important element of the film is not the possible metaphor to Mexican politics, or a reassertion of a capitalist economy, or the death of former industry, but simply its charming, ultimately modest story about people. The tale is dark, but often hilarious; the subject matter could easily fall into bleakness, but Joaquin Del Paso and Lucy Pawlak’s writing is so tight that they achieve something far greater. It is reminiscent of some of BBC’s most interesting comedies (Nighty Night, Roger & Val Have Just Got In), but also unique of them, retaining and celebrating its Mexican origin.
Panamerican Machinery was shot on 35mm film, which lends a certain warmth to the story, but also freezes it in a period of filmmaking, hopefully assuring its future. The production has yet to achieve a UK distributor, and I can only wish it the very best in its search to do so – it undoubtedly deserves it. It’s a movie that will feel simultaneously as though you’ve seen it before and never encountered anything like it. As a debut feature length picture, it is incredibly promising. As a film, it is wonderfully enjoyable.
Image: Joaquin del Paso